I thought today I'd take a brief break from our series of positional analyses to look at a broader issue of how teams build a roster.
I wrote about this at Football Outsiders, but in the NFL, there are, more or less, five ways you can acquire a player:
a. Draft them. Drafted players are subject to team control at a relatively modest price for four years (five for first-round picks);
b. Retain your own drafted players. Drafted players will eventually age out of the draft control period, and you either have to retain them by paying them market value or let them go;
c. Sign veteran free agents. Drafted players (mostly) that are, for one reason or another, not retained by the team that initially controlled their rights;
d. Sign them as young free agents (including waivers). Not every player is drafted, or makes it through the end of their initial control period with their first time. These players are subject to team control at a relatively modest price for their first four season; or
e. Trade for them.
As with almost all lists or other methods of association and assortment, this list can be a little over-simplified. After thinking the subject over for a while, though, I think I'm pretty happy with this relative level of simplification and complexity.
After the jump, how the Titans were built.
In this chart, you'll see the Titans, along with the Ravens and 49ers as I broke them down for the initial Football Outsiders post. This isn't quite a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, as I'm using the 49ers and Ravens rosters as of the Super Bowl, while for the Titans I'm using the 2012 Week 1 roster. My belief, though, is the opening day roster gives us the truest picture of how the front office tried to build the team, and the Ravens and 49ers information is close enough for my purposes here.
|Draft Pick on First Contract||22||14||22|
|Re-signed Draft Pick||9||13||7|
|Veteran Free Agent||11||12||13|
|Young Free Agent||11||14||10|
What stands out here?
1. The Ravens' roster is nearly as young as the Titans' is-both teams have 22 players who played in 2012 on the contract they signed when they were drafted and have an additional 10 or 11 players they acquired as free agents with less than four years of NFL experience. What stands out about the Titans is just how many players in their draft control period played a significant role on the team, especially on defense. After I wrote about AV-weighted age, my FO colleague Danny Tuccitto wrote about snap-weighted age. The Titans measured out as the league's youngest defense by that metric, too, while the Ravens were one of the league's older teams.
2. I went through it in the FO post, but what stands out about the Ravens is they re-signed only their premium drafted players. I listed them in that post, but every drafted player they re-signed except punter Sam Koch (who's one of the best in the league) was signed to a contract with an average per year (APY) of at least $6 million. The 49ers were a little more restrictive, but basically everybody they drafted and re-signed was at least a decent starter. The Titans' re-singings, meanwhile, included both Lavelle Hawkins and Mike Otto.
3. NFL teams are not built through player trades. I almost didn't include this category, except I have a desperate desire to stress this over and over again.
4. Last offseason I attacked the myth that the Titans did not spend money on players in free agency. They basically have the exact same number of veteran free agents on the roster the Ravens and 49ers did. If I'd used the Week 2 roster instead of Week 1's, they'd have the exact same number the 49ers did. If you look at what Baltimore did in free agency, they signed a few starter-types, but they did not sign any premium free agents. San Francisco had a couple players they acquired in free agency they're playing big money, but only two of them. A free agency roster of Steve Hutchinson, Kamerion Wimbley, Matt Hasselbeck, Nate Washington, and Will Witherspoon is, in terms of prestige and dollar amount, neither particularly cheap nor particularly spendthrift by NFL standards.
5. Only one player who played in the Super Bowl, Navorro Bowman, was a draft pick in his draft control period playing on his second contract. The Titans had two such players in 2012 in Chris Johnson and Jason McCourty. I didn't write about the Titans doing anything other than paying CJ in 2011 for the same reason I didn't write about the Titans cutting CJ loose this offseason-I never thought what I would have written about (not paying or cutting CJ, respectively) was a serious possibility. Of course, if Joe Flacco had accepted what the Ravens were offering in the preseason, there would have been two such players, so it's not a huge deal.
6. From this chart, it's hard to make too many specific critiques about what the Titans have done. There are minor gripes here and there, but overall the Titans built their 2012 roster the way teams normally build their roster-with a few key and a few more lesser veteran players, by re-signing some of their own players, and by keeping a lot of their own draft picks.
What stands out about the Titans is instead their own players they have retained and paid, the veteran free agents they have signed, and to some extent, the drafted players they have not re-signed. The Titans aren't doing the wrong thing as a matter of pure philosophy. Instead, they haven't done a good job of doing the right thing with the right players. San Francisco and Baltimore have, and that's why they played in the Super Bowl and the Titans did not.