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Predicting Fantasy Performance After Big Contract Signings (2022 Fantasy Football)

by Sam Ryner | Featured Writer
Jun 29, 2022
Matthew Stafford

Several of the NFL’s best players sign record-breaking contracts each offseason that reward the game’s elite with generational wealth. But what do big contracts mean for fantasy football? How have players performed historically after signing big contracts? And most importantly, how can we better predict how these players will perform?

Fantasy Football Redraft Draft Kit

First and foremost, fantasy football is a game of probabilities, and the best fantasy managers utilize decision-making processes that give themselves the best odds of constructing a successful team. Nothing in fantasy football is guaranteed, but consistently making decisions based on what is most likely to happen gives managers an edge in the long run.

Michael Mauboussim, an investment banker for First Boston, put together the following investment matrix that perfectly applies to fantasy football:

GOOD OUTCOME BAD OUTCOME
GOOD PROCESS Deserved Success Bad Luck
BAD PROCESS Dumb Luck Poetic Justice

The data you will find below provides all of the information you will need about player performance post-signing of big contracts as you prepare for the upcoming season. Hopefully, this information can assist the development of an overall good fantasy football process that brings you deserved success while poetic justice is served to your league mates.

Quarterback

Since 2014, there have been 42 QB contracts signed that average at least $18 million on a per-year basis. As the salary cap has grown, so have QB contracts, with it being the most critical position in all of sports. As recently as 2015, the elite QBs in the NFL were signing contracts that averaged in the low $20 million range per season. In the past two seasons, several QBs have signed contracts that pay north of $40 million per year.

Post big contract season fantasy data since 2014

Improved: 39% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.

Declined: 34.1% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.

Maintained: 26.9% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

Of the 42 QBs who signed big contracts since 2014, 33 were contract extensions (78.5%), and 9 were free-agent signings (21.5%). One QB who signed a contract extension was injured, missed his post-big contract season, and was removed from the data sample.

QB Contract Extensions

  • Improved: 43.7% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.
  • Declined: 31.3% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.
  • Maintained: 25% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

QB Free Agent Signings

  • Improved: 22.2% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.
  • Declined: 44.5% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.
  • Maintained: 33.3% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

Takeaways

  • It’s more likely that QBs improve upon or maintain the high PPG that earned them a large contract in the season following their signing. 65.9% of QBs maintain or improve their PPG in the season following signing a big contract.
  • We see similar results while isolating QBs who signed contract extensions, as 68.7% of these QBs maintain or improve their PPG.
  • QBs who signed big contracts in free agency were more likely to see a decline in production. Only 22% improved their PPG by at least one point. This could be because these QBs often join new teams, and transitioning to a new offensive scheme brings challenges that may be underestimated.

Arrow’s pointing up in 2022: Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, and Kirk Cousins.

The data indicates that about 70% of these players should maintain or improve their PPG in 2022. Rodgers is entering his age 38 season and has lost superstar WR Davante Adams, and he appears to be the logical choice for the player within the group to see a decline in production. Stafford, Carr, and Cousins all offer reason to believe they will have big 2022 seasons.

Arrow’s pointing down in 2022: N/A

No free agent QBs in 2022 signed a contract that averaged at least $18 million per season, and Jameis Winston was the closest at $14 million per year.

Running Back

Since 2014, there have been 23 RB contracts signed that average at least $6 million per year. NFL teams have devalued the RB position over the past decade, and RB contracts have failed to increase even as the salary cap has grown. In 2015, Adrian Peterson, who was considered by many to be the game’s best RB, signed a contract that averaged $14 million per season. In 2020 Christian McCaffrey was the consensus best RB in the NFL, and he signed a contract that averaged $16 million per season.

Post big contract season fantasy data since 2014 (PPR)

  • Improved: 31.8% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.
  • Declined: 54.5% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.
  • Maintained: 13.6% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

Of the 23 RBs who signed big contracts since 2014, 16 were contract extensions (69.5%), and seven were free-agent signings (30.5%). One free-agent RB was injured, missed his post-big contract season, and was removed from the data sample.

RB Contract Extensions

  • Improved: 37.5% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.
  • Declined: 56.2% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.
  • Maintained: 6.2% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

RB Free Agent Signings

  • Improved: 16.6% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.
  • Declined: 50% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.
  • Maintained: 33.3% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

Takeaways

  • It’s slightly more likely than not that RBs will have a decline in production after signing a big contract (54.5%). This isn’t surprising given that RBs’ prime years are typically within their rookie contracts.
  • RBs who signed contract extensions performed similarly to the overall sample, with 56.2% experiencing a decline in production.
  • RBs who signed in free agency have similar chances of experiencing a decline in production, but their chances of increasing production are significantly less than contract extension RBs. Only 16.6% of RBs who signed big contracts in free agency have improved their PPG by at least one point since 2014, while 37.5% of contract extension RBs were able to increase their PPG.
  • RBs who sign big contracts in free agency should be avoided in drafts if their ADP doesn’t account for an expected regression.

Trust the fantasy experts.

Three RBs signed big contracts this offseason via free agency: Leonard Fournette, James Conner, and Chase Edmonds. The data indicates that it is more likely that each of these players will experience a dip in PPG in 2022 and shouldn’t be expected to perform as well as last season.

  • Leonard Fournette: RB4 in PPG in 2021; current ECR is RB13.
  • James Conner: RB9 in PPG in 2021; current ECR is RB14.
  • Chase Edmonds: RB28 in PPG in 2021; current ECR is RB35.

The data agrees with how fantasy experts are currently pricing these players.

Wide Receiver

Since 2014, there have been 39 WR contracts signed that average at least $11 million per year. As the NFL has transitioned into a passing league, teams have prioritized and paid the WR position as one of the most important ones on the field. In 2015, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, T.Y. Hilton, and Jeremy Maclin all signed contracts that annually paid between $11- $14.25 million after finishing as WR1s in their pre-big contract season. In 2022, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, and A.J. Brown signed contracts that pay between $25- $30 million annually.

Post big contract season fantasy data since 2014 (PPR)

  • Improved: 37.1% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.
  • Declined: 45.7% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.
  • Maintained: 17.1% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

Of the 39 WRs who signed big contracts since 2014, 26 were contract extensions (66.6%), and 13 were free-agent signings (33.3%). One contract extension WR and three free agent WRs missed either their pre or post-big contract season due to injury and were removed from the data sample.

WR Contract Extensions

  • Improved: 40% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.
  • Declined: 40% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.
  • Maintained: 20% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

WR Free Agent Signings

  • Improved: 30% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.
  • Declined: 60% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.
  • Maintained: 10% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

Takeaways

Overall, post-big contract seasons for WRs aren’t strongly correlated with either an increase or decrease in production.

  • 54.3% of WRs maintained or improved their PPG, and 45.7% had a dip of at least one point in their PPG.
  • Players who signed contract extensions fared better than those who signed via free agency. 60% of contract extension WRs in the sample maintained or improved their PPG, while only 40% of WRs who signed in free agency did the same.

WR Advice

Fantasy managers shouldn’t put a huge amount of stock into WRs performing one way or another after signing big contracts. However, if you consider these contracts, the WRs who signed contract extensions are the better bet to take another step forward. Furthermore, targeting contract extension WRs who signed with their original team is the best bet.

This offseason, we’ve seen Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and A.J. Brown sign big contract extensions, but with new teams after being traded. History has shown that WR’s first years on new teams aren’t always smooth transitions, and we shouldn’t expect the same production we are used to seeing from these players. Players like Stefon Diggs, Terry McLaurin, and D.J. Moore signed extensions without being traded and should be more likely to see a bump in production in 2022. This isn’t to say that Diggs and Moore will outproduce the aforementioned WRs; they are more likely to have better seasons than their own 2021 seasons.

Tight Ends

Since 2014, there have been 28 TE contracts signed that averaged at least $7 million per year. The NFL’s best TEs have seen their contracts grow over the last decade, but not nearly as much as the WR position. After finishing as the fantasy TE1 in back-to-back seasons, Jimmy Graham signed a contract in 2014 that paid him $10 million per year. In the past two seasons, Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and George Kittle have signed contracts that range from $14- $15 million per year.

Post big contract season fantasy data since 2014 (PPR)

  • Improved: 32.1% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.
  • Declined: 42.8% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.
  • Maintained: 25% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

Of the 28 TEs who signed big contracts since 2014, 11 were contract extensions (39.2%), and 17 were free-agent signings (60.7%).

TE Contract Extensions

  • Improved: 36.4% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.
  • Declined: 36.4% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.
  • Maintained: 27.2% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

TE Free Agent Signings

  • Improved: 29.4% produced a PPG at least one point above their pre-big contract season.
  • Declined: 47.1% produced a PPG at least one point below their pre-big contract season.
  • Maintained: 23.5% produced a PPG within one point of their pre-big contract season.

Takeaways

  • TE is the only position that has had more big contracts come via free agency than through contract extensions. Most NFL teams have not made retaining their TEs a priority when it comes to roster construction.
  • TEs are more likely than not to maintain or increase their PPG (57.1%) after signing a big contract.
  • TEs who signed contract extensions are decent bets to maintain or see an increase in production, as 63.6% of these players have done so since 2014.
  • Free-agent TEs have essentially been a coin flip regarding whether they will maintain/improve or decline, as just over 50% of these players maintained or saw a bump in production.

2022 big contract extension TEs: Zach Ertz, David Njoku, and Will Dissly (yes, ECRs’ TE71 Will Dissly. He’s a good run blocker).

2022 big contract via free agency TEs: C.J. Uzomah and Evan Engram

CTAs


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