Drafting Decisions and the Salary Cap 2015

Normally this time of year I’ll do some different financial looks at the draft and ways to price draft picks, so here we go with this year’s entry.  The idea for this actually came from a post on Chase Stuart’s Football Perspective where there was a consideration as to how much, in terms of cap room, would a team creatively give up to acquire a draft pick.  While there are a lot of different ways to look at that question I thought it might be worthwhile to try to actually compare the expected rookie performance over a 4 year period with a comparable veteran player performance over the same time period. Using the veteran player’s contract as a “market price” we can re-value a draft pick in veteran dollars.

The Metrics

I went back and forth with a few ways to compare players, which is by no means easy in the NFL. It came down to either using my games/games started/honors matrix or Approximate Value as defined by Pro Football Reference. I decided to use AV for this since I think games/starts won’t be a fair barometer for veteran NFL players who are already proven to be gameday active most weeks whereas many rookies, specifically later round rookies, are not given  that opportunity.

Secondly I wanted to only look at four year windows since the four year period is our rookie contract length. While first rounder’s have fifth year options, those prices are based on a veteran marketplace so I didn’t think that would be used in the evaluation. So when we look at AV we are looking at a draft picks AV from year 1-4 in his NFL career and a veteran’s AV from year 5 onward.

I looked at every draft from 1994 through 2011 and compiled the combined AV for every draft pick made in that time frame. Each slot was then broken into quartiles to determine performance ranges that we can expect for the players. We set our upper limits using the IQR for each slot (the lower limit in almost all cases was going to be 0). Originally I was going to adjust for outliers but once I started looking at the data in many cases that didn’t seem to make sense since there is no logical reason for say a player drafted at 13 to be an outlier for that individual selection but be fine for pick 14-20.

Similarly I looked at every veteran player that has been in the NFL since 2011 and determined their combined AV for that four year period. Each player’s APY was then used as the salary basis for the player. The one limitation of that is that for some players that had multiple contracts over that time period I am using their most current negotiated deal. While that may not be perfect I think for the sake of these posts it’s fair to use. For players with a 0 AV quartile I used the cap charge vet minimum salary plus full bonus ($665K).

The Salary Calculation

With that data we can now create a matrix that allows us to determine the average veteran salary that corresponds to the expected AV range for each draft pick. There are different ways to use the financials, which I’ll touch on in some later posts, but the most basic method is to simply average the dollars across each quartile.

So let’s look at the number 1 overall pick for a quick overview of how the process works:

Draft Pick AV RangeAvg. Veteran Salary Per Year
47.8-84$14,370,613
34.5-47.8$7,440,532
23.8-34.5$4,324,613
0-23.8$1,975,572
TOTAL$7,027,833

What those numbers tell us is that we have a 25% chance of drafting a player whose AV will be above 47.8 over the first four seasons of his career. Veterans in the NFL who accounted for totals in that range had an average salary of $14.37 million per year.  The team has a 25% chance of drafting a player worth $7.44 million, a 25% chance of drafting a player worth $4.325 million, and finally a 25% chance of drafting a player worth $1.975 million.   That averages to a bit over $7 million a year, which is the expected return for a player deemed worthy of a number 1 pick.

Because we get some fluky draft results, such as draft pick number 10 performing far worse than a pick after, I wanted to smooth the expectations by taking a forward average approach. This should take into account the fact that every team selecting in a given slot is likely considering drafting a player valued a few spots ahead. This also makes pretty much all our individual outliers that don’t make much intuitive sense to classify that way fit in with the expected results with few exceptions.

This was a purely subjective decision on my part just based on how we often hear draft grades give or mock draft debates on decisions.  I’d be more than happy to adjust results based on alternate draft possibilities if people had any ideas on the subject. Here is the way I broke things down:

Draft PicksForward Average Range
1-22 picks
3-53 picks
6-324 picks
33-975 picks
98-2558 picks

Here is what our results look like using that formula

NFL Draft Value

We can further (really we could have just done this initially) work with the data by determining a best fit line to use to calculate the draft pick value in terms of veteran dollars, which I will do in the following sections.

The Draft Pick Benefit

In the coming days we will look at a few different ways to interpret the numbers, but for this post let’s look at where the draft is most underpriced.

NFL Draft Value Chart

The biggest benefit to drafting in the NFL is the top of the second round.  This is somewhat expected as the NFL put a relatively large devaluation between the end of the 1st and start of 2nd round despite there being little difference in performance.  The top four picks in the second round are expected to give a team about $1.65 million per year in benefits. I was a bit surprised to see the top picks of the third round providing similar discounted prices. A team is essentially getting $2.5 million in value for just  $750,000 per year. The 16th pick in the draft is our initial first rounder to make the list, adding about $1.6M in value. As I’ve discussed before the best values in that first round really come into play in the mid first round.

Our least value received comes with the 4th pick in the draft, which gives us just $320,000 in additional value. The fifth pick in the draft is also poor with just $400,000 in benefits. These rank with all the 7th round picks that provide limited value.

As for the first pick, it is a mid value pick. A team gains about $1.2 million per year in benefits. It’s the best value among the top 7 picks in the draft, despite having the highest price tag.  When we go back and look at the old CBA it is pretty clear how overpriced those picks were. Sam Bradford, the final number one pick of the non-slotted system, would have been overpriced by about $5.2 million per year.  To justify that pick you would have had to be one of the top picks ever at the position.

We can also look at the charts to better identify the gain that teams realize by being awarded compensatory draft selections. A third round pick is worth close to $2 million per year in true value and the team gains over $1.2 million per year in value. I think a team needs to strongly consider that when giving up comp picks for lower valued players. In general if you are in line for a 3rd-5th round comp you probably should protect that if possible.

The following chart shows the values per draft slot

Draft PickTrue ValueActual CostGain
1$6,784,935$5,588,875$1,196,061
2$6,054,508$5,341,650$712,859
3$5,627,236$5,184,326$442,911
4$5,324,082$5,004,526$319,556
5$5,088,937$4,689,876$399,061
6$4,896,809$4,128,001$768,808
7$4,734,368$3,678,500$1,055,868
8$4,593,655$3,229,001$1,364,654
9$4,469,537$3,206,526$1,263,011
10$4,358,510$3,082,913$1,275,597
11$4,258,074$2,891,876$1,366,198
12$4,166,382$2,622,175$1,544,208
13$4,082,035$2,554,750$1,527,285
14$4,003,941$2,442,375$1,561,566
15$3,931,238$2,397,426$1,533,812
16$3,863,228$2,262,575$1,600,653
17$3,799,343$2,217,626$1,581,717
18$3,739,110$2,161,439$1,577,672
19$3,682,135$2,127,725$1,554,411
20$3,628,083$2,116,488$1,511,595
21$3,576,669$2,105,251$1,471,418
22$3,527,647$2,082,774$1,444,873
23$3,480,804$2,060,300$1,420,504
24$3,435,956$2,015,350$1,420,606
25$3,392,938$1,992,876$1,400,063
26$3,351,608$1,970,401$1,381,208
27$3,311,838$1,947,925$1,363,913
28$3,273,514$1,936,688$1,336,827
29$3,236,536$1,846,513$1,390,023
30$3,200,811$1,798,758$1,402,053
31$3,166,257$1,758,757$1,407,500
32$3,132,801$1,733,001$1,399,801
33$3,100,375$1,408,526$1,691,849
34$3,068,916$1,397,287$1,671,629
35$3,038,369$1,386,050$1,652,320
36$3,008,683$1,363,576$1,645,108
37$2,979,811$1,354,585$1,625,226
38$2,951,708$1,334,359$1,617,350
39$2,924,336$1,314,131$1,610,205
40$2,897,656$1,296,151$1,601,505
41$2,871,636$1,278,171$1,593,465
42$2,846,242$1,257,943$1,588,300
43$2,821,446$1,239,963$1,581,483
44$2,797,220$1,222,831$1,574,390
45$2,773,539$1,198,834$1,574,705
46$2,750,378$1,172,986$1,577,392
47$2,727,715$1,138,825$1,588,890
48$2,705,529$1,116,351$1,589,178
49$2,683,801$1,093,874$1,589,927
50$2,662,511$1,071,400$1,591,111
51$2,641,644$1,048,926$1,592,718
52$2,621,181$1,026,450$1,594,732
53$2,601,109$1,003,976$1,597,133
54$2,581,411$981,501$1,599,911
55$2,562,075$959,025$1,603,050
56$2,543,088$947,788$1,595,300
57$2,524,436$941,045$1,583,392
58$2,506,109$929,808$1,576,301
59$2,488,095$914,076$1,574,019
60$2,470,384$907,333$1,563,051
61$2,452,966$898,343$1,554,623
62$2,435,831$891,600$1,544,231
63$2,418,970$889,354$1,529,616
64$2,402,374$884,858$1,517,517
65$2,386,036$745,826$1,640,210
66$2,369,948$744,394$1,625,554
67$2,354,101$744,250$1,609,851
68$2,338,489$742,708$1,595,781
69$2,323,105$741,023$1,582,082
70$2,307,943$737,813$1,570,130
71$2,292,995$735,625$1,557,370
72$2,278,257$734,081$1,544,176
73$2,263,721$732,000$1,531,721
74$2,249,384$730,969$1,518,415
75$2,235,239$729,375$1,505,864
76$2,221,282$724,868$1,496,414
77$2,207,506$724,359$1,483,147
78$2,193,909$723,450$1,470,459
79$2,180,485$721,594$1,458,891
80$2,167,229$719,719$1,447,510
81$2,154,139$717,844$1,436,295
82$2,141,209$716,517$1,424,692
83$2,128,436$713,813$1,414,623
84$2,115,815$711,890$1,403,925
85$2,103,344$710,813$1,392,531
86$2,091,019$708,986$1,382,033
87$2,078,837$707,278$1,371,559
88$2,066,793$706,345$1,360,448
89$2,054,886$706,035$1,348,851
90$2,043,112$705,880$1,337,232
91$2,031,468$705,725$1,325,743
92$2,019,951$704,950$1,315,001
93$2,008,558$703,400$1,305,158
94$1,997,288$701,850$1,295,438
95$1,986,137$700,300$1,285,837
96$1,975,102$698,750$1,276,352
97$1,964,182$696,504$1,267,678
98$1,953,374$696,504$1,256,870
99$1,942,675$696,504$1,246,171
100$1,932,085$694,257$1,237,828
101$1,921,599$691,500$1,230,099
102$1,911,217$691,106$1,220,111
103$1,900,936$690,362$1,210,574
104$1,890,754$689,250$1,201,504
105$1,880,670$688,607$1,192,063
106$1,870,682$688,172$1,182,510
107$1,860,787$687,563$1,173,224
108$1,850,984$686,888$1,164,096
109$1,841,272$686,065$1,155,207
110$1,831,648$684,114$1,147,534
111$1,822,112$683,850$1,138,262
112$1,812,661$683,400$1,129,261
113$1,803,294$683,288$1,120,006
114$1,794,009$682,725$1,111,284
115$1,784,806$681,300$1,103,506
116$1,775,682$680,845$1,094,837
117$1,766,637$679,805$1,086,832
118$1,757,668$678,716$1,078,952
119$1,748,776$678,023$1,070,753
120$1,739,957$677,325$1,062,632
121$1,731,212$676,301$1,054,911
122$1,722,539$675,027$1,047,512
123$1,713,937$675,027$1,038,910
124$1,705,404$673,977$1,031,427
125$1,696,940$673,140$1,023,800
126$1,688,543$671,903$1,016,640
127$1,680,213$671,367$1,008,846
128$1,671,948$670,135$1,001,813
129$1,663,747$669,272$994,475
130$1,655,610$667,875$987,735
131$1,647,535$666,413$981,122
132$1,639,521$645,146$994,375
133$1,631,568$645,146$986,422
134$1,623,674$645,146$978,528
135$1,615,839$623,878$991,961
136$1,608,062$623,403$984,659
137$1,600,342$623,000$977,342
138$1,592,678$622,763$969,915
139$1,585,070$621,725$963,345
140$1,577,516$620,493$957,023
141$1,570,016$620,125$949,891
142$1,562,568$619,750$942,818
143$1,555,173$619,625$935,548
144$1,547,830$619,500$928,330
145$1,540,537$618,613$921,924
146$1,533,295$618,200$915,095
147$1,526,102$618,000$908,102
148$1,518,957$617,938$901,019
149$1,511,861$617,825$894,036
150$1,504,812$617,790$887,022
151$1,497,810$617,513$880,297
152$1,490,855$617,220$873,635
153$1,483,945$616,813$867,132
154$1,477,080$616,685$860,395
155$1,470,259$616,250$854,009
156$1,463,482$616,048$847,434
157$1,456,749$615,606$841,143
158$1,450,058$615,413$834,645
159$1,443,410$614,633$828,777
160$1,436,803$614,527$822,276
161$1,430,237$614,125$816,112
162$1,423,712$612,870$810,842
163$1,417,227$612,215$805,012
164$1,410,782$611,200$799,582
165$1,404,376$610,700$793,676
166$1,398,009$610,075$787,934
167$1,391,680$606,140$785,540
168$1,385,388$606,140$779,248
169$1,379,135$606,140$772,995
170$1,372,918$606,140$766,778
171$1,366,737$606,140$760,597
172$1,360,592$606,140$754,452
173$1,354,484$606,140$748,344
174$1,348,410$606,140$742,270
175$1,342,371$606,140$736,231
176$1,336,366$606,140$730,226
177$1,330,396$602,205$728,191
178$1,324,459$601,279$723,180
179$1,318,556$600,775$717,781
180$1,312,685$600,150$712,535
181$1,306,847$599,483$707,364
182$1,301,041$598,947$702,094
183$1,295,267$598,556$696,711
184$1,289,524$598,363$691,161
185$1,283,812$598,000$685,812
186$1,278,132$597,625$680,507
187$1,272,481$597,515$674,966
188$1,266,861$596,918$669,943
189$1,261,271$596,550$664,721
190$1,255,710$596,450$659,260
191$1,250,178$596,327$653,851
192$1,244,675$596,213$648,462
193$1,239,201$596,055$643,146
194$1,233,755$596,018$637,737
195$1,228,337$595,966$632,371
196$1,222,947$595,947$627,000
197$1,217,584$595,788$621,796
198$1,212,249$595,550$616,699
199$1,206,940$595,418$611,522
200$1,201,658$595,075$606,583
201$1,196,402$594,724$601,678
202$1,191,172$594,358$596,814
203$1,185,968$594,250$591,718
204$1,180,790$594,150$586,640
205$1,175,637$593,513$582,124
206$1,170,509$593,128$577,381
207$1,165,406$592,750$572,656
208$1,160,328$592,058$568,270
209$1,155,274$589,670$565,604
210$1,150,244$589,670$560,574
211$1,145,237$589,670$555,567
212$1,140,255$589,670$550,585
213$1,135,296$589,670$545,626
214$1,130,360$589,670$540,690
215$1,125,448$589,670$535,778
216$1,120,558$589,670$530,888
217$1,115,690$587,281$528,409
218$1,110,845$587,225$523,620
219$1,106,022$586,875$519,147
220$1,101,222$586,741$514,481
221$1,096,442$586,287$510,155
222$1,091,685$585,933$505,752
223$1,086,949$585,682$501,267
224$1,082,234$585,612$496,622
225$1,077,540$585,562$491,978
226$1,072,867$585,455$487,412
227$1,068,214$585,150$483,064
228$1,063,582$585,064$478,518
229$1,058,971$585,062$473,909
230$1,054,379$584,856$469,523
231$1,049,807$584,850$464,957
232$1,045,255$584,793$460,462
233$1,040,723$584,462$456,261
234$1,036,210$584,212$451,998
235$1,031,716$583,988$447,728
236$1,027,241$583,403$443,838
237$1,022,786$582,848$439,938
238$1,018,349$582,720$435,629
239$1,013,930$582,588$431,342
240$1,009,530$582,456$427,074
241$1,005,149$582,358$422,791
242$1,000,785$582,250$418,535
243$996,440$582,150$414,290
244$992,112$582,050$410,062
245$987,802$581,898$405,904
246$983,510$581,787$401,723
247$979,235$581,628$397,607
248$974,977$581,474$393,503
249$970,736$581,474$389,262
250$966,513$581,474$385,039
251$962,306$581,474$380,832
252$958,116$581,474$376,642
253$953,943$581,474$372,469
254$949,786$581,474$368,312
255$945,645$581,474$364,171

Updating the Trade Value Chart

By using our expected salary values we can now create a new trade value chart that can be used to evaluate a trade.  With each player we can determine salary above replacement (again the 665K veteran) and re-assign the old trade value chart which overvalues the top picks by too much. However this is only part of the puzzle, which we’ll focus on a in part 2 later this week.

Draft PickNew Trade ValueOld Trade Value
111063000
29742600
38972200
48421800
58001700
67651600
77361500
87101400
96881350
106681300
116491250
126331200
136181150
146041100
155901050
165781000
17567950
18556900
19545875
20536850
21526800
22517780
23509760
24501740
25493720
26486700
27478680
28472660
29465640
30458620
31452600
32446590
33440580
34435560
35429550
36424540
37418530
38413520
39408510
40404500
41399490
42394480
43390470
44385460
45381450
46377440
47373430
48369420
49365410
50361400
51357390
52354380
53350370
54346360
55343350
56339340
57336330
58333320
59330310
60326300
61323292
62320284
63317276
64314270
65311265
66308260
67305255
68302250
69300245
70297240
71294235
72292230
73289225
74286220
75284215
76281210
77279205
78276200
79274195
80272190
81269185
82267180
83265175
84262170
85260165
86258160
87256155
88253150
89251145
90249140
91247136
92245132
93243128
94241124
95239120
96237116
97235112
98233108
99231104
100229100
10122796
10222592
10322388
10422286
10522084
10621882
10721680
10821478
10921376
11021174
11120972
11220770
11320668
11420466
11520264
11620162
11719960
11819858
11919656
12019454
12119352
12219150
12319049
12418848
12518747
12618546
12718445
12818244
12918143
13017942
13117841
13217640
13317539.5
13417339
13517238.5
13617038
13716937.5
13816837
13916636.5
14016536
14116435.5
14216235
14316134.5
14416034
14515833.5
14615733
14715632.6
14815432.2
14915331.8
15015231.4
15115131
15214931.8
15314831.2
15414730.8
15514630.4
15614430
15714329.6
15814229.2
15914128.8
16014028.4
16113828
16213727.6
16313627.2
16413526.8
16513426.4
16613226
16713125.6
16813025.2
16912924.8
17012824.4
17112724
17212623.6
17312523.2
17412422.8
17512222.4
17612122
17712021.6
17811921.2
17911820.8
18011720.4
18111620
18211519.6
18311419.2
18411318.8
18511218.4
18611118
18711017.6
18810917.2
18910816.8
19010716.4
19110616
19210515.6
19310415.2
19410314.8
19510214.4
19610114
19710013.6
1989913.2
1999812.8
2009712.4
2019612
2029511.6
2039411.2
2049310.8
2059210.4
2069110
207909.6
208909.2
209898.8
210888.4
211878
212867.6
213857.2
214846.8
215836.4
216826
217815.6
218815.2
219804.8
220794.4
221784
222773.6
223763.3
224753
225752.9
226742.8
227732.7
228722.6
229712.5
230702.4
231702.3
232692.2
233682.1
234672
235661.9
236651.8
237651.7
238641.6
239631.5
240621.4
241611.3
242611.2
243601.1
244591
245580.95
246580.9
247570.85
248560.8
249550.75
250550.7
251540.65
252530.6
253520.55
254510.5
255510.45
  • dbqp

    Good work. It’s pretty incredible how bad the old trade value chart is.

    I found an interesting question in Mike Reiss weekly chat at ESPN: http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/boston/chat/_/id/51713

    Would it be advisable for the team holding the 32nd pick to let the time run out on their selection and instead get the 33rd pick? The net worth of the contract would be better unless the fifth year option adds to that value. I would assume the trade value of the 32nd pick is higher, but maybe having 24 hours to trade the 33rd pick makes up for that.

    • macatawami

      One thing to keep in mind is that teams have a fifth-year option for first-round picks, but not second-round picks. For picks 11-32, the salary for the fifth-year option is the average salary of the 3rd-through-25th highest salaried players at the player’s position, so this can be extremely valuable for teams. For instance, if Teddy Bridgewater turns out to be good, the Vikings can keep him for an extra year at essentially an average starting QB salary, which would be far below his market value. They couldn’t do that if he were the 33rd pick.

    • Anthony

      The old trade value sheet was not made intrinsic data sets and taking specific pick positions and a new CBA or even salary cap into account. It was Jimmy Johnson in the late 80s early 90s guide. It’s actually not a terrible start for what it is.

      • Whats funny about the chart though is I am pretty certain that it did become the basis for the bonus money used in the current CBA system.

  • wscaddie56

    Great article, thanks.

  • Weston

    So how does this apply to lets say Seattle last couple of trades of their first round [expected value of Harvin vs what he actually offered]

    • That was a bad trade from the start, but if you use the value chart created here they basically gave up about 830 points, which would be the equivalent of the 4th or 5th pick in the draft. BAsed on how they paid him they were clearly expecting him to perform at that level or higher.

  • Jeremy

    Great post.

    One flaw I realized is that this over values late round picks who have a significant chance of not making the team/contributing. (In the 2010 and 2011 drafts, roughly half of the 7th round draft picks have an AV of 0, and another 20% have an AV of 1. Roughly 20% never played in a game) But based upon this analysis, it is going to say they were still valuable since they cost roughly half the veteran minimum.

    You may argue they still provide value even if they have an AV of 0 since they don’t eat up as much cap space, but it’s reasonable to assume that 7th round draft picks who don’t contribute would probably have been replaced with Undrafted free agents who didn’t contribute and who would have been slightly cheaper than the UDFAs. I’m curious how to see how this would have changed if you compare players with an AV of 0 to the rookie minimum rather than the veteran minimum (or maybe an average between the 2).

    I’m also very curious how 7th round draft picks compare to UDFAs, but since PFRs draft query doesn’t have an option for undrafted players, I haven’t been able to complete this analysis.

    Finally, I think this analysis also quantifies how much rookies are underpaid under the new CBA.

    • Yeah Ive done some other stuff with 7th rounders that pegged them lower than this. Those were the guys that gave me the biggest headache here. I mean if you expect an AV of 0 will the player get min plus bonus. I probably should have used $585,000 (vet min benefit with no bonus), but I also considered using the 435K and even 0 basically saying the player is worthless. The one benefit the 7th round pick has over the veteran is the lack of termination pay protection.

      Ive wanted to do the UDFAs for some time, but its pretty tough. If they dont make it they arent really included by PFR and most dont make it. The salaries are also not standardized (in terms of bonus) compared to the draft. There are also a handful of UDFAs that make more in guarantees than a 7th round pick, but thats only because they are essentially assuring them of a practice squad spot which they wont do with a draft pick for certain reasons. Actually maybe I should have just used a practice squad salary for the AV of 0, essentially marking it as an interchangeable player whose ultimate upside is the PS. Something to think about for next year if I do an update on this specific method

      • Jeremy

        Does PFR have an easy way to view UDFA’s who do make it? Couldn’t you make a reasonable estimate about the number each team signs (assume something like each team signs 12 every year) to get a good feel both for how many UDFA’s are successful and what percentage are?

  • Dr__P

    love to see a plot of the new draft chart overlayed with the Harvard Draft chart