More fantasy football DOs and DON'Ts contract year edition

More fantasy football DOs and DON'Ts: contract-year edition

9/5/13 in NFL   |   droth   |   127 respect

In case you missed it, on Tuesday we took a look to see if a few of fantasy football's biggest DOs and DON'Ts really hold up or if they're just mumbo jumbo. And today, we'll examine what some consider to be THE rule to live by. Whether it's the inner economist inside of us or years of hearing it over and over again, there is a belief within fantasy circles that players entering a contract year will perform better than they usually do and that they will carry you to victory.

But will drafting a bunch of to-be unemployed football players help you win your league? Let's dig into some numbers and find out.

June 18, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers former running back LaDainian Tomlinson (center) and Chargers president Dean Spanos pose with a one day contract signed by Tomlinson during his retirement press conference at Charger Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY SportsIn order to figure this out, I took a rather simple approach to test if an expiring contract reallydoes motivate a player to perform better: how did player X's performance in his contract year compare to his performance over the rest of his career?

It gets a little more complicated when you include years that he only had five targets or 11 carries, so I narrowed it down a bit. I included the first year that they became even somewhat relevant in fantasy football and every year after that, even if they missed time or were not a focal point of the offense for some other reason.
It would have been impossible to do this for every free agent in history, so I only crunched numbers for the "top" guys, the players who, at some point, have had a fantasy impact. It came out to roughly 20 free agents per year and I looked at each of the last three seasons' free agent classes. Here's what I found:

It is incorrect to assume that a player will perform better in his contract year just because it is a contract year. Certain players certainly have performed better in contract years, but there is very little consistency in that statement.

Over the last three seasons, based on the free agents that I looked at and the years that I considered to be relevant (usually excluding a rookie year when a player is still figuring out what their NFL skills are), the average fantasy points per game in a contract year is less than one point higher than the career average. 

In 2010, contract year players were 0.75 fantasy points per game better than their career averages. In 011, they were 0.7 points better, and in 2012, they were 0.3 fantasy points per game worse than their career averages. 

There are some players (Ahmad Bradshaw +6 in 2010, Alex Smith +5 in 2011, Danny Amendola +3 in 2012) whose fantasy numbers jump up in their contract year, but there are just as many (T.J. Houshmandzadeh -4 in 2010, Ryan Grant -3 in 2011, Michael Turner -4.5 in 2012) whose fantasy production in their contract years are worse than their career average. 

Based on this medium sized sample, there is clearly no correlation--at least not a significant one--between contract years and production. (Note: I am admittedly no statistician, so if you feel like crunching a whole bunch more numbers and proving me wrong, be my guest.)
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