Retaining starters and free agent activity: Training camp edition

With three weeks remaining until the start of NFL training camps (and having just returned from the beach), this seems like a good time to update DRAFTMETRICS analysis of returning starters and free agent activity. To refresh your memory, this analysis reports the number of games started by players still with their 2012 team as well games started by players acquired through free agency or other means in the offseason.

The proposition put forth here is that having experienced players is a good thing and it is even better if continuity is enhanced by the players gaining that experience with your team. DRAFTMETRICS acknowledges that the number of game started is far from a perfect way of evaluating experience, particularly the quality of the 2012 starters. For example, in this analysis:

• 16 games started by Peyton Manning are the same as 16 games started by Ryan Fitzpatrick
• The acquisition or retention of premier players (such as Darrelle Revis) who missed much of 2012 due to injury tend to be undervalued because of the few games started in 2012.

Still, though, this analysis does give some insight as to the experience level of each NFL team. There remain a number of unsigned free agents and further veteran player cuts are inevitable, so these numbers will continue to change. DRAFTMETRICS will not update this analysis again, though, until the opening of the regular season.

Almost three-quarters of the games started in the NFL last season were by players who remain with the same team for the 2013 season. There is a wide disparity among NFL teams, with the Redskins returning players representing 95% of 2012 starts while the Raiders return less than half that number. Please remember that each team has 352 potential starts (16 games times 22 starters per game). The
following table shows the number of 2012 games started by players remaining on each team’s 2013

So far in the offseason, players accounting for over 17% of 2012 starts have moved onto a different team. Remaining unsigned free agents started over 7% of 2012 games. The following table shows the total 2012 games started by both returning players and players acquired in the offseason.

As you can see, the Titans have been the leader in acquiring new players, resulting in their having far and away the most experienced 2013 roster in terms of 2012 starts. Will that translate into a successful 2013 season? Time, of course, will tell.

Looking at the totals is informative, but it is also useful to look at the experience level of players under contract by playing position. This will, in theory at least, identify the teams that are most reliant on the draft, players moving from backup to starting duty and players returning from injury. One obstacle in doing this analysis is that team’s employ different base personnel groupings.

• Some teams play a 3-4 defense while others employ a 4-3
• Some teams use a fullback and others don’t
• Some teams use multiple tight ends while others don’t

DRAFTMETRICS addressed this issue by grouping positions (e.g., combining all front seven players). The following tables show the experience level of each team in the four groupings. Teams are shown alphabetically within each experience level. Quarterbacks are excluded from these tables, but are
shown in the “raw data” tables in the Appendix to the article.

Raw data by NFL team is included in the Appendix.

Tony is the founder of DRAFTMETRICS.COM can be e-mailed at and followed on Twitter @draftmetrics

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