Updated: Aug 3, 2021
There has been a trend going around the Internet, specifically among increasingly bored sports writers looking for something to pass the time (not unlike myself). The topic has been re-drafting the NFL, and they are not talking about re-doing a previous collegiate draft. We are talking full blown teams starting from scratch. The basic concept is that every team is stripped of their current rosters and salaries. With all players available, the teams pick much the same as the NFL draft we witness every year. It would likely be a snake draft format (order reverses every round) to keep things balanced, with the first round order being the same that we saw in the 2020 collegiate draft. No trading allowed, as everybody must start anew on a level playing field. Now this would have numerous caveats and potential question marks, so I am here to discuss some of my thoughts regarding this hypothetical alternative universe.
What To Do About Salaries:
There are two sides to this argument. The first is that players keep their current contracts and the team that drafts them takes on the remaining value of said deals. This is fair to the players, and adds a fun wrinkle to their selections as one has to weigh the value of their play versus the weight of their cost. This scenario adds value to younger players on rookie deals and could hurt veterans on bigger deals. The good news is you maintain your salary no matter where you get picked, so if you are making $10 million a year and get taken with the last pick, you still make $10 million. An additional problem would arise if a player were to go undrafted. Would they still hold on to their preexisting contract, or would it void and force them to sign a new free agent deal?
The other side is that all existing contracts void and the players sign new contracts relative to their draft position, like the current collegiate draft. Positional value would have to play a role, so QBs still get paid more and specialists get less. This adds it’s own layer of strategy, but is not nearly as complex as the other possibility. It does make salary cap management easier, but has a greater risk of loss of value for veterans. One thing we have to remember with option one is that the league has a salary minimum that teams must reach. Therefor teams that go cheap early will have to take bigger contracts later to make it to the minimum. Or they spend big in post draft free agency. Both possibilities have their merit but I am leaning towards option one as that is more fair to the players. Figuring out that undrafted caveat would be important however.
Are Keepers a Possibility:
In fantasy football, some leagues have what they call a “keeper” option. The logic is that each team gets to keep one player from the previous year’s squad and give up a corresponding draft pick to compensate. This would be difficult to apply here. Having one keeper on a 53-man team seems rather insignificant since you still need to figure out the other 52. If you were to have multiple keepers then what would be the point of doing a full re-draft? Teams keeping their good players and letting the rest walk kind of just sounds like current free agency. Also a large number of teams would just keep their franchise QBs, which would diminish the position and overall make the experiment less exciting. If this is going to happen, it needs to happen all the way.
Number 1 Pick: Patrick Mahommes:
Assuming all players are available the first pick is a slam dunk, especially if current contracts are picked up with the selections. Even if they aren’t, Mahommes will still be the first pick despite the potential price tag (let’s face it, he is going to get paid BIG in two years anyways). QBs are the most valuable position group in the league, and it is easy to argue that this young man is the best. One season removed from an MVP, and five months removed from a Super Bowl victory, it is possible that the current Chiefs signal-caller still has not reached his full potential. If he does, it will be a sight to see. A few years ago this selection would likely have been between Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees, but now the decision is clear.
QBs Dominate Early, Other Stars Finish the First Round:
Mahommes would not be the only quarterback hearing his name called early in this exercise. Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson would likely be the next few selections, followed by some of the veterans with bigger contracts like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. I have even seen scenarios that have younger, more unproven players like Drew Lock and Daniel Jones going in the top half of the first round. At some point however the value of the player will outweigh the importance of the position. That is when you would see defensive stars like Aaron Donald and Von Miller get selected. If you are picking at the end of the first round, there is no need to reach for a low tier starting QB when you can get other pro bowlers and find guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick or Andy Dalton as hold-overs later on.
Scarcity Drives Value Up at Some Positions:
Much like we see in the collegiate draft, lack of depth will artificially enhance the values of some star players. The main position I am looking at is Offensive Line, particularly left tackle. There are few pro bowl caliber players at this position, and guys like Tyron Smith and Trent Williams will be hot commodities in the early rounds. Fringe top ten LTs like Taylor Decker or Eric Fisher could go several rounds higher than their play level suggests (above average but not elite). Another group that would get a boost is CB. There are plenty of starting caliber options at this position but true shutdown corners are hard to come by. Players like Darius Slay and Stephon Gilmore would get a bump, while the rest would stay in the middle rounds. These groups are opposite of ones like WR, where there is so much talent you can’t go wrong.
How Many Rounds do you Draft?
The conventional wisdom here would be 53 since that is the number of players that are on an NFL roster to start a normal season. However the off-season roster size expands to 90, so an argument can be made for a full 90 rounds. Nobody would want to sit through a 32 team, 90 round draft unless they spread it out over a week, and that would still be exhausting. It make senses for undrafted free agents to remain a possibility, so a shorter draft is reasonable. One could even argue that teams should do less than 53 and then fill out the rest as a normal free agent class. Finding a balance between a reasonable length draft and a non-chaotic post draft free agency period would be a crucial part of this experiment. My Opinion: 45 round draft, sign 45 players through post draft free agency. Makes sense to me.
This would depend on the timing of this experiment. If the re-draft were to happen before the collegiate draft, then we could simply have the collegiate draft as normal. The league would have to adjust the draft order depending on what they select for the re-draft, although the simplest solution would just be to reverse that order and keep the draft format the same. If this happens after the collegiate draft, then the players get dropped into the pool with the veterans and get drafted…again. Not fair to them, but most of this concept is not fair. The only asterisk comes if teams are taking on preexisting contracts. If that is the case then the league would have to wait until all rookies signed a deal before the re-draft could ensue. Otherwise it is full steam ahead.
It goes without saying that this scenario will never happen. For one, the players and NFLPA would not agree to it unless the League made a million and one concessions. These would include an increased salary cap, coverage of moving expenses for players going to different cities, and some form of loss of value insurance for those who lose money from the process. Most teams would not agree to it either. It would not be fair for those who have worked hard to establish winning cultures and develop their talent internally to watch all their work get picked up by another team, possibly a division rival. I don’t think us fans would want to see our favorite players get cast to the winds either, so all in it’s just a fun exercise to pass the time. Thank you all for reading, and we will see you next time on the IE Sports Radio Blog; your direct blog for ALL that is sports.
Blog by; Mike Patt