Does Participation In Minicamp Affect The Performance Of Franchise Tagged Players?

In comments regarding Von Miller yesterday, Lonestar said this:

History tells us that those that have been tagged come into camp out of shape, behind the rest of the team in terms of knowing the playbook.

[In] most cases injuries hurt them because they are not in camp ready to rock and roll.

I figured this statement would be easy enough to evaluate, so early this morning I put together a quick table of numerous position players that received the franchise tag since 2007.

This table compares two variables: an objective observation of whether or not they attended minicamps before signing their tender or an extension; and a subjective observation (but one I hope there won’t be too many disagreements upon) of whether they performed worse or not the season after they signed their tender.

First, let me explain a few notes with this table:

  • As I said above, I’m only dealing with position players for simplicity, so kickers and punters are excluded. (I did, however, list the stats for Darren Sproles as a returner instead of a running back–either way my conclusion on him doesn’t change.)
  • This table only consists of players that signed their franchise tender or reached an extension after minicamps with the team that tagged them.
  • Three special cases have also been ignored:
    • Peyton Manning in 2011, as his neck injuries predated him being tagged and extended.
    • Greg Hardy in 2014, as he missed most of this year for being suspended for domestic violence.
    • Jason Pierre-Paul in 2015, as his fireworks mishap was a non-football injury.

As you can see in the table, I have color coded the two key variables in question.  Here’s how it should be read: if the player has variables of the same color, it supports the notion that missing minicamps have an adverse effect on the franchise tagged player.  If the player has variables of the opposite color, it does not support this notion.

In counting up the colors that matched and did not, I counted 33 players in which the hypothesis in question was supported, and 28 players in which it was not.  Thus, my prime takeaway is that with a ratio of about 54% to 46%, while any singular player could perhaps be adversely impacted by missing minicamps, in the aggregate it’s close to even odds as to whether it will actually happen.

Other takeaways that I have:

  • When it comes to injuries, I think there’s two biases that are working against not just Broncos fans, but perhaps the Broncos organization itself, as they reportedly tried to get a Miller extension done before minicamps concluded:
    • First, there is familiarity bias toward the Broncos: both Ryan Clady and Demaryius Thomas allegedly had sub-par seasons in their first seasons after being franchise tagged.  I say “allegedly” because there is certainly plenty of debate on whether or not Thomas actually had a sub-par 2015 season, as the stats show.  However, since some, including Lonestar, have been critical of Thomas’s performance, I decided to go ahead and give Thomas the “Worse” variable.
    • But if you look at the Major Injury column, there is also recency bias in play.  Since 2012, there have been numerous franchise players that suffered injuries knocking them out for much of the subsequent season.  However, before then the only player I could find that had a major injury was Dwight Freeney in 2007.
  • I also think we need to watch out for the “Madden Curse” effect.  A player receiving the franchise tag, in the grand majority of cases, is at or near the prime of his career.  Therefore, in future seasons the player usually has nowhere to go but down.  I noticed this as I was giving my subjective observations in which I could find only two players that had decidedly better seasons.
  • There are also strategic reasons for certain players to sign the franchise tag before minicamps that have nothing to do with wanting to participate in them or not.  Many players will be told that the tag may be higher than their value on the market, thus they are advised to sign the tender promptly.  But in the case of Miller, we can safely say that this does not apply.
  • Finally, take particular note to Anthony Spencer, Karlos Dansby, and Terrell Suggs, as these were players that were tagged in consecutive years.  The outcomes were similar for Dansby, but different for Spencer and Suggs.

After doing this exercise, I found that it confirmed my earlier criticism of the Broncos for inventing a deadline centered around minicamps.  The team may feel snakebitten by the experiences of Clady and Thomas, but I would counter (as Miller’s camp also has) that it’s not guaranteed that missing minicamps will hurt Miller’s 2016 performance.