Now, matters are worse.
In a bit of news that rated about a 5 on the Surprise Meter and notched solid 8.5 on the Dissapoint-O-Tron, junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway declared himself eligible for the 2016 NFL Draft.
The Surprise Meter
The surprise factor came from the (absolutely correct) notion that Ridgeway's overall level of play in 2015 was in no way commensurate with his talent ceiling, the (likely) notion that he could significantly improve his draft stock with a bang-up 2016 campaign and the (logical sounding but possibly dubious) notion that doing so would be a major boon to his ultimate professional and financial fortunes.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, hang on a sec - what's possibly illogical or dubious about that? Ridge could secure a second-round grade with 600 good snaps in 2016 and he could go in the fourth or fifth this season - or hell, he could go undrafted if the injury and motor concerns turn off enough teams! Second round >>> street free agent, yeah?
Thanks, Hypophoric Device! You've neatly encapsulated most of the decision dynamics in play here. Ridgeway's ultimate draft slot carries a ton of beta right now - the NFL gets nervous about guys with checkered injury histories and similarly twitchy when big bodies don't pack a motor to match. Both of those factors apply in this case, and in the (very unlikely) case that he falls out of the draft entirely then Hassan will have made a very poor decision indeed.
However, he's got one very significant factor working in his favor - the NFL has all but entirely legislated pass defense out of the game. If you're going to beat Tom Brady or Carson Palmer when it counts, the best bet you have on the table is quick pressure up the middle. A healthy Ridge can bring that kind of heat in spades while not disgracing himself against the run against an A-grade guard like Zack Martin, so it's a near certainty that some team talks themselves into buying the highs and ignoring the lows on his tape.
He's still costing himself draft position and first-contract coin by jumping early, but the meta game to maximizing your dollars in the NFL goes something like this:
1) Get in the league as soon as you're able to secure a draft slot and play at a level that at least ensures that you're not drafted over or nudged out by a free agent acquisition before you're able to start earning at least 40% of your team's snaps at your position. Smile through gritted teeth at your team's big-dollar vets as you sign your wage- and price-controlled rookie deal. Regulated markets suck!
2) Ball out in your contract year.
3) Sign your second contract for eight-figure guaranteed dollars and a bunch of additional non-guaranteed funny money. Free markets are awesome! Make sure to show a little love to your team's new crop of rookies who'll be laboring for peanuts over the next few seasons to subsidize your color-coordinated Bentleys. (Just kidding - make them spend $30,000 at a steakhouse for the Rookie Dinner.)
4) Do (3) young enough to ensure that you're still playing at a high enough level to bring a lot of leverage to the table when your team inevitably tries to winnow down your rapidly escalating funny money in Years 4/5 of your deal.
Hassan's physical skils should be enough to ensure (1) even in 2016, and his health and motor will determine (2)* during the 2019 NFL season as long as he pulls of (1). Landing a (let's say) $15 million signing bonus a year earlier and hanging on to $3 or $4 million more on the back end makes the dollar delta between a second-round or fifth-round contract look like chump change.
Once you're ready to hang in the league, there's a strong economic incentive to go ahead and make the move.
It's relatively easy to talk yourself into the notion that Hassan's move makes sense for him, but it's going to be tough to overcome his loss next season.
A healthy Ridge profiled as far and away the Longhorns' best down DL heading into 2016. At his best he brought a true three-way skill set to the table - he can shoot gaps with speed and power, anchor be disruptive against a double team and stack/shed against a single O-lineman to effectively two-gap while not totally surrendering a pass rush. None of the Longhorns' returning DT/NT group offers anything resembling that kind of versatility. Boyette can hold the line and hit gaps occasionally, Ford can Poonatrate with gap shots and stunts but gets washed against bigger badder dudes and Nelson is still a (promising) pup finding his way.
Perversely, losing Ridge might mean Texas needs to play MORE down linemen next season - you need at least one or two special guys up front to pull off that 3-3 look without superhero LB play or you're constantly losing the edge or getting gashed up the gut. A 4-2-5 look with Roberson-Ford-Boyette/Nelson-Cottrell up front doesn't terrify anyone, but you're able to squeeze gaps and hold edges against more run-oriented outfits. Any way you slice it, Texas now has a lot of work to do in order to get a conference-contending front six on the field.
On the plus side, if any of Texas' remaining DT targets for the 2016 class is hungry for early playing time - come on down! If we Brick on this class under these circumstances, it's really going to Hurtt.
While "The Green Mile" was an awesome nickname by any measure, I was always kind of bummed that I was never able to encourage wide adoption of my preferred moniker, "Heartbreak Ridge."
Maybe it'll catch on now.
*Outside of the "if I miss on this dude I'm certainly fired" stress of selecting a first-round QB, there can't be a more stressful moment for an NFL GM than handing more than $15 million guaranteed to a DT who'll kill you if he's not giving max effort and may only have given max effort to land the $15 million guaranteed you just handed him. Albert Haynesworth nods with approval.