First, if you haven't already, please go back and read parts one, two, and three. After you've done that, please stare at the attached chart for a minute or so. After you do that and get frustrated, I will walk you through what it means.
This spreadsheet shows a nameless, faceless 53-man roster. It is a pretty fair representation of the Green Bay model I've talked about in parts one-three. It is broken up by Draft Year or Years of accumulated experience in the NFL. A Year 1 player would be a 2011 NFL Rookie, Year 2 refers to the class of players that was a Drafted Rookie in 2010, Year 5 Players were Drafted and a Rookie in 2007. A Year 9+ Player would be any player drafted in 2003 or prior. (I have a Seahawks chart of this with real player names coming soon in a future article in this series).
In theory this model could work in any year - so I named it Year 1, Year 2 etc...
Some Key Numbers that will better explain this chart:
1/3 (One-third) - or more importantly - 18 - which is the closest number to 1/3 of a 53 man roster. Green Bay rewards 1/3 of its roster with big money 2nd contracts - typically players in Year 5-8 of their careers (peak) and about four more Legacy type players (Year 9+).
For Green Bay- Aaron Rodgers, AJ Hawk, Nick Collins and Tramon Williams would be Year 5-8 2nd Contract Type Players. Donald Driver, Chad Clifton, Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson would be Legacy (3rd Contract) type players.
2/3 (two-thirds) - Or more importantly - 35- which is the closest number to 2/3 of a 53 man roster. Green Bay is able to always pay its best players, and never lose the players they want to another bidder, because 2/3 of the roster is cheap, young labor playing on inexpensive rookie contracts.
These are the Randall Cobbs, James Starks, and Jermichael Finley's of the roster. These are also the Frank Zombos and Vic So'otos.
13 - or perhaps you can think of it as 1/4 - This is the number of new players that enter the Green Bay system each year. Green Bay does not sign up outside free agents except in some small value cases (Erik Walden, Howard Green), so there are basically only two ways you will ever play with Aaron Rodgers -
(1) Get a phone call on draft day from Ted Thompson
(2) Get a phone call right after the draft from Ted Thompson as an Undrafted Rookie.
13 Again- If 13 players enter the system each year, then 13 players must exit the system each year. On an average team you draft seven players, maybe get lucky and one undrafted rookie sticks on your 53 man roster, and then sign another five free agents. Perhaps you lost two of your players, re-signed two of your players to their 2nd contract, and then signed three players from outside your team. (Again, think of the average life span of an NFL Player to be four years - 53 divided by 4 is close to 13.)
Typical Team would look like this:
7 Draft Picks
1 Undrafted Rookie
2 Re-signed Free Agents
3 Free Agents signed from Other Teams
In Green Bay- since they rarely sign outside the house free agents the system works like this:
9 Draft Picks (you trade down)
4 Undrafted Rookies that stick on the 53 man Roster
So, what does the yellow on the chart mean? Those are the players that are playing on your team that will lose their job by the end of training camp next year! Of those 13 rookies, only 10 will play in Year 2 and 3 will get cut. Of the 10 players in Year 2, by Year 3 competition from younger players will whittle that down to 7. By Year 4 only 5 players will remain.
If you are lucky enough to survive the first four years- only the top four players from your draft class will cross over into big money land. How do you make room (Green Bay is maxed out at the Cap) for those four newly minted paid players? You cut four of your older players- two legacy players per year and two others in the middle of their second contract. Why? Because age and injury has caused them to decline and they don't provide enough value for the contract they are on- and a younger cheaper player can do their job.
Think Nick Barnett and Daryn College.
1/5 (one-fifth)- The current NFL salary cap is a shade under $125M. Only $25M or 1/5th of the entire Green Bay Salary Cap is apportioned to the 35 players on their rookie contract. Think of it at about $500k per player plus bump up about 4 players who were drafted in Round 1 and you don't actually even get to $25M. But close enough. Where does the other $100M go?- it goes to the 18 "star" players on their 2nd or 3rd contract. The other 18 players can be paid on average over $5M per year.
25- The median age of your roster under this system- year after year after year. Your team stays "forever young" in perpetuity. Your team never gets old even though, of course, individual players do. The average age stays at 25.87. In this exercise I assumed the average rookie was EXACTLY 23 years old- we know in real life their ages vary and I am not considering the months either. But the point remains.
CULTURE IMPLICATIONS (LOYALTY and IDENTITY)
When you never go outside the house - you raise each player strictly in the culture that Green Bay wants to imprint on its team. Playing in Green Bay becomes special, because unless you were drafted or picked up right after the draft (or rookie waivers) in your first year, you will never have the privilege of playing in Green Bay.
John Schneider recently said, in an interview on Sirius radio: "If we put together a nice Draft this year, [add] a couple nice free agents, re-do some of our guys together, then yeah, we'll be on our way. [Next year, we'll] add another Draft to that and we'll be on our way to the motto we had at Green Bay, where we don't have to go outside the house."
"Things are positive right now, but we've got a long way to go. If we put two more solid Drafts together we'll be on our way to a team like that. I want us to get to the point where we're a consistent Championship-caliber team, where every year guys want our players."
The Draft becomes gigantic. Free Agency is only an exercise in paying your own players. By the way, the system doesn't work without picking the right players for the right fit, you have to draft very very well for this system to work, but if you can I can't think of a better model.
When all the players are "organic" you can really hammer in your culture and identity. After all, most of the players don't know anything else. Their whole NFL experience revolves around one team.
The class that started in Year 1 as 13 players has been filtered down to the 5 strongest in Year 4. Of those five, only the best four will receive that coveted 2nd contract and the other players will be free to walk.
Think 2007 2nd Round Pick RB Brandon Jackson.
Do you risk missing out on great talent available on other teams? Yes. But you also limit your risk, because the player you reward with a big money contract is a player you have gone to war with in your own family for four years. You know this players habits, character, injury history and measurables 100x better than any other team. Your risk of a bad free agent signing is much lower than going outside your house. You know that this player will play well in your system because he has already played well in your system for four years.
Think of the early season struggles of Nnamdi in Philly, same player, different system.
What is super fascinating about Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Robert Gallery, and Zach Miller, is that the Seattle offense runs the same system that these players played under for 3-4 years. Cable at Oakland and Bevell at Minnesota. I don't think those Free Agent signings were a coincidence.
The Alan Branch success was helped by the fact that Pete Carroll knew exactly the kind of player he wanted next to Mebane, but Branch was in a totally different system in Arizona. He also did get a smaller deal that the other four free agents.
There is no loyalty in the NFL, and the one of the criticisms of the "Always Compete" Pete Carroll mantra is that it has no loyalty toward players. It does not have loyalty toward aging, declining and overpaid players. It does not have loyalty to a draft pick that was outperformed by an undrafted player or a 1st round pick being outplayed by a 4th round pick.
The Green Bay system is loyal in that, - if you played well for us for four years -, we will pay you, we will rarely pay big money to a player that has been making touchdowns and tackles for another NFL team.
There is a level of loyalty in this system.
WIN FOREVER and ALWAYS COMPETE
"Earn Everything", "It's all about the Ball", "Finish", "Protect the Team", "Competition Wednesday" and a host of other Pete Carroll phrases are thrown around every week.
However; the top two mantras are "Win Forever" and "Always Compete".
The Green Bay model dovetails perfectly with those two mantras. This is why John Schneider and Pete Carroll got so excited during their first meeting. Pete Carroll was dealing with younger college players and played freshman and sophomores. This fit perfectly with the Green Bay model. Pete Carroll recruited high school students and told them they would have a chance to compete and earn playing time.
Every year, Schneider is trying to haul in a ton of draft picks and another big batch of undrafted rookies.These are NOT training camp fodder, this whole class of rookies is given the chance to knock out 13 or so current players. Drafted players in Year 2 and 3 will lose their jobs every year to younger players that outperform them.
On Win Forever - your roster never gets old. If you keep drafting well every year and are willing to make hard decisions by moving on from good players - you can, in theory, "Win Forever". The roster stays at a magical average of 25-26 years old. Younger players are probably less injury prone and are, in general, faster. They may not be smarter and they may not be in their peak, but that's where coaching comes in.
More to come...