Forecasting an Extension for David Johnson

The Arizona Cardinals have been in a retooling mode over the last two seasons, evident by the team’s high roster turnover and mediocre 7-8-1 and 8-8 record in 2016 and 2017 respectively. With the team drafting Josh Rosen 10th overall, the front office should now focus on developing and retaining young talent to surround the young QB. One player who fits this mold is Running Back, David Johnson.  Johnson was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft and had a solid rookie season before breaking out in 2016 with 2,100 all-purpose yards, 20 Touchdowns, and Pro-bowl and All-Pro accolades. After suffering a season-ending wrist injury the following season, he now enters the last year of his rookie deal and is looking for an extension. The Cardinals have publicly stated Johnson is a core player and look forward to rewarding him, so it’s clear both sides are motivated to hammer out a deal. The question will be at what number?

Key Points

Before determining a fair value for Johnson, there are a few points I want to discuss. The first relates to what Jason Fitzgerald wrote in his recent article, where the multiple franchise tag isn’t a good option for Johnson and the best way to maximize his earnings is by doing an extension with the Cardinals. If Johnson were to go the multiple franchise tag route, the Cardinals would have him under his current $1.907M salary and likely apply the franchise tag in 2019. During his tagged year, Johnson would be incurring injury risk while having no long-term financial commitment from the team, which is a crucial need for Running Backs given their short career span. After Johnson would play out his first franchise tag, he would either hit free agency in 2020 or be tagged for the 2nd time. If he were to hit free agency, he’d be 28 years old and teams probably wouldn’t value him the same given his age. Being tagged a 2nd time would put Johnson in similar circumstances during his first tag, where he’d have nothing guaranteed past the tag year. One might point to Johnson’s peer, Le’Veon Bell, as a RB who seems to be doing well with the multiple-franchise tag option; however, the key difference is Bell will be hitting free agency at 27, an age where teams are more likely to show the money for a Running Back vs Johnson who would be 29 after his 2nd tag. My second point relates to the Cardinals usage of Johnson. During negotiations, Johnson’s camp should look for him to be paid like a true 3-down back. During the 2016 season, his first season as the entrenched starter, Johnson had 373 total touches, which was more than any other RB that season. I would expect Johnson to continue to be the work-horse, as he’s arguably the most dynamic player on the offense and the ability of new OC, Mike McCoy, to build a system around his players. Johnson can also further his case on his value by pointing out he had the second most targets on the team in 2016, with 120 targets. The Cardinals rushing offense also struggled when Johnson wasn’t on the field, dropping from 18th to 30th from 2016 to 2017. My last point relates to the timeline of a deal. I would expect Johnson’s camp and the Cardinals to set a deadline of exactly one month before the start of the 2018 season. The CBA doesn’t credit a player with an accrued season if their holdout extends to anything less than a month before the regular season. This has huge financial consequences as a player is eligible only for Restricted Free Agency if they have less than 4 accrued seasons. Johnson would only have 3 accrued seasons with an extended holdout.

Comps

Below is a list of some of the recent RB deals and each player’s performance 2 years leading up to the deal:

One thing to note from the table above is that I’ve included Le’Veon Bell. Although he rejected the Steelers’ offer last year, it’s important to reference the offer in determining an appropriate APY for Johnson. I would expect the Cardinals’ offer to be lower as Johnson doesn’t have the same leverage that Bell did.  Bell was already tagged at a $12.12M APY figure with a second tag valued at $14.544M, with no team control thereafter. In Johnson’s case, the Cardinals theoretically have him under control for the next 3 years at roughly $27.207M, whereas the Steelers had Bell for 2 years at $26.664M at the time of their offer. In addition, when a team like the Steelers don’t guarantee anything past the first year, they need to compensate with a higher APY.  Considering the points above, below is my estimate for Johnson’s extension and how it compares to his peers:

  • 5 Year Extension worth $48.75M in new money ($9.75M APY)
  • Signing Bonus: $10M
  • Fully Guaranteed: $19.5M ($10M SB + $3.5M 2018 Base Salary + $6M 2019 Base Salary)
  • Total Guaranteed: $25.5M (Fully Guaranteed Amount + $6M 2020 Base Salary which vests on 3rd day of 2020 league year)
  • 1 Year Cash Flow: $17.593M
  • 3 Year Cash Flow: $29M

I would expect Devonta Freeman’s APY to be the starting point as Johnson is used more when healthy and has more upside. In regards to cash flow, I believe the only way the Cardinals will agree to a 3 year cash flow higher than $27.207M, the sum of Johnson’s current salary and estimates of the next 2 tag values, is if they can get more years of control. In addition, the Cardinals will likely look to do a vesting guarantee in the third year, which gives them the flexibility to move on from Johnson for any reason after just 2 seasons. This structure was also used on Tyrann Mathieu as he was cut two years into his extension before additional guarantees in his deal triggered.

Team Impact

   The table below illustrates the cap hits each year of Johnson’s deal and the cost/benefit if the Cardinals were to release him any given year. The Cardinals are approx. $14M under the cap, with a projected $44.9M next year, so I don’t anticipate Johnson’s extension causing any salary cap constraints. In addition, if the Cardinals structure Johnson’s deal as below, Johnson’s cap hit % through 2020 will never exceed 4.21%, which is a very reasonable rate for a player of Johnson’s caliber.

Final Thoughts

It’ll be interesting to see whether Johnson and the Cardinals will be able to reach an agreement in the next month. If Johnson is realistic about his value and not asking to be in the range of Le’Veon Bell’s offer from last year, I would expect a deal in the next few weeks. Assuming Johnson signs an extension in the neighborhood of what I’ve projected, he’d trade in this year’s $1.907M salary and either a shot at free agency next year or approx. an $11.5M Franchise Tag for a deal totaling $50.632M over 6 years. At signing, Johnson would be guaranteed $19.5M, which would be paid over 2 years and then the Cardinals would decide in March 2020 whether they want to continue to employ the RB or let him walk.

Hardik Sanghavi graduated from DePaul University in 2016 with a major in finance and minor in accounting. During his time at DePaul, Hardik interned with ESPN Chicago and Priority Sports & Entertainment. He now works as a Commercial Underwriter in the Insurance Industry and is a contributor on sportsagentblog.com. You can follow him on twitter at @hardiks94

Guaranteed Salary, Short Term Contract and Other CBA Ramblings

Earlier today Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung posted a series of tweets regarding NFL contracts, the CBA, and guarantees and it was a pretty thought provoking series of tweets.  We don’t often see players articulate these points so clearly in a public forum and it gave me some food for thought to write about. You can click on the link so you can read his own words but the main bullet points were that players should get more of a percent of the revenue, contracts should be guaranteed, the salary cap should be removed, and the CBA has lots of language that is negative to the players. So I wanted to discuss a few of these points. Continue reading Guaranteed Salary, Short Term Contract and Other CBA Ramblings »

2019 Compensatory Draft Picks Update (5/8/2018)

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.

Notable cases

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.

TeamRoundCompensated Free AgentAPY
WAS3Kirk Cousins$28,000,000
MIN3Case Keenum$18,000,000
LAR3Sammy Watkins$15,830,000
NE3Nate Solder$15,400,000
LAR3Trumaine Johnson$14,500,000
CAR3Andrew Norwell$13,000,000
NE3Malcolm Butler$12,170,000
BAL4Ryan Jensen$10,500,000
IND4Donte Moncrief$9,600,000
DAL4Anthony Hitchens$8,838,000
ATL4Dontari Poe$8,533,333
PHI4Trey Burton$7,925,000
WAS5Spencer Long$6,850,000
ATL5Taylor Gabriel$6,500,000
DET5D.J. Hayden$6,333,333
MIN6Teddy Bridgewater$5,500,000
WAS6Ryan Grant$5,000,000
PHI6Beau Allen$5,000,000
NE6Dion Lewis$4,950,000
PHI6Patrick Robinson$4,925,000
WAS6Terrelle Pryor$4,500,000
CIN6Andre Smith$4,000,000
CIN6AJ McCarron$3,950,000
CIN6Chris Smith$3,900,000
CAR6Ed Dickson$3,566,667
KC6Terrance Mitchell$3,233,333
MIN7Tramaine Brock$3,000,000
ARI7Jaron Brown$2,750,000
NE7Cameron Fleming$2,500,000
LAC7Kenny Wiggins$2,500,000
LAR7Cody Davis$2,500,000
MIN7Shamar Stephen$2,100,000
Compensation over 32-pick limit; not awarded
ARI7Blaine Gabbert$2,000,000
ARI7Matt Barkley$1,400,000
LAR7Derek Carrier$1,275,000
ARI7Earl Watford$1,250,000
SF7Tank Carradine$1,150,000
IND7Frank Gore$1,105,000
SF7Leon Hall$1,060,000
SF7Logan Paulsen$1,005,000

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.

Contracts In Question After The 2018 NFL Draft’s 1st Round

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.

Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens

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.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Jets

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.

Sam Bradford, QB, Cardinals

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.

Marcell Dareus, 43DT, Jaguars

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.

Shane Ray, 34OLB, Broncos

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.

Shaquil Barrett, 34OLB, Broncos

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.

Mohamed Sanu, WR, Falcons

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.

Donald Penn, LT, Raiders

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.

Khalil Mack, 43DE, Raiders

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.

Looking at Odell Beckham’s Contract Situation with the New York Daily News

Wanted to share an article written by Pat Leonard that appeared in last week’s New York Daily News where we go over how the Giants could feasibly sign Odell Beckham to an extension before the 2018 season.

You can click here to go to the article on their website or check out the article below.

Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com and author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” which is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL. 

What Should Teams Expect Out Of Their Rookie Classes?

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.

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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.

The Best Rookie Classes By Snap Counts, 2011-2014

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)

11 players with vested veteran contracts, 7 of which were extensions

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)

6 players with vested veteran contracts, 4 of which were extensions

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)

8 players with vested veteran contracts, 6 of which were extensions

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)

11 players with vested veteran contracts, 4 of which were extensions

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)

6 players with vested veteran contracts, 5 of which were extensions

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)

7 players with vested veteran contracts, 3 of which were extensions

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)

4 players with vested veteran contracts

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)

8 players with vested veteran contracts, 4 of which were extensions

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)

7 players with vested veteran contracts, 1 of which was an extension

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)

6 players with vested veteran contracts, 4 of which were extensions

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)

9 players with vested veteran contracts, 5 of which were extensions

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)

5 players with vested veteran contracts, 3 of which were extensions

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.