The NFL Draft was held and completed this weekend, highlighted by # 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford signing with the Detroit Lions for a 6 yr, $72M contract, with $41M guaranteed. This continues the escalating, record setting trend for annual rookie contracts and is a sizable increase from the contract signed by last year’s # 1 pick Jake Long. In the media overload preceding the draft, I came across this question in SI.com (and NBC sports) senior writer Peter King’s mailbag that King found to be extremely insightful:
Question posed to Peter King and his response
From Matt of Atlanta: “I think all the bad teams are desperate to move down in the draft, especially this year, but who’s going to trade up, even if the player has a chance to be better, if it costs two, three, maybe four times as much as your current pick? I think the reason we’ve had such a disparity in the 2000s within the NFL (e.g. 2008 winless Lions, 2007 unbeaten Patriots) is because the teams that make the playoffs are rewarded with better valued draft choices. It’s unfair, period. Why is this not the main story from the media during this year’s draft?”
(King’s response) Brilliant point, Matt. The league has appointed a committee — with interested parties Tom Lewand of the Lions and Scott Pioli of the Chiefs, both of whom have picks in the top three of the draft — to study the problem of bad teams being penalized by the highest picks making so much money that it’s actually a penalty to pick in the top 10. The solution, I believe, is to give the bad teams a choice where they want to pick. That sounds insane, but why wouldn’t you allow the worst team to analyze the talent in the draft, and if there’s no player the club feels is worth the top pick, allow that team to pick sixth or eighth, for example.
How bad have been the top draft pick teams since the Patriots rise?
Matt’s question led me to wonder– How have the teams with the Top 5 picks in the 2001 draft; the year the New England Patriots won their first Super Bowl, done in the subsequent 5 years? Likewise, if we look at the teams with the top picks in 2004– how have they fared since then?
Collectively these teams are 58 games below .500 during those years, a .428 winning percentage. It’s hard to say whether the rookie contracts and the burden it put on their salary caps vs simply being mis-managed teams like Arizona (last year’s Super Bowl being the exception), Cincinnati and Cleveland or just bad luck drove those records, but the facts are these teams in the subsequent 5 years couldn’t average above a .500 record. Atlanta and San Diego managed to have a playoff season during that span but cumulatively, neither were able to get above .500 during those 5 years. However, in San Diego’s case, from 2006-2008, there success really took off with a record of 33-15 during those 3 years.
If we look at the teams with the top 5 picks in the 2004 draft, we see some new teams but again collectively, from 2004 to 2008, we see a record of sub .500. However, the difference in this set of 5 teams is we do see two teams with records above .500, San Diego and the New York Giants.
During this period, we clearly see San Diego and New York take off, with New York winning a Super Bowl during this period, Arizona losing in a Super Bowl, and San Diego knocking on the Super Bowl’s door but not able to make its way there. During these 5 years, it’s much more hazy if draft position and rookie contract size have held back these teams from success.