2015 NFL Review: Roster Construction

In part 1 of our overview of the season I looked at the top 53 salaries for each team. In part 2 we are going to look to see how the teams allocated that money across the roster. Normally people will look at things like this by position, but for a different perspective I really want to focus on what mechanisms are being used to build the roster. Again Ill try and compare the playoff and non-playoff teams and see if there were any notable differences. I generally break a roster up into a few categories as they relate to contracts. They are as follows:

Drafted– Players who were selected in the draft and did not have their contract terminated (a waiver claim would count as uninterrupted service) or expire

UFA– Players whose prior contracts either expired or were set to expire when they signed. Includes tagged players

SFA– Players who were cut from a contract and available to all 32 teams

Extension– Players who signed a contract at least the season before their contract was set to expire

UDFA– Undrafted players whose contracts have run uninterrupted

Other– Players already under contract who renegotiated a contract which generally, but not always, involves a pay cut of some sort

RFA/ERFA– Players who signed a contract when their team had relative control of a players rights. Can also include players who signed long term extensions rather than just 1 year tender offers.

When breaking down each team in this manner I found a few interesting things. The biggest takeaway I had was the high use of extensions on the successful teams. The average team has about 6 players who they extended. Of the 8 teams with the most extended players, 6 made the playoffs. This makes intuitive sense because the cycle of success generally begins with a successful draft period which in turn leads to re-signing those players before the contract expires.

Extensions are, in my opinion, one of the most important tools for sustained success. It gives you the benefit of at least an extra year to get started on prorating bonus money and paying guarantees. Most of those guarantees were salary you were already planning on paying to the player on his prior contract so really it’s a major discount. Teams gain huge salary cap flexibility with these deals compared to teams who wait to sign.  Because the players have the threat of injury and no open market when they agree to a contract, often teams also get favorable overall contract numbers on a player.

I think there is also an inherent advantage to focusing on your own players rather than those outside the organization. You have seen those players play in your system for a number of games usually across multiple years. You know the work ethic. You know how they fit in your system. You can most accurately gauge a fair contract value. That gets lost when you sign outside the organization and your knowledge is limited.

That number of extensions does seem to go hand in hand with signing players whose contracts have expired. While some of these players may technically be considered an extension (such as a Randall Cobb to Green Bay) from a cap perspective they are no different than new players. All the salary side benefits of the extension are gone. Most of these signings are pure free agents that switch teams and it is often a bidding war, one in which your information is far more limited than in the extension when the team holds almost all the cards. The only playoff team to rank above the average this year was Washington who had, by my method of analysis, 22 UFA contracts, tied for most in the NFL with the Jets. The next highest playoff team was just 13 UFA type contracts.

When looking at those teams from a spending perspective only the Broncos and Chiefs are on the higher end for dollars per UFA player. The biggest spenders per UFA player were the Browns and Dolphins and the top 10 also included the Raiders, Jaguars, Cowboys, Rams and Ravens. The Cardinals rounded out the top 10.

I didn’t consider anything else too noteworthy when looking over the categories. Street free agents, which can include UDFA types who were cut too, were not a big part of most playoff rosters, though the Panthers had the most in the NFL.  However the playoff teams did spend towards the top for the players they did sign. That’s likely an indication that the teams were looking at higher upside players from the street and not necessarily loading up on low level or end of career players.

In the next part I’ll look closer at the performance of each roster segment and future roster prospects.

Here are the breakdowns by roster designation, both by total number and dollar per player:

Team Drafted UFA SFA Extension ERFA/RFA UDFA Other
Bengals 27 13 3 8 2 0 0
49ers 26 9 7 8 2 0 1
Vikings 24 12 7 7 1 0 2
Rams 24 8 7 7 4 3 0
Jaguars 23 12 12 3 0 1 2
Ravens 23 11 10 6 2 0 1
Browns 23 8 9 7 4 2 0
Chiefs 23 11 5 6 0 4 4
Packers 23 10 4 9 3 3 1
Cardinals 22 11 13 6 0 0 1
Titans 22 17 11 2 0 0 1
Lions 22 14 9 5 1 2 0
Texans 22 13 7 6 0 4 1
Dolphins 22 11 7 6 2 5 0
Raiders 21 9 10 6 7 0 0
Broncos 20 13 11 2 1 4 2
Giants 19 18 11 4 0 0 1
Patriots 19 10 10 8 2 0 4
Steelers 19 11 10 9 4 0 0
Colts 18 16 14 2 1 1 1
Chargers 18 14 13 7 0 1 0
Cowboys 18 11 10 6 5 0 3
Bills 18 16 10 6 2 0 1
Redskins 18 22 10 3 0 0 0
Panthers 17 12 15 8 0 0 1
Bears 17 19 15 1 1 0 0
Jets 17 22 9 3 2 0 0
Buccaneers 16 12 14 5 2 2 0
Saints 16 15 12 3 1 2 4
Eagles 16 14 10 9 0 0 3
Seahawks 16 11 10 9 2 3 0
Falcons 15 16 11 5 1 4 1
Average 20.1 13.2 9.9 5.7 1.6 1.3 1.1
Team Drafted UFA SFA Extension ERFA/RFA UDFA Other
Browns $1,244,862 $5,765,625 $2,280,185 $5,697,038 $2,413,500 $525,000 $0
Dolphins $1,129,021 $5,355,227 $1,120,714 $8,150,505 $1,470,500 $523,133 $0
Broncos $1,144,865 $4,945,449 $2,036,818 $7,925,000 $585,000 $505,459 $9,712,500
Raiders $1,278,137 $4,853,704 $2,105,000 $3,327,778 $1,258,857 $0 $0
Chiefs $1,479,653 $4,828,788 $882,000 $5,873,750 $0 $519,916 $5,109,375
Jaguars $1,585,773 $4,787,153 $866,250 $3,158,333 $0 $529,167 $3,825,000
Cowboys $1,147,883 $4,552,418 $1,458,000 $8,355,958 $1,865,557 $0 $2,450,000
Rams $1,496,135 $4,385,141 $695,002 $7,428,653 $1,267,000 $526,778 $0
Ravens $915,844 $4,318,182 $1,937,083 $5,058,041 $3,907,000 $0 $5,416,667
Cardinals $1,097,698 $4,162,121 $950,769 $7,711,667 $0 $0 $11,000,000
Packers $900,639 $4,137,000 $2,642,917 $8,402,361 $1,559,000 $516,500 $2,450,000
Bears $1,216,848 $4,102,132 $639,833 $3,750,000 $660,000 $0 $0
Bills $1,228,043 $4,070,677 $1,169,333 $6,976,994 $585,000 $0 $1,712,500
Saints $1,111,350 $4,052,833 $734,271 $7,035,417 $585,000 $528,667 $4,329,167
Vikings $1,312,045 $4,032,153 $661,429 $4,885,714 $1,542,000 $0 $9,000,000
Buccaneers $1,407,802 $3,908,218 $929,219 $5,671,667 $2,560,167 $503,750 $0
49ers $883,725 $3,901,704 $936,429 $5,903,646 $622,500 $0 $3,050,000
Eagles $2,158,224 $3,894,583 $602,500 $3,999,204 $0 $0 $4,145,000
Jets $1,469,898 $3,876,593 $1,012,278 $7,075,000 $1,949,000 $0 $0
Texans $1,060,394 $3,814,487 $657,857 $7,255,028 $0 $526,292 $7,333,333
Patriots $1,027,563 $3,807,250 $1,043,000 $4,048,667 $660,000 $0 $6,145,833
Titans $1,274,028 $3,730,588 $1,124,773 $8,804,000 $0 $0 $1,270,000
Chargers $1,139,278 $3,542,946 $1,100,000 $7,217,500 $0 $527,500 $0
Redskins $1,373,716 $3,461,439 $1,710,500 $8,633,333 $0 $0 $0
Panthers $1,031,454 $3,362,132 $1,564,300 $6,540,403 $0 $0 $6,000,000
Lions $1,133,901 $3,361,905 $962,778 $8,985,762 $3,100,000 $521,667 $0
Colts $1,245,414 $3,208,333 $2,248,393 $11,976,500 $2,356,000 $527,667 $5,666,667
Giants $1,160,262 $3,035,880 $719,318 $7,862,500 $0 $0 $1,550,000
Seahawks $1,273,221 $3,033,788 $645,750 $10,115,797 $4,017,167 $518,333 $0
Falcons $1,275,703 $2,940,938 $967,159 $8,955,250 $585,000 $521,583 $5,812,500
Bengals $968,622 $2,608,718 $2,418,333 $9,866,592 $2,228,000 $0 $0
Steelers $1,050,504 $1,776,667 $949,000 $8,708,714 $1,760,667 $0 $0
Avg. $1,225,703 $3,925,462 $1,242,850 $7,042,399 $1,173,029 $244,419 $2,999,329