Study Suggests Teams Keeping Fewer Of Their Own Draft Picks Under New CBA

There was a recent study conducted by ESPN that took a look at the NFL Drafts between the years 2011 and 2013 as a sample size to diagnose the extent to which teams retain the players that they draft. This is a non-arbitrary and significant window as it corresponds with the first class that came in outside of the old CBA as well as the most recent class to hit unrestricted free agency.

According to the study’s findings, just 129 of the 761 players drafted over that three-year period actually remain with their original teams, which works out to just 17 percent. While roster turnover year-to-year has always been significant, even prior to the free agency era, this does seem to be a notable increase.

The Bengals evidently have retained the highest number of their draft picks from that three-year range with 10 of them, though they did draft 28 players in those three years, working out to about a 36 percent retention rate.

Unsurprisingly, the Pittsburgh Steelers are among just eight teams in the league who retain at least six of their draft picks from that era, also joining the Eagles, the Texans, the Cowboys, the Falcons, the Rams, the Seahawks, and, of course, the Bengals.

As for the Steelers, they drafted 25 players over that span, but only retain exactly six players from those three drafts, which works out to 24 percent. They retain two of seven picks from 2011, yet just one from 2012. They still have three draft picks from the 2013 class.

Among those are 2011 second-round pick Marcus Gilbert and 2012 first-round draft pick David DeCastro, who of their five starting offensive lineman. 2011 first-round draft pick defensive end Cameron Heyward is the other player from 2011 in addition to Gilbert.

The 2013 class is still represented by second-round running back Le’Veon Bell, fourth-round quarterback Landry Jones, and sixth-round inside linebacker Vince Williams. Aside from Jones, the remaining five players are all anticipated to be in the starting lineup this year, with Williams the lone new introduction.

The article argues that the increased turnover stems in part from what they say “incentivized teams to pursue cheap labor and sign only a few key players to second contracts” after a rookie contract cap was implemented.

The contention is that it is no longer a viable strategy to ascertain the value of a draft class based on its longevity but rather on its short-term contributions because of the frequency with which rosters are turned over now.

I’m not sure that I agree with the conclusion, frankly. There has always been roster turnover, and it is not uncommon for a draft class five or more years down the line to retain just one or two members, when teams typically add anywhere from seven to 10 new players to the 53-man roster on a yearly basis.

The Steelers, for example, have eight draft picks and have already brought in four outside free agents. That is potentially 12 players that were not on the roster a year ago, and 12 spots that will be replaced.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • falconsaftey43

    I don’t agree with the conclusion that the turn over is because teams are incentivized to go with cheap labor. Teams may choose to let a player about to cash in go in FA, but that player is still getting paid by someone, it’s not like the league is blackballing the NFL’s “middle” class of well paid but not great players. More than anything, I think it’s that the 2012 draft was terrible and that skews the small sample size.

  • VaDave

    Oh, there is a significant middle class in the NFL. Each year there are a few coming of their rookie contracts that hit the lottery, but most will either be offered below market contracts and sign with their original team, or cut and signed to a vet min contract elsewhere, which is done specifically in the search for cheap labor. We are notorious in letting the “Market set the price” for contracts going back years, and looking for that very sort of player from other teams. The Farrior deal comes to mind. You are probably right about the sample size being small and skewed.

  • capehouse

    This is why it’s almost pointless arguing age of prospects, unless it’s a 1st rd pick. Most of your draft picks will be lucky to make it through their 1st contract.

  • Big Joe

    Thanks for sharing Matt. The early years for the study don’t surprise me for the Steelers if we take into account the push to refit the D, stabilize OL, and add a few more weapons for BB in parallel with TV monies stabilizing around salary cap. They were willing to move on from higher priced contracts and UFA’s who would cost more than normal to retain as others overpaid using their new salary cap health.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I think this indeed has everything to do with how the rookie pay-scale was changed for 2011. Gone are the days when you felt like you were tied to players for the longer haul based upon their burdensome contract investments in that player. No one likes to admit failure on a player when that player had cost you an arm, leg, and some valuable teeth, in order to get in the first place. Though I also agree, it could be in such a small sample size, that the results are slightly skewered by weaker draft classes overall. I guess let’s wait and see a few years from now, as I believe this particular class is pretty loaded with talent. The last class wasn’t too shabby either. And let’s not forget the great WR led class of 2014.

  • LucasY59

    I think one other factor is that with the ever increasing salary cap there are more players that think they are worth more than what a team is willing to pay in order to keep them (and some teams with excess cap space that are willing to overspend)

    *also the HORRIBLE 2013 draft class (league wide) probably didnt help the study (Bell, Landry and Vince might still be with the Steelers, but there are plenty of players in that draft that have moved on, and with Jones he might not be a long term guy even if he was re-signed)

  • LucasY59

    But if a player is good enough to keep past the 1st one it has a much more significant impact, plus getting young guys sometimes makes it so the team can get them and develop them to play the way the team wants them to, so they see extra value in getting those guys with more potential

  • LucasY59

    I thought 2013 was worse than 2012 at least from a 1st rd perspective, but, I wouldnt argue that either of them are good, so I agree the study might be majorly affected by lesser talent

  • capehouse

    I didn’t say it was completely pointless, but it’s close. 1st rd picks and I guess 2nd rd picks are different, but after that age really shouldn’t make a difference. You’re lucky to get 4 years out of a draft pick.

  • Lil Smitty

    There is a tricky balance to keep core players who are on their second or third contract and stay under the salary cap. It is possible that the salary cap being reduced in 2011 or twelve played into these players moving on to other teams.
    When I think about all these teams that have huge percentages of their salary cap free, it shows that many teams don’t need to cut these players. Why many GM’s cut and restock their rosters can be a mystery. It may also that they are cutting and trying to sign players from other more successful teams for no other reason than it might save their job.