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Which Players Could Face Negative Contract Fate In 2024?

As I continue my study into contract fate in the NFL (as described here), before the 2023 season begins I thought I’d take a look as to some veteran players whose play in 2023 should be seen with an eye as to whether that season could be their last under their current contracts. This resulting in generating a list of players that met the following criteria:

  • On a vested veteran contract (four or more accrued seasons)
  • Due at least $4 million in cash for 2024
  • With a negative contract fate of 60% or greater odds that their contracts will be terminated or cut in pay after the having completed the number of seasons on their contract.

Contract Fate

Training camps are starting this week, and in their leadup we have seen multiple stories of some players deeming to be underpaid (Zack Martin, Chris Jones) and others deemed to be overpaid by their teams (Joe Mixon, Kevin Byard). This was leading me to consider a concept I’ll call contract fate, the outcome of multiyear contracts signed by vested veterans.


The Trends Of Fifth Year Options, 2011 To 2020

Now that all decisions on fifth year options for the 2020 first round picks have been made, this would be a good time to observe how the contract mechanism, first introduced in the 2011 CBA, has fared over the course of a decade.

Fifth year options over time

Note that the five players that were extended before a decision even needed to be made on their fifth year option (Whitney Mercilus, Lane Johnson, Christian McCaffrey, Kolton Miller, Jordan Love) are classified in the green Exercised line. Also note that Justin Blackmon is classified as Terminated even though there is a chance he is still on the Jaguars’ Reserve/Suspended list. I have also classified Jeff Okudah’s contract as terminated, even though it was instead renegotiated so the Lions would pick up some of Okudah’s salary. According to Ian Rapoport, this made Okudah ineligible for the fifth year option. My guess is that the NFL ruled the renegotiation to be an entirely new contract, and one that did not include the fifth year option within it.

The average number of options picked up per draft is 19.1, and the median is 19.5. The most recent draft where the fifth year options have been decided, 2020, is notable for being the first one ever where more options were declined (14) than exercised (officially 12–if counting Love’s extension, 13). This could be aggravated by five players whose contracts were terminated. But it could also signal a change in attitude for the fifth year option due to a change in the 2020 CBA that fully guarantees the fifth year option, whereas in the 2011 CBA it was guaranteed only for injury. This change first applied to the 2018 NFL Draft, so the sample size is small–and indeed, 2018 had the second highest fifth year options picked up, but it’s a trend to watch in the future of drafts subject to the 2020 CBA in this regard.

Fifth year options by position

PositionExercisedDeclinedTerminated% Exercised

It is surprising to see tight end as the position with the most fifth year option pickups (Hayden Hurst the one exception) given the low value of the position, but only eight tight ends have been drafted in this period, so a small sample size may be at play. Conversely, it is also surprising to see edge rusher with a low exercise rate, and given the high volume of edge rushers drafted, it may suggest that the hit rate for the position in the first round is lower, even if drafting one high makes sense due to the value of the position.

Quarterback featured the most share of rookie contracts terminated before the fifth year option could be exercised, possibly another example of a highly desired position being reached for due to its sheer importance. And running back is quite notable for the poor exercise rate–yet another indication that drafting one in the first round is a poor process of draft capital management.

Fifth year options by drafting team

TeamExercisedDeclinedTerminated% Exercised

The average exercise rate per team is 59.8%, and the median is 60.8%.

The Texans are the only team to have had all of their players they drafted have their fifth year options exercised, or extended beforehand (Mercilus), and with no 1st round picks in 2020 or 2021, that streak will hold for at least two more years. The Panthers and Chargers lead the league in most fifth year options picked up with 9. The Rams have been infamous for not having a 1st round pick from 2017 to the present, but before then they often had multiple first round picks, and did well in picking players they deemed worthy of the fifth year option.

On the other end, the Seahawks are the only team that has failed to have a single one of its drafted players get his fifth year option exercised (although Seattle themselves did exercise Noah Fant’s fifth year option after acquiring his rookie contract via trade). However, the Seahawks under John Schneider and Pete Carroll also have had fame for not making many first round picks to begin with–usually moving down from the first round–so a smaller sample size may aggravate their numbers to look worse than it might be.

Instead, the teams that really show up as being bad at drafting first rounders are the Browns, Raiders, Jaguars, and Bears. Cleveland has the lowlight of being far and away the team that’s drafted the most players whose rookie contracts were terminated before even reaching the fifth year option decision, at 5 (Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Corey Coleman). The Raiders are the only other team that’s even had more than one such terminated contract, and they both happened in the 2020 NFL Draft with Henry Ruggs and Damon Arnette. The Raiders and Jaguars are tied for most fifth year options failed to be exercised with 8.

Fifth year options by draft pick location

Finally, here was a request after I initially published this article that was easy enough to crunch:

Somewhat not surprising, the 1st overall pick is the only pick that has had all 10 fifth year options picked up–although the rates for the 2nd and 3rd overall picks are not nearly as rosy. The 28th overall pick has only one fifth year option picked up–for Kelvin Benjamin, who failed to cash in on that fifth year as he was traded and then cut from his rookie contract.

With a sample size of only 10 players per pick (except for the 32nd overall pick, due to the Patriots being stripped of a first rounder in 2016 as punishment for Deflategate), there is much back and forth in the chart, but the trendline shows a reasonable decline from 80% at the top to 40% at the bottom.

2024 Compensatory Picks Update (5/2/2022)

With the first Monday after the draft now in the past, it’s time to take a look at where OTC’s projection for the next slate of compensatory picks stands. If you have any questions about how this projection is generated, please take a look at the cancellation charts for all 32 teams here, and also refer to OTC’s compensatory formula page as a reference for where certain contracts are ranked. Also note that special compensatory picks generated from 2020 Resolution JC-2A are separate from the regular compensatory pick formula and thus are not addressed here.


Estimating The Number Of 2023 UDFAs For Each Team

It’s been a while since I’ve done this exercise, but with two weeks before the draft, I thought I’d revisit an estimation on the number of UDFA signings that each team might sign. This is calculated with some very simple math: take the sum of current rostered players as estimated by OTC and draft picks each team holds, and subtract that from 90 to provide the estimated UDFA signings each team could make.

This year, the Rams have far and away the most room to sign UDFAs with 34 open roster spots, and that’s despite having 11 draft picks. It seems unlikely that they would actually sign that many UDFAs–what seems more likely is that, due to having the maximum number of compensatory picks slated for next year’s draft at four, that they will make some strategic veteran signings after May 1, after the deadline for compensatory free agent qualification passes. The #2 team in the Ravens may have a lesser but similar idea, with a 4th round comp pick for Ben Powers going to Denver on the line.

Other teams that could sign a lot of UDFAs include the Titans, Bucs, and Panthers that have been overhauling their rosters in general, and the Dolphins and Vikings, who have few draft picks and may offset that with acquiring more rookie talent on the UDFA market.

On the other end, the Raiders, Falcons, Patriots, Giants, Colts, and Commanders are among the teams that have little current room for signing UDFAs. Most of these teams have at least the median expected number of draft picks, so they are likely going to contain the lion’s share of their rookie class through the draft instead.

The table to the left contains the UDFA estimates for all 32 teams, and the paragraphs on the right describe some of the features and caveats that each team’s UDFA rookie class may contain.

TeamCurrent Rostered PlayersCurrent # Of Draft PicksEstimated UDFA Signings

Note that these estimates will not be exact. Numerous trades will be executed during the draft that will change these numbers. Teams may also terminate the contracts of some currently rostered players to make room for more UDFAs than they currently have available. Nonetheless, these estimates can provide us some insight on what teams may be planning for UDFAs, both during and after the draft.

Teams With High Estimated UDFA Signings

  • By definition, these teams will have more roster space to sign higher numbers of UDFAs if they so choose.
  • However, there is a tradeoff: because Art. 7, §1(i) of the CBA greatly limits the amount of signing bonus money that may be offered to all UDFAs, that means that they may need to individually offer less signing bonus money to each UDFA if they spread out their pool. This could limit their ability to include high priority UDFAs among their rookie class.
  • These teams may also be candidates to trade down within the 2023 NFL Draft, in order to get more drafted players to fill out the roster.

Teams With Low Estimated UDFA Signings

  • Conversely by definition, these teams currently have limited roster space to sign UDFAs.
  • Also conversely, by signing fewer UDFAs, these teams may have a positive tradeoff by being able to offer those fewer UDFAs more signing bonus money. This could give them an advantage in outbidding other teams for high priority UDFAs
  • These teams may also be candidates to either trade up, or trade picks in the 2023 NFL Draft for ones in 2024 or later, so they don’t risk having to cut drafted rookies after training camp and the preseason.
  • Current fringe roster players on these teams may also be at a higher risk of being cut once the draft is over and terms have been agreed upon with UDFAs.

Explaining The Broncos’ 2023 Free Agent Signings

This is a crosspost containing an introductory snippet of an article written at Broncos Contracts.

This was an unusual start of the new league year for the Broncos where they were extremely active on the unrestricted free agent market. I cannot recall seeing such a blistering pace in a very long time. There is reason behind why the Broncos did this, of course. But because there were so many signings over a short time frame, I decided to do something a little different this time around: take a pause, let the details of the contracts arrive and sink in, and then proceed with discussion all at once.

I’ll break this effort into two pieces. This first part will be a factual look at the contracts that were signed. This article will then be followed up by a second part in where I offer my opinion on what they all mean.