A Look at NT Sione Pouha
Putting the negative behind us for a few days lets take a look at one of the good stories of the season- NT Sione Pouha. Pouhaís journey to become the starting Nose Tackle of the New York Jets has been a pretty long one. Pouha was drafted by the Jets in the 3rd round of the 2005 NFL draft. To say he was slow to develop would be an understatement. As a rookie he barely made an impact on a terrible team that was desperate for any help it could find. He suffered an ACL injury in 2006 forcing him to miss the entire year and was promoted into the 2007 rotation during the middle of a poor season for the team. He recorded 40 tackles in 2007, but I donít think anything he did made anyone take notice. In fact most of the fans wrote him off for dead after that season.
It was certainly a big surprise to most of us when the Jets very quietly extended Pouha in 2008 right around the same time they traded for NT Kris Jenkins. While not a big contract, $6.1 million with a $1 million signing bonus, it just seemed like cap space wasted. With Jenkins healthy for all of 2008 Pouha only appeared in about 20% of the snaps and did not do anything that stood out to anyone watching at home or in the stands of the games. In 2009 Jenkins went down in the sixth game of the year and most of the fanbase assumed it would be a loss the Jets could never recover from. Jenkins was a monster in the middle of the field. His replacement Önot so much.
But it was now Pouhaís job and he stunned the Jets world. The team did not miss a beat and the defense may have been even better. He wasnít going to have the Jenkins type of highlight where he knocks a center down with a slap to the head, but he was just as stout in the middle of the field. Immediately the opinion turned and Pouha became a fan favorite. In 2010 he was expected to be a rotational player lining up both on the inside and outside but Jenkins got hurt early in week 1 and Pouha took over inside and has never looked back. He was dominant inside and arguably one of the best run stuffers in the NFL. He has continued that dominance in 2011.
Pouha will be a free agent after the season and the Jets have to make a decision about his future with the team. The question is just what is going to be a fair number that both sides can live with. There are a few things that do not work in Pouhaís favor if he is going to expect a big contract. Despite being drafted in 2005, Pouha is already 32 years old and will be 33 when he signs his next contract. That is not the age where most players get extended for long periods of time. Pouha is not a flashy player. He isnít going to sack the QB or make anyone take notice of him the way they do other players for other on the field antics. Finally he is still a rotational player. Pouha plays about 60% of the snaps with the Jets. Maybe other teams will think he is capable of playing more snaps, but in the Jets scheme that is what they have for their NT.
So the first step for me is to try to find an arbitrary position for Pouha. While it is probably fairer to compare him strictly to 34 NTís, I used the Yahoo Sports database to develop a quick scoring system for the DT/NT position. Using the top 64 players in terms of total tackles as of week 11, I calculated the average number of solo tackles, total tackles and sacks per game and then calculated how much better or worse than average a player was at the position. The average in 2011 through week 11 is 1.49 solo tackles, 2.27 tackles, and 0.14 sacks per game. Using that criteria the years best player is Ahtyba Rubin of the the Cleveland Browns who averages 3.67 solo, 4.89 total, and 0.33 sacks per game for a composite score of 6.99, which means he is about 133% more productive the the average DT. Using the same criteria Pouha ranks 19th in the NFL with a score of 3.51. Pouhaís grade is hurt by the fact that he is not a pass rusher and his position as a NT makes it even more difficult to register a sack. If you take sacks out of the equation Pouha is the 4th best DT in the NFL at stopping the run, behind Rubin, Haloti Ngata, and Antonio Garay. From a percentage standpoint he would be 17% more productive than all defensive tackles and 75% more productive as strictly a run stuffer.
Now the biggest factor to me is age to go along with performance. Initially I narrowed the list down to players that are 30 years or older in the 2011 season. 19 of the top 64 players are over the age of 30 besides Pouha. To try to set a value, though, we should only be interested in players who signed their contracts when they were at least 30 years of age. That narrows our list down to 12 players and gives us a pretty good idea of just what the market for Pouha should be. Here is the list, their contract values, and total and run scores that I alluded to earlier. Please note that it is more difficult to get contract information on some of the mid-level players and these numbers could be slightly off for some of the players.
|Name||Age||Years||Aver/Year||Guar/Year||Total Score||Run Score|
There are a few things that stand out here. The biggest thing is that only two deals are for longer than 3 seasons and one of them, Richard Seymour of the Raiders, was actually a two year contract that the Raiders turned into a 5 year deal because of cap mismanagement and the need to spread the money out over a number of seasons. That makes Cullen Jenkins the only real recipient of a 5 year contract and he signed his deal at the age of 30 this past summer. So it is a safe assumption that Pouha should not get a contract for anything more than 3 seasons.
The bargain of the year was Antonio Garay who is the best run defender of the group and the third most productive player having significantly separated himself from the rest of the field. Garay will be a free agent this year and will likely be looking very closely at what Pouha receives as both are in the same situation of being older late bloomers coming off very good seasons. Whomever signs first will likely set the market for the older interior linemen who can still play at a high level.
Most of the players with name value have secured 1 or 2 year deals worth right around $4 million per season. Players like John Henderson and Shaun Rogers secured those contracts based on performances from many years ago and are way overpriced for their contributions. Neither will be signed to new deals worth anything close to those prices in 2012. Kelly Gregg who is much older, but also more productive, is on a one year $3.5 million deal with the Chiefs. So these figures are going to likely be the starting point in negotiating a contract.
The question becomes just how much better Pouha is than the rest of the field. Henderson, Rogers, and Aubrayo Franklin are all way overpaid and not even close to full time players, seeing the field in maybe 35% of their teams defensive snaps. Gregg and Fred Robbins are closer to Pouha in that they are in more than 50% of the teams plays. Sione is 1.1 times as productive as Gregg and 1.35 times as productive as Robbins. When it comes to playing the run he is far more impressive, 1.46 and 1.95 times as productive. Based on the overall numbers that puts Pouhaís range between $3.9 and $5.3 million a season. With those unproductive players earning $4 million a season he should earn at least slightly more than that. $5.3 million seems too high when Jenkins is only making $6.1 million.
That probably means an offer in the ballpark of $4.5 million per season should get the job done. The deal will likely contain some form of escalators or incentives based on playing time and/or production that could slightly bump the annual pay. The guarantees seem to be pretty consistent across the board at about $1.5 million per season so that should also be around what Pouha should receive.
Since Pouha has remained productive I would think that this is going to be a 3 year contract with an outside chance of a 4th year being added onto the deal to make the contract look more impressive even though the 4th year would never be expected to be earned. Knowing that they expect him to be a factor for at least two more seasons they could up the guarantee to the $6 million range. The last extension Pouha received a $1 million dollar signing bonus. I could see the him getting $2 million this time, but that will depend on their cap situation. If they have the room they will be just as likely to give him another $1 million and simply up his base pay.
Lets call it a 3 year contract worth $13.65 million with a first year cash payout of $5.05 million and an additional $1 million in injury guarantees in year 2. Approximate cap charges would be $3.72 million, $4.22 million, and $5.72 million. The backend years might contain an additional $1 million in total escalators, giving Pouha an opportunity to up his annual pay to $4.8 million a year. The Jets would get him for $4.3 million per year over the first two seasons, which are the likely years that he is on the team, with a minimal cap penalty for releasing him in 2014. Unless rookie Kenrick Ellis begins to make a big impact over these last few weeks Iíd be pretty surprised if the Jets donít make this happen early in the offseason.