Breaking Down the PFF 101

Recently Pro Football Focus published their list of the top 101 players in the NFL and I thought it would be fun to break things down into financials and free agent status. While nobody is going to take the PFF list as gospel they do hard work when compiling their lists and grades and it makes for good debate. So lets look at how their picks stack up against the salaries that teams are valuing their players at or the draft rounds identified by the scouts in the NFL.

The average salary per year for the top 101 players was $8,102,400. The top 25 were slightly higher in compensation at $9,608,204 than the rest of the players who averaged $7,607,070. Still that doesn’t tell us too much about the composition of their top 100 players, so let’s break things down by contract status.

Contract Type Number Avg. APY
Extension 41 $12,116,925
Drafted 25 $2,543,887
UFA 23 $8,376,630
Franchise 3 $11,363,111
SFA 3 $4,920,000
Other 2 $6,031,250
RFA 2 $1,671,000
ERFA 1 $525,000
UDFA 1 $510,000

Basically 40% of the PFF list is comprised of top level players who signed an extension with their team. The breakdown of this group shows almost exclusively players who were drafted or signed as an undrafted by their original team.  The only players signed to a true extension who made this list and were playing on a different team were Greg Olsen, Jason Peters, and Drew Brees.

Everyone else is still on their first team. 30 of the 41 players are 29 or under which should signify that this is their first or should be their first contract extension. The average years into the extension is just 1.4 years which I think lends some credibility to the theory that most NFL players peak in the early stages of an extension before tailing off. This is one of the great challenges when designing contracts as you want to be able to exit a contract whenever you believe the decline in skills may occur. The players deep into their extensions were Joe Thomas signed 5 years ago in 2011, TJ Lang and  Antonio Brown at 4 years, and Aaron Rodgers, Kam Chancellor, Matt Ryan, Geno Atkins, Matt Stafford, and KJ Wright at 3 years.

The age breakdown tells a similar story as to player peaks. Nearly half of the list is made up of players between the ages of 26 and 28, generally the first year of an extension or final year of a rookie contract. That’s the sweet spot if you can hit on enough players. Here is the breakdown by age.

Age Number APY
27 20 $8,775,381
28 16 $11,238,223
26 10 $8,023,138
25 8 $5,855,955
30 6 $7,950,000
31 6 $10,106,250
22 5 $2,291,167
23 5 $2,585,621
33 5 $10,240,000
24 4 $1,512,721
29 4 $8,630,625
32 3 $8,159,804
21 2 $6,353,752
34 2 $8,318,750
38 2 $1,937,500
35 1 $9,000,000
37 1 $24,250,000
39 1 $20,500,000

The list should also illustrate the fools gold that can exist in free agency. Of all the players who made the top 101 a whopping 78 are still playing with their original team. A few may have left and came back but most never left.

Type Number Homegrown % Homegrown APY
Extension 38 92.7% $11,986,025
Drafted 24 96.0% $2,564,741
UFA 7 30.4% $6,492,857
Franchise 3 100.0% $11,363,111
RFA 2 100.0% $1,671,000
SFA 2 66.7% $3,880,000
ERFA 1 100.0% $525,000
UDFA 1 100.0% $510,000

Here is the breakdown of the players who switched teams.

Type Number Percentage APY
Drafted 1 4.0% $2,043,375
Extension 3 7.3% $13,775,000
Other 2 100.0% $6,031,250
SFA 1 33.3% $7,000,000
UFA 16 69.6% $9,200,781

In looking at the roster I would say that most of the scouts are doing a pretty decent job as 43 players come out of the first round of the draft and 60 in the first two rounds. Still the third largest group is actually made up of players who were originally UDFA’s. While that pool is much larger than the draft pool that is still a pretty impressive feat.

Draft Round Number Salary
1 43 $9,261,892
2 17 $7,517,828
UDFA 15 $5,659,300
3 10 $10,224,600
4 6 $7,591,041
5 6 $4,903,211
6 3 $9,805,667
7 1 $760,000

As for who were the big busts in terms of salary who didn’t make it?  Joe Flacco topped the list of QB’s with a $22.1M contract but failed to make the list. Muhammed Wilkerson was the highest paid defender at $17.2M not to make it. Justin Houston was injured most of the year and did not appear on the list nor did Marcell Dareus, who may be one of the most overpaid in football.

AJ Green was the highest paid wide receiver to not make the list while Josh Norman was the highest paid corner not to make it. Robert Quinn and Malik Jackson at $14.25 million both failed to make the group. Adrian Peterson and his $14 million contract were nowhere to be found, but he also missed most of the year with injury, though I have my doubts he would have made the list.

All told 65 of the top 101 contracts failed to make the PFF top 101. Of the top 101 players who had a contract expire before being signed (meaning they were capable of becoming a free agent- franchise players are not included) 83 failed to make the PFF 101. Of players extended or tagged 65 failed to make the PFF 101. Just something to  think about when free agency rolls around and we talk about the big winners in free agency signing players to massive contracts and the big losers who let these big ticket players leave the team. There is a balance for teams and sometimes the best way to find that balance is to make what are pretty unpopular decisions at the time when they hold firm on their contract offers.