There are other factors that, in various degrees, affect how an NFL team best builds a roster, given the recent trends in the NFL. In this post, I like to discuss four of these factors.
Salary cap factor
As important as it is, this factor is somewhat uncertain at the moment due to the lack of a CBA. But the current assumption is that, with a new agreement, there will be some type of cap in place, probably with both upper and lower limits apparently somewhat reduced in terms of percentages than they were during the prior agreement (the presenting reason for the owners opting out of the previous agreement).
In addition, some form of rate schedule for rookies seems indicated, which will control the almost bizarre speculative cost for early position draft rookies (with the also bizarre consequence that teams drafting in the top ten want to trade down. Another bizarre potential consequence of a possible rookie pay schedule or cap is that no one will want to trade down to pay two rookie salaries instead of one – unless they’re prorated by position [point value systems, which are seldom workable], a system that will become so complicated as to be understood, much less appreciated, by no one). Restricted rights will play a role in the new agreement, but it is not certain what that will be and how it will affect the movement of players or lack thereof.
No matter what the nature of the new CBA, “cap management” will become IMO a very big factor, at least in terms of the amount of open discussion there will be about it. Xanders was apparently known for his ability to manage the cap, and it was ostensibly one of the reasons he was hired as GM.
The reasons for the cap factor’s more acknowledge importance are somewhat connected to the other three factors that I’m going to discuss.
But there are some implications which are becoming clear.
For many reasons, rosters will require greater depth than in the past (i. e – injuries, multiple schemes and sets, greater substitution patterns due to “hurry up” and “no huddle offense”, etc.)
Resources will, as a result, tend to want to be distributed more evenly to a greater number of players on the roster.
Let’s say there are between 60-70 players on the pay roll (53 rostered, 8 on the practice squad, an additional number on IR). The average per player would be around 1.5% of the total cap.
With a cap of say $120 million that works out to about $1.8 million per player. This total will rise for veterans since rookies and CFAs will enter at a lower pay scale (assuming such in an agreement). In fact, veteran players, as a whole, will benefit from an agreement that puts more restraints on the speculative spending on rookies.
But the management of these circumscribed cap resources to build a deeper roster will become increasingly important. The most apparent result will be that some veteran players, especially self-proclaimed stars, may simply become too expensive. Their cost will negatively affect the team as a whole. Paying one player too much (Haynesworth?) will weaken the team at another position or other positions.
I expect that “highest paid at his position” settlements and even “franchise player” tags will become fairly rare. Only two or three players on a team might ever be tagged as “franchise” players (??QB, NT, OC??) and then only reluctantly.
The other thing that I can see happening is that there will be both a change in relation of pay scales with regard to positions and a kind of leveling of pay scales across the positions.
This is the second place where the concept of “team” comes into play (the matching of skill sets in my first post on Trench Warfare was the first). Players who understand and are able to adapt to the cost/benefit approach to team building will fit better on a team than those whose main concern is personally getting the top dollar.
This, in my mind, is best discussed with regard to the next three factors.
Free agency factor
Free agency will increasingly be regarded as a foundational concept in building a team roster largely because rookies have to be resigned just about the time that they have begun to contribute at high levels.
The old cliché “building a team through the draft” more and more will be expressed with an important caveat. All draftees eventually have to be resigned or they become FAs. To draft a rookie who will “hold down a position for ten years” is actually a fairly useless slogan. After one, two, or three years (depending on their contracts), they, in effect, become like FAs because they have to be resigned.
And, given that mostly all rookies spend at least their first year learning NFL quality skills and essential techniques while learning NFL systems, and perhaps another year becoming sufficiently competent in the increasingly complex systems of today’s offenses and defenses, rookies are mostly just eventual prospective FAs. Some contribute a little their first year, with more contribution in the second. But since mostly rookie contracts don’t go beyond three years there’s really only one good year of inexpensive contribution before they’re negotiating for the same slice of the pie as FAs.
(“Rookie starters” seem often a sign, less of a budding star, than of an incredibly poorly developed team roster at their position; people who are disappointed with rookies “who do not become immediate starters or even impact players” should, IMO, simply be ignored – unless they are head coaches or position coaches; and even then they make bad mistakes).
If there are restrictions placed on the movements of rookies in the new CBA, this will affect their place in the equation to some extent, perhaps mostly enhancing the importance and success of the initial drafting done by the team (not necessarily the players’ mobility).
At this point, a team’s own rookies, (considering the restrictions that might be indicated) now having to be signed just like FAs, join the pot of players available to build the roster. Some may prove to be more suitable than others (though they might also be more suitable for another team). The unsuitable ones will be cut, waived, traded, etc. Add to this that some of the other teams’ unsuitable rookies may potentially be very suitable for one’s own team, providing another source for potential roster depth.
And then the Salary cap factor applies to them as to every other FA in the NFL, whether restricted or not,. Who is the best value in building the deepest, most competent, most versatile, roster for a playoff quality team. Even quickly advancing rookies might place themselves outside of the cost/benefit scale and become too expensive (BM?).
Mining this lode of players will become a finely developed science requiring “smarts”, skill and a lot of luck on the part of the FO.
In my mind, this is the most elusive factor, but possibly the most important.
Stated simply, it has to do with the number of players available (draft, FA, etc.) who would be suitable for the roster.
But there are issues.
1. Some positions, because of the skill set desired or preferred, have few quality players who can play the position at the NFL level while other positions have more players available. (One of the oft stated reasons teams go to the 3-4 defense is that there are overall fewer quality DL players available than there are LBs/DEs. It was an adjustment to the “scarcity factor”, using a larger number of the type of player that is more plentiful.) Overall, there are usually more quality WRs and DBs than there are OL and DL.
2. All players can be rated on a scale, but that scale is often “team specific”. The team philosophy conditions the scale – as a whole, on offense, and on defense. (Brady would rank higher in NE’s philosophy than would Roethlesberger, and vice versa).
3. Each draft has strong and weak areas. For instance, this year’s draft is described as very strong on OTs, DBs and WRs, but weak on NTs, QBs, and Ss. In other areas it is stronger early and weaker later and vice versa.
4. Like with the draft, each year’s FAs can be strong in some areas and weak in others.
5. The “team specific” of #2 changes the value of each individual player for a team from the perceived general norm, raising some and lowering others. Hence, you see the often drafted or signed “reach”, who, for a specific team might be no “reach” at all.
6. Not all players on the roster will be stars. There will be players who are not stars, hopefully of a very high grade if the team is to reach playoff status.
7. Star players are more useful to a team in some positions than in others, something which can also be “team specific”.
All of this simply means that the availability of suitable players varies from position to position, from team to team, and from year to year. The value of a particular player to a particular team at any given time can be greatly affected by this. Some players of seemingly limited skill sets get onto a specific team and blossom. Others with seemingly unlimited skill sets get onto a specific team and just rot. (It might not always be totally the result of “good” or “bad” attitude.)
Finding the right players to build the best deep roster possible out of all of these variables can be complicated – again requiring “smarts”, skill and a lot of luck.
A theoretical rule of thumb might be the more “stars” the weaker the roster depth and flexibility. Unless the “stars” are good value (fit into the cost/benefit scheme).
Eight unit factor
Most people don’t always remember that an NFL team is actually composed of eight separate units:
1. Offensive unit
2. Defensive unit
3. KO unit
4. KO return unit
5. FG unit
6. FG defense unit
7. Punting unit
8. Punt return unit
With 11 starting players on each unit that’s a total of 88 starting players.
The last six are often referred to as STs, and in terms of number of plays per game they together account for less than one fourth of the total plays in any game. However, their importance is generally regarded as higher than that – up to a third of the teams overall quality for success ratio.
As the numbers indicate, the 45 dressed players for any game have to, on average, fill almost two roles. Some, by definition can fill only one – i.e. punter (unless your QB or kicker is also your punter, which hasn’t happened in maybe 30 years). Some for practical reasons will fill only one – i.e. QB. Some might fill at least six roles – i.e. long snapper.
The rest are made up of the most versatile players – those who can fill multiple roles at a high level. These versatile players are among the most valuable on the team. Here is the third place where the concept of “team” comes into play; players being willing and able to fill two or more roles well. This is another part of what McD talks about when he looks for players who are “versatile”.
Taking these four factors into consideration filling a roster with the most qualified players (BPA) in every position in a cost effective way which is driven by the cost/benefit of each player is a complicated process. And it is continually in flux. BPA IMO is conditioned by beginning with the trenches (NT and OC), cognizant of the scarcity factor (some positions are difficult to fill; some positions will sometimes be deep, sometimes not), with an eye to versatility and all within the context of cost/benefit.
For this reason IMO the ranking of players in Mock Drafts by MSM is not going to tell us very much about the Bronco ranking and shouldn’t be expected to. I think the factors that I recognize will have an effect on the ranking and the drafting for each specific team.
Starting with the trenches and making them solid and, if possible deep, especially NT and OC enhances a team’s chances of success.
Having a system (or systems) that can make successful the widest variety of player skill sets enhances a team’s chances of success.
Collecting players who are versatile enough to play in more than one system (two down or three down) or in two or more units (STs) also enhances a team’s chances of success.
Having a keen eye for the cost/benefit of each player and in the process attaining a roster deep in high quality players greatly enhances a team’s chances of success.
How have McX done so far IMO? It’s early yet, since they’ve just had one year. As a whole, I think the Bronco FO has indicated that it is aware of and understands pretty well the factors and implications that I see and it has taken steps to build a roster with them in mind.
I did not have a very high opinion of the talent level of the team after the 2008 season, nor of its “team” concept. I saw its talent level as overall very weak. What talent there was seemed over-rated (at least over-hyped) and not plugged into a “team” concept that emphasized “complementary” football. In fact, I was one of few (maybe the only one) who suggested before last year’s draft that Alex Mack or Max Unger might be good picks for us. Most people thought the OL was our best asset (with which I did not agree).
Consequently, IMO most of the FA signings for both 2009 and so far 2010 have improved the team significantly in talent level and in the building of the “team” concept. (Even the losses have apparently helped.) And the signings have not been noticeably expensive.
In addition, a fairly large number of the draftees made the team and many surprisingly contributed immediately, especially on STs.
Weaknesses are being addressed, but in a planned (not panic) way.
There are some things I expect:
1. Almost all positions will see continued personnel changes, including some that are often regarded as set. There will be continual upgrading and the adding of better quality depth.
2. There will be surprise additions (and subtractions) because McX’s ranking system of players – both FAs and draftees – is guaranteed to be “team specific” (“smart, versatile, tough, team players and leaders”) thereby different from the general consensus MSM rankings, and because the BPA available at any specific time or draft spot might not fill what is popularly perceived as our most desperate need. For instance, I can imagine that an OT might be taken early (at least 4 are ranked in someone’s top 10 picks and I’d take any of them at #11) and maybe even another later because this draft is deeper in OTs than OCs or OGs (both of which might be scarce or compromising “reaches” at the spots where we draft). I actually see six or seven OTs any of which I’d love to have at TC. I only see two OCs (none that I’d take at #11) and maybe three OGs (again none or maybe one that I’d take at #11) that get me as excited as the OTs in this draft. And, by definition OTs are more versatile than OG’s or OCs (though there are versatile OGs and OCs). In any event, I would not be surprised to see two new fairly high quality OL in TC.
3. The lack of a CBA and the “Deep Draft” make me think that, contrary to the belief of many, there will be few, if any, opportunities to “trade down” for additional draft picks. The draft is too deep for teams to give up draft picks just to target a certain player (there’s another one available who’s almost as good, plus a quality player you didn’t trade away). In addition, because the draft is deep this year, there are much higher quality players (who should have been available next year) who will be available as CFAs, so no one will be eager to take future draft picks. The lack of a CBA makes everything so uncertain that there will be less, perhaps much less, wheeling and dealing. The only additional draft picks besides the 6 we have will probably come from trades – i.e. Marshall and Scheffler – neither of which I expect to happen though they might.
4. I don’t expect a NT to be drafted early this year, though IMO we need one (even if Chris Baker has developed into a top prospect) because Williams is short term, and two quality NTs are a good idea for several obvious reasons. However, NTs are scarce generally and are especially scarce in this draft and won’t be available when we draft unless we have one ranked higher than anyone else (even expecting their climb in the ranking due to the Scarcity Factor). Of those available, I’m most intrigued by Cody and Cam Thomas (don’t know that I’d take either at #11). There is one down the draft that might be intriguing – Terrel Troup – that the Broncos also seem to be interested in.
5. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a DG or LB (both ILB and OLB) taken early even with pressing needs in other spots, because there might be some good BPA at the spots we draft.
6. There is apparently good value in this draft in the later rounds in LBs, WRs, RBs and DBs, especially CBs. I expect picks to be made in those rounds in these categories, with perhaps each area getting at least one, however, with some perhaps getting more than one, depending on BPA at each draft position.
7. (Perhaps the Heresy Factor)
I expect some possible moves in the future with regard to the current roster that will cause controversy. IMO there are several moves possible which nobody even wants to think about but which could be looming.
I’ll give a couple of examples (not that they will happen) if you promise not to hurt me:
Better defensive line play (which I expect just with the current FA additions) will help at least three players on the current roster a great deal – i.e. Bailey, Dumervil, and DJ. I expect their play this next year to be noticeably more effective, hence making them more valuable, at least in their own eyes.
However, while Doom may actually get a record number of sacks because the DL occupies the OL much better freeing him to rush the QB with less hindrance, unless his pass coverage and run support play improves, or his ability to play several roles on STs, he could price himself out of the cost/benefit market.
DJ should have less interference both in getting to runners or in covering short route pass receivers. He could also become a noticeable force in blitz packages. All of this will enhance his play considerably. However, he’s already IMO overpaid and unless he improves his quick read ability, improves his reaction and routes to runners and receivers (or agrees to a pay cut which is ridiculous), he also could be priced out of the cost/benefit market.
Bailey is currently the highest paid player on the team, and seemingly not quite worth what he gets (a CB can hardly be the defining force of a defense). However, he may actually IMO benefit the most from the improved play of the DL. This last year he was spread thinner IMO than any other player on defense. Often he and Dawkins were the only run support and he often seemed to be asked to cover too much of the field by himself. If the DL controls the line better, the trickle down effect should benefit Bailey enormously. LBs and DBs will have more effective roles. IMO Bailey’s special talent is to be able to lock down an area of the field, to anticipate the offense and to unify the defense around effective play. In that sense, he could become the recognized leader of a defense that was outstanding. And as a result he could end up being worth his salary.
My overall point here is that I expect the roster to be in continual flux, which I think is a good thing. Things change, needs change, schemes change. The cost/benefit factor re-evaluates everything continuously.
In addition, unfortunately it is difficult if not impossible for players to think in “team first” concepts. “Show me the money” is not an exaggeration of their mantra. Consequently, often they will place themselves outside of the cost/benefit control factor and other important “team” factors. When that happens, I expect them to be replaced. (NE seems to get rid of players once they become too expensive for their worth to the team.)
Which means that the roster of a winning team will continually be in flux. But the changes are not necessarily bad. With a careful consideration of all of the factors, the team can become progressively better. So far, that is exactly what I expect of the Broncos and see unfolding.