With the 2018 NFL season over, it’s time to go back three years and identify some teams that used 2016 free agency wisely or poorly with respect to the compensatory pick formula in 2017. For reference, you may find the list of the 2017 compensatory picks awarded here, and the cancellation charts for all 32 teams here. (Select the 2017 tabs on both pages.) (more…)
Recent Posts by Nick
This article refers specifically to OTC’s projection for the 2018 NFL Draft’s compensatory picks. For details on the basics and methodology of projecting compensatory picks in general, please reference this article.
To understand how this projection is generated for each team, please reference the compensatory picks cancellation charts here.
|Team||Round||Compensated Free Agent||APY|
|Compensation over 32-pick limit; not awarded|
Note that although there are 39 eligible compensatory picks listed in this projection, each year only exactly 32 picks are awarded. Therefore, the picks that rank 33rd and lower are not awarded, although the official release will typically acknowledge their presence, as this list does with strikethrough text.
Compensatory picks became tradeable beginning with the 2017 NFL Draft. This year, there has been one such trade thus far, with the Rams slated to send the higher of their two projected 3rd round comp pick to the Jaguars in exchange for Dante Fowler.
I expect the official release to come out on February 22, the Friday before the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine. Releasing the list then is sensible, as it allows executives at the Combine to discuss possible trades with full knowledge of their draft capital.
It was suggested via the resolution allowing comp picks to be traded on December 2, 2015 that the cutoffs between each rounds and whether or not a player had an APY high enough to qualify was determined by a “rank[ing] against all players in the League who are on rosters at the end of the season”. I have conjectured from this evidence that the cutoffs are based on a percentile system. After refining the OTC’s program following the official release of the 2017 compensatory picks, it’s my guess that the percentiles operate on even percentages divisible by five, as illustrated in the table below.
At the end of the 2018 regular season, OTC’s database identified a total of 1924 players that were either on the active roster or reserve lists, and had also played in at least 10 games during the 2018 regular season. As explained in the general methodology in the previous link, the cutoffs for each round and for qualifying as a compensatory free agent (CFA) have been established by this projection on certain percentile ranks of all players on the active roster and reserve lists at the end of the regular season, sorted by APY adjusted for snap counts in descending order and also represented by the player at the cutoff point. For 2018, these cutoffs are as follows:
|Round||Percentile||Overall Rank||Representative Player|
|3rd/4th||95th (top 5%)||96||Luke Kuechly|
|4th/5th||90th (top 10%)||192||Aaron Colvin|
|5th/6th||85th (top 15%)||289||Golden Tate|
|6th/7th||75th (top 25%)||481||Leighton Vander Esch|
|7th/Qualify||50th (top 50%)||962||Ryan Hewitt|
Players On The Cutoff Bubbles
While it is my hope that my projection of where the cutoffs lie is correct, there is enough of a margin of error that the players that are very close to them may fall on the opposite side of where I have them projected. In most cases, if I’m wrong it means that the team in question will still get a comp pick for that player, but that it may be in a round higher or lower. But in a few cases (those are bolded), it could change cancellations, possibly taking away or greatly devaluing a projected comp pick—or possibly adding or greatly upgrading a comp pick.
- Ryan Jensen (Baltimore): #71
- Projected 3rd/4th cutoff: #96
- Donte Moncrief (Indianapolis): #98
- Anthony Hitchens (Dallas): #125
- Justin Pugh (New York Giants): #180
- Projected 3rd/4th cutoff: #192
- Danny Amendola (New England): #283
- Projected 5th/6th cutoff: #289
- Bennie Logan (Kansas City): #451
- AJ McCarron (Cincinnati): #467
- Projected 6th/7th cutoff: #481
- Tramaine Brock (Minnesota): #506
- Logan Paulsen (San Francisco): #917
- Andre Roberts (Atlanta): #927
- Geno Smith (New York Giants): #954
- Projected 7th/Qualifying cutoff: #962
- Bene Benwikere (Dallas): #971
- Tom Compton (Minnesota): #975
- Brock Osweiler (Denver): #990
- Mike Wallace (Philadelphia): #996
Teams are becoming more mindful of the rule where a compensatory free agent will not qualify if they are not on their roster past Week 10 (this year, the Sunday games took place on November 11). This year, notable cuts right before this date were Sam Bradford (cut by Arizona November 3), Deonte Thompson (cut by Dallas November 9), and Patrick Omameh (cut by the New York Giants November 10). I have confidence that all three players will not qualify, but it’s worth making this note just in case something goes wrong with those projections.
Meanwhile, as far as cutoffs go, all of the major close calls hover around which players will or will not qualify as compensatory free agents. Most are straightforward in that they are close to where I have this cutoff estimated at. This has usually been a difficult cutoff to project, so I could be wrong on whether some of those players qualify or not.
But one of these qualification questions is quite convoluted. That’s the contract Mike Wallace signed with Philadelphia after leaving Baltimore. Wallace’s contract was first reported as a 1 year deal for “up to $4 million“. Then, it got revised down to “$2.5 million with incentives“. Then it was discovered that the 200-pound Wallace had a $585,000 weight bonus achieved for weighing under 250 pounds. And finally, it was discovered that Wallace’s $1 million signing bonus is an Other Amount Treated As Signing Bonus that’s believed to be a guaranteed workout bonus.
This is a blatant attempt by Eagles GM Howie Roseman to push Wallace’s value in the compensatory formula down so far that he does not qualify as a compensatory free agent, since workout bonuses, weight bonuses, and incentives do not count in the formula. Combine Wallace’s base salary of $915,000 with the fact that he played very few snaps due to going on injured reserve early in the season, and it appears that Roseman may succeed in his goal. By following the known rules of the compensatory formula, I’m projecting that Wallace will not qualify. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if the NFL Management Council sees things differently, for if this is correct, Philadelphia has blazed a new trail in how teams can manipulate the formula to their benefit.
Possible Altering Scenarios
- If Sam Bradford qualifies, Arizona will not get a 6th for Kareem Martin.
- If Bene Benwikere qualifies, Arizona will not get a 7th for Drew Stanton.
- If Andre Roberts qualifies but Logan Paulsen does not qualify, Atlanta will be eligible for a 7th for Roberts, but it would be unlikely to make the 32-pick limit.
- If Andre Roberts does not qualify but Logan Paulsen does qualify, Atlanta will not get a 5th for Taylor Gabriel.
- If neither Andre Roberts nor Logan Paulsen qualify, nothing changes for Atlanta.
- If the entirety of Mike Wallace’s contract is counted, Baltimore could get a 7th for Ben Watson that would likely be the Mr. Irrelevant pick.
- If Mike Wallace’s signing bonus is counted, Baltimore will be eligible for a 7th for him, but it would be unlikely to make the 32-pick limit.
- If Deonte Thompson qualifies and Bene Benwikere does not qualify, Dallas will not get a 4th for Anthony Hitchens.
- If Deonte Thompson does not qualify and Bene Benwikere does qualify, Dallas will be eligible for a 7th for Benwikere, but it would be unlikely to make the 32-pick limit.
- If Deonte Thompson and Bene Benwikere qualify, nothing changes for Dallas.
- If Brock Osweiler qualifies, Denver will be eligible for a 7th for him, but it would be unlikely to make the 32-pick limit.
- If Sam Bradford qualifies, Minnesota will get a 3rd for Case Keenum.
- If Tom Compton qualifies and Tramaine Brock is valued as a 7th, Minnesota will not get a 7th for Brock.
- If Tom Compton qualifies and Tramaine Brock is valued as a 6th, Minnesota will not get a 7th for Shamar Stephen.
- New York Giants
- If Geno Smith does not qualify, or Patrick Omameh does qualify, the New York Giants will not get a 5th for Devon Kennard.
- If Geno Smith does not qualify and Patrick Omameh qualifies, the New York Giants additionally will not get a 4th for Justin Pugh.
- Los Angeles Chargers
- If Geno Smith does not qualify, the Los Angeles Chargers will get a 7th for Matt Slauson.
- If the entirety of Mike Wallace’s contract is counted, Philadelphia will not get a 6th for Beau Allen.
- If Mike Wallace’s signing bonus is counted, Philadelphia will not get a 6th for Patrick Robinson.
With Week 1 fully in the books, of which includes snap counts in 2017, it’s a good opportunity to take an update on where OTC’s projection of the 2018 compensatory picks stand.
|Team||Round||Compensated Free Agent||APY|
|Compensation over 32-pick limit; not awarded|
Quite a few compensatory free agents (CFA) did not ultimately make their new teams’ rosters upon the cutdown to 53 players. Here are the cuts that created relevant changes to the list of projected 2019 comp picks:
There was a lot of activity on both sides of Dallas’s ledger. Both Jonathan Cooper and Brice Butler failed to make the rosters of San Francisco and Arizona. The Cowboys offset one of these losses by cutting Kony Ealy. However, it was not enough to avoid staying positive in the difference between CFAs lost and gained–now at two apiece. This means that Dallas’s potential 4th rounder for Anthony Hitchens has been demoted to a net value 7th that would have no reasonable chance of being within the 32 pick limit.
It appeared that Dallas was going to rectify this by initially cutting Deonte Thompson as part of cutdown to 53. Instead, they brought him back two days later in an effort to circumvent waiver rules. But Cowboys fans should keep an eye on Thompson’s production over the next two months. If it is not good, Dallas may be better suited to let him go before Week 10 so they can regain the 4th rounder for Hitchens. A similar argument could be made for backup tackle Cameron Fleming, depending on whether the team’s depth on the offensive line can improve.
- Cutting Cooper was not only a loss for Dallas but a gain for San Francisco. The 49ers are now projected to pick up a 6th rounder for Aaron Lynch. They also have three eligible 7th rounder for other players, but all are likely to miss the 32 pick limit.
- The Lions saw two of their CFAs lost–Travis Swanson and Don Carey–fall off their ledger due to being cut. With only four CFAs lost to five gained, Detroit is now projected to get nothing. There is an outside chance that Carey, who was cut with an injury settlement, could still qualify, but that alone is not enough to get Detroit back on the board.
- The Jets cut wide receiver Charles Johnson, thus costing the Carolina Panthers a 6th rounder for Ed Dickson.
- The 49ers cut Jeremiah Attaochu, thus taking the Chargers fully out of 2019 comp pick contention, though it was only a 7th they had on the line.
- Philadelphia improved their 2019 comp pick standing (more on that below) by cutting Corey Nelson. This kept Denver off the board despite cutting one of their own CFAs in Clinton McDonald.
With some snap counts recorded, there has also been some shuffling in the order of the comp picks. There was only one change in round that have resulted: Baltimore got their comp pick for Ryan Jensen upgraded from a 4th to a 3rd. But this, and other picks, are subject to change if players get injured or otherwise miss playing time.
Also important is the final piece of the puzzle that’s unknown for the projection: the number of leaguewide players qualifying for the formula that compensatory free agents will be judged against. Currently, that number is at 1918, but it will steadily go up during the regular season, as players are cut or placed on reserve lists, with new players signed to replace them. As this happens, some CFAs that are qualifying now may not ultimately qualify. Here are the relevant cases of that to watch:
- The Giants got back on the board with a 4th rounder for Justin Pugh, but this happened only because Geno Smith barely made it back into qualifying range after cutdowns to 53. He’s still qualifying despite not logging any snaps, as backup quarterbacks tend to do. But he is still very much on the bubble, and unless Phillip Rivers, who has a lengthy starting streak, is unable to play, that 4th for Pugh will likely come back off the board.
- The Falcons should be aware on how much they intend to use Logan Paulsen on offense this season. Right now, both he (a CFA signed) and Andre Roberts (a CFA lost) are barely qualifying. But Paulsen played more snaps than Roberts did on Week 1. If that continues, there may be a chance that Paulsen qualifies but Roberts does not. If that happens, the Falcons will lose a 5th rounder for Taylor Gabriel.
- Finally, despite the best efforts of the Eagles to get Mike Wallace to not qualify for the formula, playing 91.7% of the snaps Week 1 puts him fairly comfortably in the qualifying range for now. This alone isn’t that damaging for Philadelphia, as right now Wallace is only cancelling out a 7th for LeGarrette Blount that would be on the bubble for making the 32 pick limit. But that could change if the Chargers decide to shake up their kicking position once again. Should they cut Caleb Sturgis before Week 10, Wallace would have no choice but to cancel out one of the Eagles’ 6th round picks for Beau Allen and Patrick Robinson.
With the league offices closing for today, the second Tuesday after the 2017 NFL Draft, it also closes out the addition of compensatory free agents (CFAs) into the formula for the 2018 NFL Draft. With only CFA subtractions now possible due to cuts or too low of a salary, it’s time to take a look at the list that’s emerged.
There is a bit of the changing of the guard in the teams seen in this year’s list. A few stalwarts like New England, Baltimore and Cincinnati remain prominent, but others like Green Bay, Denver, Seattle, and Pittsburgh are starkly missing. In their place are some teams with notable circumstances within 2018 free agency: the Los Angeles Rams (who like New England are on track to get two 3rd round comp picks), Minnesota (who saw three quarterbacks leave in free agency), Philadelphia (a major sleeper on pursuing comp picks, as I’ll explain below) and Washington (who, despite their hard earned reputation of being big time UFA spenders, are poised to break the longest active regular comp pick drought. The last time they got one was 2009, a 7th rounder that was used to draft Marko Mitchell.)
Also notable is that this could be the first year under the current CBA that getting a seven figure APY is required to qualify for the compensatory formula. Currently, Geno Smith, at $1 million even, is on the bubble of qualifying, and with him out of consideration (as is likely unless something disastrous happens to the durable Philip Rivers) it opens up a 7th rounder to the Chargers for either Kenny Wiggins or Matt Slauson, and also takes off the board a 4th rounder to the Giants for either Weston Richburg or Justin Pugh.
There are two players that, despite being listed as Unrestricted Free Agents in the official press release, I am guessing will not qualify for the compensatory formula. They are Donald Stephenson, going from Denver to Cleveland, and Derrick Johnson, going from Kansas City to Oakland. This is because both Stephenson and Johnson had their contracts shortened by renegotiating voids in their 2018 year in exchange for taking pay pay cuts in 2017. This is unfortunate for both the Broncos and Chiefs, as it will negatively impact their comp pick ledgers. For Denver, if Stephenson counted it would open up a 7th rounder for Corey Nelson (although he would be unlikely to make the 32-pick limit). Otherwise, it will end the Broncos’ four year streak of obtaining or being eligible compensatory picks–unless Brock Osweiler somehow becomes the Dolphins’ starting quarterback for most to all of 2018. The Chiefs, however, are projected to get a 6th or 7th rounder for Terrence Mitchell as of now, but if Johnson qualified they would likely get another 6th or 7th rounder for him as well.
The other unusual case involves Mike Wallace, going from Baltimore to Philadelphia. As I mentioned above, the Eagles are a team that have been largely ignored in recent comp pick studies, but historically this is mistaken to do so. From 2004 to 2011, the Eagles got multiple comp picks in six of those eight drafts, and were second only to Baltimore in the most total comp picks awarded. Howie Roseman was a high level executive with the team during those times, and looking at how he’s crafted some of his CFA signings, there are signs that he just as determined as Ozzie Newsome, Bill Belichick, or John Elway in manipulating the comp pick system.
This brings us back to Wallace. Early reports had his Eagles’ deal as one year and “up to” $4 million. However, it was soon discovered that there was plenty of funny money in that deal. $2.085 million of that $4 million are in Likely To Be Earned incentives, and among the most laughable was a $585,000 weight bonus to be earned by reporting to offseason workouts under 250 pounds. It’s laughable because Wallace, a wide receiver, has consistently played at a relatively svelte 200 pounds. But the comp pick formula shines insight on this unusual bonus, as it’s established that weight bonuses do not count. (See Terrance Knighton demoting a comp pick for Denver in 2016.)
But it doesn’t end there. Wallace’s $1 million signing bonus is actually an OATSB–Other Amount Treated As Signing Bonus. OTC also believes that this OATSB is a guaranteed workout bonus. Although it’s unclear how the comp pick formula will judge such a payment, it has been very consistent in not counting workout bonuses of any kind. Because there are many signs suggesting that the Eagles are manipulating the formula with Wallace’s contract, I’m therefore guessing that this $1 million will not count either. If that guess is correct, all that’s left to count is Wallace’s veteran minimum base salary of $915,000, and while he could still qualify if he plays enough snaps, currently that’s not enough to break the current qualification limit of $1 million.
The end result? If Wallace does not qualify, as I have it so right now, it opens up an additional 6th rounder to Philadelphia for Patrick Robinson, and it potentially costs Baltimore a 7th for Wallace.
|Team||Round||Compensated Free Agent||APY|
|Compensation over 32-pick limit; not awarded|
Names to watch in training camp
For the next few months, the most important thing to watch for with regard to 2019 compensatory picks is if any CFAs fail to make and stay on their team’s roster. If any CFA is permanently cut from their team’s roster before Week 10, they will not qualify for the compensatory formula. Using a little intuition, there are some teams that could feasibly improve their standing in 2018 compensatory picks if they cut certain players, and other teams that need to hope that certain teams don’t cut some of their former players.
Teams with CFAs signed
- Dallas: The Cowboys currently have only one comp pick on the board, a 4th for Anthony Hitchens. However, none of the three low level CFAs they signed (Kony Ealy, Cameron Fleming, and Deonte Thompson) have guarantees larger than $1 million. If Dallas cuts any to all of them, they could pick up a maximum of an extra 6th round and two 7th round comp picks.
- New York Giants: They are currently even with five CFAs each lost and gained. Of the five they gained, Michael Thomas and Cody Latimer could be the most vulnerable to being cut for comp pick reasons. It will not be cheap to cut either: Thomas was guaranteed $1.5 million, and almost all of Latimer’s $2.5 million was guaranteed. But if they cut one of the two before Week 10, it would open up a 4th rounder for one of Weston Richburg or Justin Pugh, and if they cut both it would open up an additional 5th or 6th for Devon Kennard. (Cutting Latimer would also end any scant hope the Broncos have to continue their comp pick streak.)
- Detroit: They currently have one 5th round comp pick for DJ Hayden on the board. But the Lions could get a second 5th rounder for Tahir Whitehead if they cut one of their lower valued CFAs. Among those, Kenny Wiggins should feel the least secure for a roster spot, given that Detroit just drafted Frank Ragnow in the first round. Wiggins has only $750,000 in full guarantees, so it will be quite cheap for the Lions to move on from him if they so choose.
- Seattle: Some regular comp pick seekers, like Green Bay and Denver, simply didn’t lose enough valuable CFAs to make it worth it to go after comp picks this year. But I’m having a hard time understanding how the Seahawks approached free agency this year. As I anticipated, the Seahawks lost high valued CFAs in Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson, and Paul Richardson–all currently valued as 4th rounders. But Seattle instead signed 7 CFAs of their own, taking them way out of contention to earn any of those 4th rounders. Of those seven, they could cut four of them (Dontae Johnson, DJ Fluker, Tom Johnson, and Shamar Stephen) with little consequence, as all have guarantees at or below $1 million. But that’s not the case for the other three (Ed Dickson, Barkevious Mingo, and Jaron Brown). This year, it seems clear that John Schneider is taking an educated gamble that the CFAs he signed will be worth more than the 4th round comp picks he could have otherwise received via the Seahawks’ usual modus operandi in free agency.
Teams with CFAs lost
- Baltimore: Ben Watson will turn 38 during the 2018 season, and the Saints only guaranteed $645,000 of his contract. If Watson fails to make the roster or decides to call it a career before the regular season, and Mike Wallace doesn’t qualify, it would jeopardize the Ravens’ 3rd or 4th round comp pick for Ryan Jensen.
- Los Angeles Chargers: As mentioned above with Detroit, if Kenny Wiggins fails to make the roster, it will take the Chargers out of comp pick contention. They may also have to fear the same with Matt Slauson, who will now have to compete with 1st and 2nd round rookies Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith alongside incumbent Jack Mewhort for a starting job at guard.
- Detroit: While the Lions could gain a comp pick, they could also lose the one they have now. Don Carey and Travis Swanson have minimal amounts of guaranteed money in their deals with the Jaguars and Jets, and if either fail to stick around then the Lions’ 5th rounder for DJ Hayden will have no choice but to come off the board.
- Minnesota: With the Jets drafting Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater’s roster spot is by no means safe. If he’s cut, the Vikings will see their 6th for him be demoted to a 7th for either Tom Johnson or Shamar Stephen. And speaking of those two, as described above Seattle may have their own comp pick reasons to cut them–that could potentially take comp picks off the board. (Fortunately for Minnesota, their 3rd rounder for Case Keenum should be as solid as they come.)
- Atlanta: They will have to hope that Andre Roberts not only makes the Jets’ roster, but also qualifies for the formula. If he doesn’t, that could jeopardize their 5th rounder for Taylor Gabriel. They could rectify that by in turn cutting or benching Logan Paulsen, on the same salary as Roberts.
- Carolina: Charles Johnson is another Jets receiver who could impact comp picks if he doesn’t make their roster. In Carolina’s case, they would lose a 6th rounder for Ed Dickson.
The draft always paints a picture for the future, and the 1st round of the 2018 NFL Draft is no exception. As the picks came in, my mind often times immediately went to what implications certain picks could have for incumbent players on their respective teams. Here are my thoughts on veteran contracts that could be in jeopardy or subject to change in the near future.
Let’s start right at the end of the 1st round where the Ravens traded up to draft Lamar Jackson. Flacco’s gargantuan contract birthed from the failure of Rahim Moore to play deep is one of the most leveraged in the NFL with prorated bonus money. It’s thus made it impractical for the Ravens to part ways with Flacco for several seasons. 2019 will be the first season in which the Ravens could do so without incurring a cap loss. Although $16 million in dead money is still a large number, the Ravens would still save at least $10.5 million against the 2019 if they cut or traded Flacco. ($18.5 million if they used a June 1 designation). By drafting Jackson, the Ravens have set themselves up well with the option of giving him a redshirt in 2018 if need be, with the hope of holding a viable starter at quarterback in 2019 while they escape from the shackles of Flacco’s contract.
It was no secret that the Jets were going to take a quarterback in the first round once they gave up three 2nd round picks to move up to the 3rd overall selection. Now that Sam Darnold is in the fold, the Jets currently have five quarterbacks under contract. In addition to likely the biggest quarterback bust in the 2016 NFL Draft in Christian Hackenberg, Bridgewater’s place on the Jets could also be in jeopardy. His only guaranteed money was a $500,000 signing bonus. At $5.5 million, Bridgewater could also be an attractive trade offer for a team that does not fully satisfy their quarterback situation in the remainder of this year’s draft.
Bradford’s official two year deal is better interpreted as a one year deal with an option for 2019. With the Cardinals succeeding in drafting Josh Rosen, it gives them flexibility to decline Bradford’s 2019 option, leaving behind only $5 million in dead money with $20 million in cap savings. Declining the option would also make Bradford eligible for the 2020 compensatory pick formula, and given Bradford’s knack in garnering huge contracts owing all the way back to being the last 1st overall pick in the old CBA, it could be likely that the Cardinals would get a 3rd round comp pick if they elect to decline his option and go with Rosen for 2019.
The Jaguars acquired Dareus’s bloated contract from the Bills in the middle of last season that treated them well in their defense fueled playoff push. But the drafting of Taven Bryan could spell the end of Dareus’s contract soon. After 2018, all of Dareus’s guaranteed money will have been earned. And because the Jaguars acquired Dareus by trade, they have no prorated bonus money from him on their books. That means come 2019, the Jaguars could be fully clear of over $10 million in salary should they part ways with Dareus at that time.
John Elway was noncommittal before the draft on picking up Ray’s fifth year option. It was good that he was, as one can never be for sure who will fall in one’s lap in the draft. That was the case with the Broncos, who had Bradley Chubb rated as their highest defensive player but had zero mock drafts in which they thought he would be available to him. With Ray’s 5th year option likely coming in at around $10.6 million, and the Broncos having the fifth least 2019 cap space at the moment, it may now be more likely than not that Denver will not pick up Ray’s option.
The status of Ray could also affect Barrett, who is currently signed for a 2nd round RFA tender of about $2.9 million. With both Ray and Barrett heading to unrestricted free agency in 2019 if the Broncos decline Ray’s option, Denver could elect to reprise the situation they had in 2016 with Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson: extending the one that was willing to do a more team friendly deal. Barrett as the long term #3 edge rusher behind Von Miller and Chubb could make good sense.
The drafting of Calvin Ridley would presume a plan to demote Sanu to a #3 WR option. Would paying him around $6 million each year from 2018 through 2020 be worth it for such a role? Sanu has no more guaranteed money left on his deal, and will gain cap space in any season if the Falcons decide at that time to move on from him.
Drafting Kolton Miller fills an immediate need for the Raiders at right tackle. However, if the team thinks he could also play left tackle in the future, that could jeopardize Penn’s role with the team in 2019. That year, he will turn 36, and be due over $10 million, with none of it guaranteed, and no dead money on the Raiders’ books if they part ways with him then.
When the Raiders acquired Martavis Bryant from the Steelers, Jason noted that they will need to make some contract move(s) to free cap space before they sign their rookie class. If the Raiders want to avoid cutting anyone, they may need to move away from their practice of avoiding restructures and prorated bonuses like the plague. One reasonable move could come by an extension of Mack that provides him with a modest signing bonus. Mack has a similar reputation to Derek Carr, who did receive a $12.5 million signing bonus, so the Raiders could afford to do this without backing down on their modus operandi with lesser players.
A key goal of OTC’s new Rookie Class Evaluation section is to provide more insight and understanding as to how rookie classes pan out. Fans tend to get disappointed when many of their favorite team’s drafted rookies don’t perform as expected. But they and other observers of the NFL should be aware of what the typical rookie class yields. In this article, I intend to go through some statistics of rookie classes, largely parsed through the lenses of snap counts and vested veteran contracts, to attempt to establish reasonable benchmarks. Through this, some rookie classes that may look bad may in fact be closer to the leaguewide mean or median.
Total rookie class snap counts
As demonstrated in the Rookie Class Evaluation homepage, both the average Snap Index of a rookie class tends to be within a range of 8 to 10. What does this mean? For every team’s regular season, think of it as having 22 units of snaps to be completed, for the 22 players on the field at all times. (Kickers, punters, and long snappers do skew this, but not by much.) Multiply this by four seasons to get a total set of 88 units of snaps that members a rookie class can earn before they become vested veterans. Assuming a typical rookie class’s Snap Index to be around 9, divide 9 by 88 to discover that such a class would only participate in about 10% of the available snaps over those four seasons.
Total rookie class snap counts as rookies
Another source of disappointment I regularly sense from fans is when players in their rookie or first years do not immediately step on the field and contribute. I therefore took a look at the Snap Indices of rookie classes filtered only by snap counts from the players’ first accrued season. (This is usually, but not always, their rookie season.) Both the average and median Snap Indices hovered around 2.3. Divide 2.3 by 22, and you’ll see that rookies and first year players only get about 9% of the team’s snaps. This is not much lower than their typical contribution during their first four seasons, but is lower enough that some patience should be exercised when players new to the NFL, adjusting to the much high level of competition, don’t immediately perform as hoped.
Total vested veteran contracts earned from rookie classes
As described in the header to this respective table in the Rookie Class Evaluation homepage, less than half of drafted rookies go on to earn vested veteran contracts. Since each draft consists of an exact average of eight picks per team (seven regular rounds plus one round of compensatory picks distributed among the ends of regular rounds 3 to 7), this means that a typical draft slate should go on to generate 3 to 4 players (as well as about 1 UDFA) that make it past their fourth accrued season. In blunter terms, this means that more than half of the draft picks that a team makes won’t play more than four years in the NFL–and an even higher percentage won’t complete their rookie contracts with the team that originally acquired them. Keep that in mind when you look through a rookie class and feel tempted to woe about the multiple “busts” that it contained.
Vested veteran contracts earned from rookie classes, by round
Another aspect to keep in proper prospective is how successful players should expect to be based on at what level they were acquired by teams as rookies. Here is how this breakdown goes with vested veteran contracts earned, as of now from 2011-2014:
- 1st: 65.6%/81.3%*
- 2nd: 75.4%
- 3rd: 60.6%
- 4th: 51.0%
- 5th: 42.8%
- 6th: 32.7%
- 7th: 21.1%
- UDFA: 11.4%
*20 1st round picks from 2014 are still on their rookie contracts via the exercised fifth year option. The two figures listed here respectively exclude and include those players.
What this suggests is that four out of five 1st rounders should go on to play more than four years in the NFL. The same holds for three quarters of 2nd rounders, three out of five 3rd rounders, and about half of 4th rounders. It then becomes more likely than not that a player acquired in a lower level will not earn a vested contract.
Also keep in mind that if anything, these numbers may be overestimated, as many players signing their first vested veteran contract ever from the 2014 rookie classes may not go on to earn any money on those contracts, as they make not make a roster in 2018. In any matter, when judging how well a team does in each round, or in undrafted free agency, keep these percentages in mind as a benchmark before being too critical.
Vested veteran contracts earned from rookie classes, by position
As a bonus, here’s a similar breakdown by position, as there is often scattered discussion about which positions are more “valuable” in the NFL:
- Quarterback: 46.77%
- Running back & fullback: 30.19%
- Wide receiver: 30.20%
- Tight end: 37.38%
- Tackle: 51.52%
- Guard: 50.00%
- Center: 46.15%
- Interior defensive line (all defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends): 40.00%
- Edge rushers (4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers): 43.80%
- Traditional linebackers (4-3 outside linebackers and all inside linebackers): 48.98%
- Safety: 32.85%
- Cornerback: 36.61%
- Kicker, punter & long snapper: 46.30%
It makes intuitive sense for more offensive linemen and quarterbacks to earn vested veteran contracts that running backs. It’s less so for traditional linebackers getting there more frequently than wide receivers or defensive backs.
In a week, we’ll begin learning some key information on the future of teams when they draft 256 new players into the league, plus sign hundreds of undrafted players. Remember that it will take at least four years to properly judge how teams did in those efforts–and within that time, most of those players will not last in the league as long as you might think.
To add some context to OTC’s Rookie Class Evaluation, here’s a look at the best 12 rookie classes from 2011-2014. The class’s Snap Index is indicated in parentheses, and links to each rookie class are contained within the number of vested veteran contracts and extensions were secured from the class.
1. 2014 Jaguars (21.483)
Perhaps the 2017 Jaguars’ playoff run should not have been as surprising when looking at this rookie class. The quality of the play of Blake Bortles may be under heavy debate, but he at least emerged as a four year starter on his rookie contract. Bortles was also bolstered by a center in Brandon Linder and three receivers who all played more than half of the available snaps in Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, and Allen Hurns—and that’s even with Robinson suffering a season ending injury early in 2017. This rookie class also secured two solid defenders in Aaron Colvin and Telvin Smith. Among the Jaguars’ 9 draft picks, only one (their last one in 7th rounder Storm Johnson) failed to earn a vested veteran contract.
2. 2014 Raiders (19.626)
This rookie class may have saved the job of GM Reggie McKenzie, and may be still saving it today with the return of Jon Gruden. Out of it they got a starting quarterback (Derek Carr), edge rusher (Khalil Mack) and guard (Gabe Jackson) who all played at least 89% of the snaps under their rookie deals. They also got more defensive help in Justin Ellis and TJ Carrie, and could have bolstered the contribution even more had they not given up on Shelby Harris, who is now with their archrival in the Broncos.
3. 2012 Rams (18.979)
Your first thought may be that this rookie class is unfairly weighted due to getting extra high draft picks from the Robert Griffin III trade. But that only explains part of the story. To go along with the likes of Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, and Greg Zuerlein among the draftees, the Rams also found three contributors among the undrafted in Rodney McLeod, Johnny Hekker, and Cory Harkey.
4. 2012 Seahawks (18.392)
The second of two consecutive rookie classes that led to the meteoric rise of the Seahawks under John Schneider, the crown jewels are of course Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner. Seattle also got significant contribution from JR Sweezy, Bruce Irvin, and Jeremy Lane among the drafted, and from Jermaine Kearse and DeShawn Shead among the undrafted.
5. 2013 Falcons (18.247)
A quietly excellent rookie class, the Falcons started by securing two starting cornerbacks with their first two picks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. In the rest of the class they got some depth contributions from Levine Toilolo and Kemal Ishmael, and among the undrafted they found a starting right tackle (Ryan Schraeder) and inside linebacker (Paul Worrilow).
6. 2011 Broncos (16.822)
John Elway’s first rookie acquisition as a GM was Super Bowl 50 MVP and likely Hall of Famer Von Miller. He followed it up with two more players (Rahim Moore and Orlando Franklin) who started at least three-quarters of available snaps on their rookie contracts, and continued it with two tight end finds later in the draft in Julius Thomas and Virgil Green. This stellar introductory rookie class for Elway ends with the acquisition of Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. in undrafted free agency.
7. 2011 Browns (15.672)
Wait, a Browns rookie class makes the top ten? Yes, indeed, the 2011 Browns rookie class got a heavy amount of snap counts. You may argue that some of these snaps were not high quality, and indeed, players like Greg Little and Jason Pinkston really skew this. On the other hand, there were players like Jabaal Sheard, Jordan Cameron, Buster Skrine, and Craig Robertson who were able to parlay their rookie contract snaps into vested veteran deals. The key, of course, is that none of them came via extensions from the Browns.
8. 2011 Seahawks (15.532)
And here’s the first of those two monster Seahawks rookie classes. This one was actually quite poor in the first three rounds, with only first rounder John Carpenter being a regular contributor. But the third day of the draft was of course outstanding with the selections on defense of Richard Sherman, KJ Wright, Byron Maxwell, and Malcolm Smith. The cherry on top of this class was finding Doug Baldwin as an undrafted free agent.
9. 2012 Browns (15.230)
Wait, two Browns rookie classes make the top ten? Much like 2011, this was a class in which the Browns failed to retain any of the talent they obtained. But unlike 2011, the 2012 class is more of an example of the Browns actually drafting well. Yes, Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden were major busts that contributed little, but they followed them up with a 100% snap count starter in Mitchell Schwartz, and also got some contribution in the later rounds of the draft from John Hughes, Travis Benjamin and Billy Winn. Then, among the undrafted they found Tashaun Gipson, who soon emerged as a regular starter. And here’s the shocker: this snap count index could go up even higher despite being six years ago. That’s because it also includes Josh Gordon, taken in the supplemental draft. The reason why is that he has accrued only two seasons due to multiple suspensions—and in those two seasons he averaged around 80% of snaps in a high quality matter. Should Gordon be able to return to that lofty level, this Browns rookie class could rise all the way to 6th on this list in the future.
10. 2013 Lions (15.213)
This rookie class may have been what it took to finally dig the Lions out from regular bottom feeders to at least respectable mediocrity. They got two starters on defense in Ezekiel Ansah and Darius Slay that are still with the team today, as well as some more contribution from Devin Taylor. On offense, they got a part of their running back squad in Theo Riddick, and a starting guard in Larry Warford. They even got their punter (Sam Martin) in this rookie class.
11. 2012 Vikings (15.155)
Though the Vikings got no UDFAs of note from this rookie class, their draft picks were solid from start to almost finish. Among their nine draft picks, only the last one (Trevor Guyton) failed to complete his rookie contract. Among the other eight, Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith are of course the highest contributors, with four others (Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright, Rhett Ellison, and Robert Blanton) all contributing at least 37% of available snaps throughout their rookie contracts.
12. 2014 Packers (14.711)
A Ted Thompson rookie class barely makes the top twelve. This effort garnered Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Davante Adams, and Corey Linsey among the drafted players, and four UDFAs contributed to some extent on their rookie deals in Green Bay.