As reported earlier, Vince Young is set to sign a major endorsement deal with a Central Texas business on Saturday. USA Today is now reporting that the company is NetSpend, Inc., an Austin-based company that sells prepaid debit cards.
Um, interesting. While Young remains in negotiations with both Reebok and Nike for shoe and apparel deals, the first endorsement story is about a prepaid debit card company founded by two UT grads.
On the surface, there isn't much to this story. Young signed an endorsement deal. It's not even close to the biggest one he'll sign, but it's the first, so it's news. What I'm interested in is what it reflects about Young and his value. (Sure, it sucks to treat athletes as commodoties, but we've done enough VY stone-licking to do so without shame.)
Here we sit, a week shy of the NFL draft, and the Houston Texans are on the clock. For a moment, let us pretend BON owns the Houston Texans. What should we be thinking?
First and foremost, the Texans' owner would immediately become the hero of the sports blogosphere for owning and writing a blog. Errr... Shit. Wrong again. (Side note: Mark Cuban is a badass. I'm no Mavericks fan, but I'm a big Mark Cuban fan, hysterics aside. Just a smart guy. The Texans would be wise to learn a thing or two from him.)
As much as the fans think that it's all about "the game," we, as owners, know that it's far bigger than that. Fundamentally, it's a business. Winning is a part of the fundamental goal, but only insofar as its married to increasing profit. In other words, if we determined that it were more profitable to go 4-12, we would aim to do so. It isn't, so we won't, but it's an important point.
As owners, our goal in the next week is to figure out what in the hell we're going to do with our #1 pick in the draft. The options aren't terribly complicated: (1) draft a player or (2) trade the pick.
Let's take it in reverse order.
Trading the pick
Here we sit, perhaps the worst team in the league last year, with numerous needs to fill. The value in trading the pick is tricky. On the one hand, because our needs are numerous, we can use the trade to get extra picks in the draft. On the other hand, however, at the top of this year's draft board sit some prospects with some of the higher ceilings we've seen in recent years.
Last year's draft, for instance, provides some insight into the difference. The first four picks were (1) Alex Smith, (2) Ronnie Brown, (3) Braylon Edwards, and (4) Cedric Benson. All solid players with strong pro potential, but nobody you'd wager anything of significance on as being Hall of Famers. This year you have the most dynamic trio at the top that the draft has seen in some time, with Reggie Bush, Vince Young, and Matt Leinart.
Reminding ourselves that this is a business, and in many ways is SHOW business, we have to take into account the buzz factor surrounding these three guys. The entire 2005 season was all about these three guys. If part of what drives our business is the media, and the media has found a story that they've latched onto, we'd be foolish to dismiss it. Trading the pick, then, misses out an opportunity to be a part of this story, which isn't going away. After all, USC and Texas started the year #1 and #2 and finished that way, too, following perhaps the greatest national title game in the history of the sport. If we've learned anything, it's that you want to be a part of any story the media obsesses over. Almost all coverage is good coverage.
Drafting a player
Though we're tempted to take the solid, but less spectacular, approach of trying to fill multiple needs in the draft, the hype surrounding these three guys is so large that we've decided we want to be a part of this story. The question, then, is which guy to go for. All three are terrific pro prospects. Like all prospects, experts wonder if their flaws (Bush's durability, Young's unique passing style, Leinart's relative unathleticism) will keep them from achieving NFL greatness. But all agree that the upside to each is through the roof. No one will express surprise if any, or all, of them become All Pro players.
If this were a round of Elimidate, it's pretty easy to choose who would have to be the first go go. Sorry, Matt, you're out. While we recognize Matt's potential as a superstar pro, if we're gonna take a quarterback, we must remember: we're the Houston Texans. We'd have to take Young.
Our decision, of course, is pretty simple now. Bush or Young?
The first step is giving each player as thorough a talent evaluation as we possibly can. We'll try to quantify, or "grade" them, to the best of our abilities. Nevertheless, there's simply no way to divorce the pick from the goal of our business: maximizing profit. Bearing this in mind, we note that the evaluation cannot be singular - even if Bush grades higher than Young, or Young higher than Bush, we're mindful that this can only be one component of our ultimate decision. The ultimate decision must be one that coalesces with our operating foundation (profit).
In this light, the contrast is dramatic, and simple. On the one hand, we have Reggie Bush, a remarkable talent that will undoubtedly help his team win football games. On the right team, used in a way that gets the most out of his particular skill set, without putting him at excessive injury risk, he can be a cornerstone of a playoff team. By all accounts, he loves football, works hard, has terrific instincts, and unique rushing skills. No team would turn Reggie Bush away from their squad.
And yet, our other choice presents a multitude of benefits to our franchise that, through no fault of his own, Reggie Bush has no chance to equal.
- He's from Houston. A homegrown hero? All other considerations being equal, the hometown hero is better for business.
- He attended the University of Texas. Along the same lines, he's not just a local Houston hero. He's a statewide hero. All other considerations being equal, the hometown hero is better for business. Is there a more beloved University of Texas athlete than Vince Young? Of course not. TJ Ford, Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson, Roy Williams - it's pointless to even go on. Even the runners up are in a class so far below the level of adoration for Vince Young that it's an exercise in futility. Vince Young is a god to Texas fans. To quote Bill Murray: "Not -THE- God, but a god." How many University of Texas fans, not currently fans of the Texas, would instantly adopt the Houston Texans as their NFL team to root for? Would Reggie Bush generate as many? Any reasonable analysis would easily conclude: of course not. As rich in tradition as USC is, with as many superstars (more, we note, than Texas), Trojan fans will take a passive, not active, interest in the Texans. They'll root for Bush; not for Houston. Longhorn fans, on other hand... this Vince Young guy is their everything. He ended The Drought. Today's announcement from NetSpend, Inc., founded by two UT grads, is just another data point.
- He plays quarterback. Football is a funny sport. In almost every case, the most talented athletes on the field aren't the quarterbacks. And yet, it's undeniable that they, more so than anyone else, play the most critical role in a team's ability to win. They touch the ball on every single down. From taking the snap, to handing the ball off, to making passing plays work, to leading the team - only a fool argues that a quarterback doesn't matter. There are only two formulas for sucess in the NFL: you'd better have a winning quarterback or a disgusting defense. A quick glance at our roster confirms that the latter is out of the question. Ray Lewis isn't patrolling the middle of the field for us, and even if he was, the defense-only Super Bowl champions are few and far between. The Super Bowl champs have been led by victors under the center.
Even better, Young -is- the best athlete on the field in many cases. Has there ever been anyone like him? It remains to be seen, but goodness...
What, then, to do?
Only a moron couldn't decipher the conlusion of this article, but as responsible owners that take our fan base seriously, we'll articulate the logic that underlies our final decision.
We draft Vince Young. In a carefully designed marketing move, we mask, to the best of our abilities, our intention to draft him. We consciously decide that the media feeding frenzy surrounding this draft is a business opportunity to be seized upon, we orchestrate a campaign of misdirection and uncertainty, and leave everyone wondering what, exactly, the Houston Texans are going to do. With such an intriguing and captivating draft, we understand that seizing the lead story will be of value to our business in the short and long term.
As such, on draft day, we surprise as many as we can by announcing to the world, as our time expires, that we are drafting Vincent Paul Young, Jr., quarterback, from the University of Texas. We capitalize on the excitement of our fans, we embrace the wave of new fans that intend to follow Young to whichever team he plays for, acknowleding that we're proud to keep Texas' most beloved collegiate athlete "at home where he belongs."
We hope for the best with Vince's abilities to reach his highest ceiling, at the very least confident that he is a talent rich enough to bring us to the playoffs from time to time. We bask in the profits of selling his jerseys, enjoy our moments in the spotlight because of his abilities to captivate national audiences that wonder, like they did with Michael Jordan, "What might he do next?"
The final analysis leads us, inevitably, to the conlusion that he's better for our profits and might just be better for our chances of achieving playoff success. Given the choice between Barry Sanders and Steve Young... well, there you have it. There's simply no way to spin it. We have to take Vince Young.