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Jalen Ramsey, Tre’Davious White comparisons don’t paint the real picture

The Rams cornerback probably isn’t just comparing himself to other cornerbacks

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NFL: AUG 26 Rams Training Camp Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Using Tre’Davious White as a guide post to explain why Jalen Ramsey got “overpaid” is poor reasoning and Ramsey’s new contract numbers are reasonable.

On Wednesday, it was reported that the Los Angeles Rams finally came to an agreement on an extension with Ramsey (I say “finally” only because there may be been some small benefit to an earlier pact) on a deal that will pay him $105 million if he plays all five years of it. The $21 million average annual value ranks Ramsey as the seventh-highest paid player in the league, non-QB division.

Four days earlier, the Buffalo Bills gave White a four-year, $70 million extension that pays him an AAV of $17.50 million in new money.

Last season, both were Pro Bowl cornerbacks but White tied for the league-lead in interceptions and a first team all-pro. He was credited by Pro-Football-Reference as having allowed a passer rating of 45 on throws in his direction, including six interceptions and no touchdowns allowed. Ramsey’s 2019 campaign has been deemed as disappointing and underwhelming, even if he continued to play at a Pro Bowl level and did so while changing teams and learning a new defense.

Does this make the $3.75 million in AAV a significant “overpay” on the Rams part for Ramsey?

I argue that it doesn’t. And Ramsey was never comparing himself to White in negotiations.

Is Tre’Davious White a “better corner” than Jalen Ramsey?

First of all, terms like “better” are misleading when you’re talking about two players commonly accepted to be in the same rough area of value and talent. What exactly is the claim? That White is guaranteed to provide more value over the next five years than Ramsey? That a person can guarantee you that White has played better than Ramsey over the last three years?

PFF recently ranked Ramsey fourth and White 10th in their cornerback rankings for 2020. They mention his “hidden negatives” but don’t go into details. PFF’s belief is that White’s best season — by far — was his 2017 rookie campaign and that he was below average in year two. It’s not that everyone agrees with PFF or Sam Monson on White’s ranking but we can already see that there’s no consensus here on “better.”

In an analysis by Cover1.net following his second season, they found that White’s negatives included penalties, poor tackling and giving up chunk plays. They listed seven one-on-one matchups from that season and White did allow touchdowns to DeAndre Hopkins and Robby Anderson, while his shutdown games came against Corey Davis, TY Hilton and Josh Gordon.

White had four defensive pass interference penalties in 2019, as many as he had in his first two years combined. He missed nine tackles per Pro-Football-Reference, two more than he had the year before. He did finish with six interceptions: two off of Andy Dalton, two off of Delvin “Duck” Hodges, one off of Ryan Fitzpatrick and one off of former Rams backup Brandon Allen.

In the Bills playoff loss to the Texans, Hopkins had six catches for 90 yards but White did force a fumble that was recovered by teammate Tremaine Edmunds.

Ramsey had two pass interference penalties last season and both came in Week 10 against the Steelers. He missed two tackles and has missed a total of seven over the last two years. People have called 2019 a down year for Ramsey as he was playing for one of the worst teams in the league and traded midseason, but what about the fact that White had a down year in 2018 and seemingly didn’t improve his flaws and was playing in the easiest division of offensive opponents in the league?

Rather than me argue that Ramsey is “better” than White, I’d rather ask for anyone else to present me with the evidence that White is “better” than Ramsey.

If the NFL held a draft today with every player in the league available, which of these two players gets picked first:

  • Tre’Davious White, 5’11, 192 pounds, 4.47 40-yard dash, 32” vertical, 4.32 shuttle, 25 years and 237 days old, with what we know of his three NFL seasons under Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier in the AFC East
  • Jalen Ramsey, 6’1, 209 pounds, 4.41 40-yard dash, 41.5” vertical, 4.18 shuttle, 25 years and 321 days old, with what we know of his four NFL seasons under Gus Bradley, Doug Marrone, Todd Wash, Sean McVay and Wade Phillips in the AFC South and NFC West

Ramsey is bigger, faster and I’d be quick to believe has faced a more difficult strength of opponent. Last season, Buffalo’s strength of schedule for the defense was ranked 31st in DVOA (they played the second-easiest slate of opposing offenses) and the Rams were ranked second, while the Jaguars were 15th.

Jalen Ramsey’s resume is simply better when you’re evaluating the full picture of their careers and the fact that he has an extra year of proof of film only strengthens his argument.

But these two cornerbacks could be equally desirable for any defense to have and coaches may be split on their opinions of who is “better” because it probably only comes down to the specific needs of your team or scheme. The instinct to actually call out one for being “better” than the other apropos of nothing else and doing a victory dance over the contract seems to originate from the ego.

Citing stats for cornerbacks could be bad and not good

These days, fans and writers know that you can’t go into any player or team argument without a certain set of stats. When it comes to cornerback stats, this may be getting out of hand and honestly it feels like everyone is rummaging through District 9 and wielding an alien weapon they really have no idea how to use.

It used to be that with corners you could just get by on interceptions. Then they added passes defensed and I’ll be damned if I talk about how inconsistent those counts are from site to site. Both of those stats got termed “overrated” though after you could see players like Deltha O’Neal intercept nine or 10 passes and be deemed a liability for his defense.

There’s a certain confidence that people have when they talk about fantasy football stats for quarterbacks, running backs and receivers because everyone feels comfortable using yards and attempts as a barometer for talent, even when they claim they don’t. Josh Gordon is now going into his seventh year of irrational optimism based on the fact that he put up a ton of yards with the Browns one season.

Yes, I understand that Gordon was very good in 2013 but are we still talking about him today if he had been just as efficient and finished with 1,100 yards instead of 1,600? People don’t as often discuss his abysmal career catch rate or that he was ninth in DYAR and 17th in DVOA in 2013.

Yards.

Well, yards have now transferred over to some other positions, including cornerbacks. And so has passer rating. Yes, apparently passer rating is unacceptable to utilize when comparing quarterbacks but critical to ranking cornerbacks.

Passer rating against, completion percentage against, “touchdowns against,” yards against, yards per target against ... all now being utilized by writers, analysts and fans everyone to compare cornerbacks. Were I on trial for these offenses, I know I wouldn’t be acquitted.

But is it in any way fair to judge corners based on a simple number that eliminates countless variables that could otherwise explain how that number was reached? Variables such as:

  • Opponent, both quarterback and receiver
  • Opponent, both head coach and offensive coordinator
  • Teammates, especially the other players responsible for covering receivers
  • Teammates, including those who may decrease time in pocket for opposing quarterbacks
  • Health, for yourself, your teammates and your opponents
  • Conditions of the game

Literally endless variables but what I’m really driving at here is that so much of the comparisons of Ramsey to White or Ramsey are based on the last 16 games and that is a pitiful sample size. Not even three years is really good enough. Tre’Davious White has played in 3,003 career snaps and he’s been mostly really good but he’s also had his issues and the bulk of his reputation has been built on his 15 starts last season.

What if were you building an argument for Ramsey at the end of his 2017 season, when he was two years younger than White was in 2019?

Don’t get bogged down with contract figures

AAV is a bad way to compare contracts. It feels like the most simple for our brains but teams and players don’t even do a good job of hiding that AAV is an ego thing; they tack on two non-guaranteed years that’ll never happen just to bump the annual number. But that ego thing works just as good on players as it does on writers and fans.

The number being touted as Ramsey’s “guarantee” is $71.2 million, but we’ll have to wait and see if this is a legit guarantee or if it includes guarantees that only kick in down the line under certain circumstances.

If this were the full guarantee, it would be the fifth-largest in the league after Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Joey Bosa and Deshaun Watson, the last two of which signed their deals within the last month. But the $71.2 million fully guaranteed for Ramsey seems improbable.

It would be considerably more than White’s $55 million guarantee and any other defensive back. However, I also noted that Ramsey wasn’t comparing himself to White.

He was comparing himself to players like Bosa. High-end NFL draft prospects who turn into elite NFL players who are 25 years old. Other players making $20 million or more per season include Myles Garrett, Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, Laremy Tunsil, Julio Jones, DeForest Buckner, Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, Keenan Allen, Amari Cooper and Chris Jones. Michael Thomas is just under at $19.25 million.

Again, this is all based on AAV — the passer rating of contracts — but it is what is important to players and agents and writers who can call something a “record contract for a cornerback” literally four days apart. As Joel Corry notes on Twitter, Ramsey’s deal lines up with Patrick Peterson’s 2014 deal when adjusting for salary cap inflation.

Saying that Ramsey is being paid more than $3 million per year on his deal than White is true, but it’s not the responsibility of Ramsey or his agent to work on White’s deal. If you compare them though, you might think, “Well, that’s a wide gap.” But then if you hear that Ramsey is being paid the same as Demarcus Lawrence and DeForest Buckner, doesn’t it seem plenty reasonable?

Why shouldn’t Ramsey make as much as those two defensive players? Compared to them, is he even underpaid?

2 good cornerbacks, 2 reasonable contracts for them

Were Ramsey to sign his deal at the beginning of the offseason, what would it have meant for Darius Slay, Byron Jones or White? Would his $21 million AAV have raised the bar for Slay ($16.6m AAV) and Jones ($16.5m) and would White be a $20 million per year player right now?

Or did the fact that they signed first, creating the new top three contracts for cornerbacks, well above the $14 million for Patrick Peterson and $15 million for Xavien Howard, allow Ramsey to vault above $20 million?

The more important chicken and egg could be Joey Bosa and Myles Garrett and DeForest Buckner because Ramsey isn’t arguing that he’s the best player at his position. He’s arguing that he’s one of the best players at any position. He already knew that LA felt that way when they traded two first round picks for him. The Bills didn’t only not surrender a first for White, they actually traded down in 2017 and acquired an extra first in a trade with the Chiefs — and that’s another narrative I’ve heard sold today as why Buffalo’s done better in their handling of a star corner than the Rams have.

Of course, there’s always another side to every narrative. Like the one where instead of trading down for an extra first, you fill your need at quarterback with Patrick Mahomes.

It’s important to test every narrative and the one that says Ramsey is “overpaid” requires more examination than the surface level AAV and passer rating against that’s been used so far.