NFL Preseason Playing Time By Salary Range

As we get ready for the final roster cutdown I wanted to take a quick glance at team usage in the preseason. The preseason used to be something of a warm up for the regular season with starters often ramping up their participation, peaking with the 3rd preseason game of the year. The depth evaluation phases of games were primarily relegated to the 1st and 4th games of the preseason, but it seems clear that now we are strictly in an evaluation phase in all three preseason weeks.

Here is how our participation breaks down on offense, sorted by salary range.

Contract RangePlayersSnapsSnaps/Player
$0-$1.035M76445,33159.3
$1.035M-$2M31415,86950.5
$2M-$5M1755,47931.3
$5M-$7.5M521,34825.9
$7.5M-$10M3172123.3
$10M-$15M4668014.8
$15M-$20M3559116.9
$20M-$30M18794.4
$30M+141379.8

Approximately 87% of the snaps on offense were played by players earning less than $2 million per season. Their participation rates were basically double the next closest groups. As we get into the expensive tier of players the threat of injury has more or less brought this down just a handful of snaps across three weeks.

On defense we have the following

Contract RangePlayersSnapsSnaps/Player
$0-$1.035M54947,48186.5
$1.035M-$2M29415,31452.1
$2M-$5M164508531.0
$5M-$7.5M4877716.2
$7.5M-$10M3676721.3
$10M-$15M535149.7
$15M-$20M322357.3
$20M+13594.5

This skews even further away from using higher priced players. Nearly 68% of all snaps were played by those earning under $1.035M a year despite that group making up just 47% of NFL rosters. If you earn at least $10M a season odds are you were getting the preseason off.

Here is a breakdown of snaps per player for each team based on salary.

Team$0-$1.035M$1.035M-$2M$2M-$5M$5M-$10M$10M+
49ers57.159.029.18.03.2
Bears62.549.730.338.028.3
Bengals66.952.814.20.00.0
Bills71.545.528.97.37.2
Broncos67.350.311.428.50.0
Browns66.349.817.00.09.4
Buccaneers52.651.821.411.66.1
Cardinals68.354.68.40.00.0
Chargers61.048.229.54.40.0
Chiefs51.950.926.931.1
Colts55.247.028.729.821.0
Commanders58.445.830.318.035.6
Cowboys70.054.516.00.00.0
Dolphins58.651.738.725.214.6
Eagles68.649.930.93.74.6
Falcons59.142.526.412.616.3
Giants61.551.618.440.126.0
Jaguars75.266.240.847.134.4
Jets54.857.440.925.315.6
Lions64.351.132.833.925.0
Packers60.155.719.80.00.0
Panthers58.157.330.933.615.3
Patriots63.663.328.828.529.2
Raiders76.654.240.314.80.0
Rams62.721.70.00.00.0
Ravens68.145.719.75.10.0
Saints56.449.248.616.38.5
Seahawks60.862.033.645.33.5
Steelers55.246.850.566.534.5
Texans54.252.847.029.00.0
Titans54.451.731.72.02.4
Vikings62.653.025.812.02.2

I think the interesting things here will be whether or not teams playing more expensive players a little more than others will have any impact on the start of the season or not. The Commanders led the NFL with 35.6 snaps per player making at least $10M a season. The Steelers and Jaguars were both over 34 snaps per player and also had massive playing time for those between $5 and $10 million a season. The Chiefs were the other team over 30 snaps a player for those earning over $10 million.

On the flipside were the Bengals, Broncos, Cardinals, Chargers, Cowboys, Packers, Raiders, Rams, and Ravens who more or less put no expensive players on the field. The Rams, in fact, played almost all low cost players this preseason. The Cardinals did something smear.

These are probably some traits that are worth keeping an eye on in the future when determining future strategies for player usage in games during the summer. If the Chiefs look far more crisp than their opponents in the AFC West maybe it will say something about their approach to the preseason getting their players a bit more game ready. If all teams look equal than it might say more about sitting talent.

I know some want to do away with the preseason but I think even with just three games it is clearly a strong evaluation tool and showcase for players who are fighting to make a team. At the same time this is a game of high priced tickets and tv contracts and it is becoming increasingly clear that as a product the league has no business marketing these games at full price or as anything more than tryouts to make a 53 man roster or practice squad.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC