As the NFL slows down to a crawl between final OTAs and the start of camp, there's not going to be much roster activity over the next few weeks. Which makes this good time to look at how much raw playing time from last season each NFC East team will have to replace in 2015.
And the way we'll do that is to look at the total snaps played by each player on offense or defense for each NFC East team, and then look at the percentage of snaps from 2014 remaining on the 2015 roster. Here are two examples to illustrate the approach:
- In 2014, the Cowboys wide receivers played 2,782 combined snaps (including playoffs). Dwayne Harris, who recorded 181 snaps last year on offense, is the only one of five receivers not returning in 2015. The remaining four receivers, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and Devin Street combined for 2,601 snaps in 2014, so the Cowboys are returning 93% of their wide receiver snaps in 2015.
- The Eagles had six defensive linemen combine for 3,080 snaps (no playoffs in that total). All six players are still with the team, so the Eagles are returning 100% of their DL snaps.
Here's the percentage of returning snaps for each team, broken down by position:
|Percentage of 2014 Snaps Remaining on Roster as of June 22, 2015|
Couple of observations:
Most turnover: The Eagles lost a full third of their 2014 snaps, which is a pretty high number compared to not just the rest of the NFC East, but also compared to the rest of the league. Roster change can be good for teams looking to dramatically upgrade, but teams that have gone down that path have usually started jettisoning players from the bottom of their roster, the Eagles chose to start at the top.
I've seen arguments about how many of the players released this offseason were expendable anyway, because the Eagles haven't won any playoff games with those guys in the last six years. And while that sounds like a lot of post-rationalizing, not every roster has a Curvin Richards you can release for effect, and sometimes you really do need to start at the top when you want to change a culture.
It's just too bad that despite losing Jeremy Maclin, Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis, Trent Cole, Nate Allen, Bradley Fletcher, Casey Matthews, and Cary Williams (and trading away Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy), the Eagles won't get a single compensatory pick in 2016 for their troubles.
Most continuity: Overall, the Cowboys return the most snaps in the East with 81%. But if you thought all of that is driven by the offensive continuity, you'll be surprised. While the Cowboys did return 88% of their offensive snaps, that's just marginally better than the Giants (87%), though it is ahead of the Redskins (82%) and and quite a bit removed from the Eagles (70%). The Cowboys didn't lose a lot of players on offense, but they lost a lot of snaps when DeMarco Murray (890), Jermey Parnell (507) and Dwayne Harris (181) left for greener pastures.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Cowboys also return the most defensive snaps in the East with 73%, ahead of the Redskins (66%), Eagles (65%), and Giants (62%). In comparison to the other NFC East teams, that's remarkably little change for Dallas, which could mean that the 2015 Cowboys could be a spitting image of the 2014 Cowboys. For a team that finished 12-4, that may not be the worst strategy.
In general, the numbers would be lower for all teams if we were to exclude players who may not be available for parts or all of 2015 for a variety of reasons. For the Giants, tackle Will Beatty will be out for a part of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Nobody knows if and how many games Dez Bryant will miss due to his contract dispute. Players might get hurt or suspended and miss time, some might get released, some might get traded. But given that these numbers are bound to change during and after training camp anyway, there's no sense trying to speculate about each individual player's status.
Unfortunately, what the numbers don't tell us is when too much turnover becomes disruptive and when too much continuity becomes stifling.
As Cowboys fans we're inclined to disparage anything coming out of Philly, up to and including statues of people that never existed, but might pressing the re-set button, like the Eagles seem to be doing, be more effective than a slow rebuild that has you going 8-8 for three consecutive seasons? Ultimately, that's up to each team to figure out by itself, and for us to get all opinionated about in the process.
Looking across the entire NFC East, the disparity between offense (82% returning snaps) and defense (67%) is striking. As the table above shows, the Cowboys and Eagles have made big moves at running back, which pushes the NFC East percentage at the position to a lowly 58%. But all other offensive position groups average out at 80% or higher.
On defense on the other hand, all position groups average out to less than 80%. The highest level of turnover in the NFC East is at defensive back, where the Giants, Redskins, and Eagles all retain 50% or less of their 2014 snaps. The Cowboys let Sterling Moore (866 snaps) walk but retained all their other contributors from last year - and added a first-round pick to the mix.
The most surprising number here may be the 100% return rate the Eagles are showing on their defensive line. For a team that seemed to randomly release players from all positions, keeping a six-man position group fully intact is a statement all of its own. That's a strong defensive line in Philly, and the Cowboys O-line will have its hands full with those guys.
Change versus continuity. Which strategy is better?
We may have to wait until January to find out.