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What kind of roster could an expansion NFL franchise put together?

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If the NFL launched a 33rd team (yes, we know it won’t), how would it fare in the 2017 offseason?

NFL: 2017 NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The National Hockey League’s 31st franchise will make its regular season debut in October, but the Vegas Golden Knights don’t yet have any players. That will change Wednesday with the NHL Expansion Draft, which will allow the Golden Knights to parse through the rosters of 30 other teams.

It has been 15 years since the NFL had to run through its own version of an expansion draft, although the rules were much different than what the Golden Knights will go through Wednesday.

The NHL allowed teams to protect as many as 11 players from being snared by Vegas, and on Wednesday the team will get to choose one player from each of the other 30 NHL franchises. In 2002, the Houston Texans received a list of 155 players — five from each of the other 31 NFL teams — and were required to claim at least 30 players or at least $27.2 million in contracts.

Houston plucked 19 players from the other rosters, including three each from the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets.

The NFL won’t have to run through that fire drill again any time soon ... or ever. With 32 franchises, the league has eight divisions of four teams. Spoiling that easily divisible number with a 33rd franchise doesn’t make sense.

But let’s pretend it does. What kind of roster could a brand new NFL franchise piece together from the scraps of other teams?

NFL expansion draft rules

Unlike the NHL — which allows teams to protect players from being selected — NFL teams have had to do the opposite and choose a list of players to make available. Assuming the league sticks to the same rules, each of the current 32 franchises would have to put five players on the list, giving the new expansion team a list of 160 players to pick from.

And just for the sake of clarity, how about we just call that team the Brooklyn Beats?

Instead of locking players away like the NHL, the NFL works more like a yard sale. Here are the rules the other 32 teams would have to follow to make five players available to the Beats:

  1. No kickers and punters
  2. No players set to become free agents
  3. No players who just spent an entire year on injured reserve
  4. Only one player with 10 or more years of experience

In 2002, the Texans’ expansion draft was held on Feb. 18, about two weeks after the Super Bowl and about two weeks before the beginning of free agency. So teams essentially used Houston as a way to dump salaries.

The Jaguars, Jets, and Ravens all entered February in need of cap relief and got it from the Texans. The first eight selections for Houston were all players from Jacksonville, New York, or Baltimore — and all but one carried a cap hit of at least $2.5 million.

Following the same rules as 2002 adjusted for inflation, the Beats would have to pick at least 30 players or at least $63.46 million worth of contracts.

Building the Brooklyn Beats

Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli, Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski, Buccaneers guard Randall McDaniel, and Falcons running back Jamal Anderson were among the players that were options for the Texans in 2002.

Those four players retired with a combined 20 Pro Bowl nods — McDaniel led the way with 12 — but all four were far past their primes when Houston had a chance to take them. In fact, Boselli, McDaniel, and Anderson never played after the 2001 season and Romanowski played just two more years before hanging it up too.

Boselli was the only one of those players selected by Houston, joining the team as their first-ever selection, but the five-time Pro Bowler never played a snap. He struggled with a shoulder injury and retired before ever seeing the field for the team.

Brooklyn would have to deal with a similar menu of options.

In March, the Dallas Cowboys shopped Tony Romo to any suitor willing to take on his contract and his astronomical $24.7 million cap hit for the 2017 season. The Cowboys certainly would’ve taken the chance to put Romo on the list of players available to the Beats.

That’d mean other players released during the 2017 offseason — like Jeremy Maclin, Eric Decker, Mario Williams, and Darrelle Revis — would likely be options for Brooklyn, as well.

2017 mock expansion draft

Even if Romo didn’t end up retiring, scooping him up would just be dumb. Yes, his contract could be renegotiated to a more palatable amount, but it’s time to build for the future.

With that in mind, here are seven bigger pieces — who were all cap casualties or potential cap casualties this offseason — the Beats could realistically acquire without breaking the bank too much:

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Chiefs ($12.4 million)
Eric Decker, WR, Jets ($8.75 million)
Jared Odrick, DT, Jaguars ($8.5 million)
Alterraun Verner, CB, Buccaneers ($6.5 million)
Justin Bethel, CB, Cardinals ($5.25 million)
Evan Smith, G, Buccaneers ($4.5 million)
Gary Barnidge, TE, Browns ($3.8 million)

Those seven players would total $49.7 million in salary cap spending for the 2017 season, leaving the Beats with well over $100 million of space and another $13.76 million of required spending in the expansion draft.

After parsing through the big salaries, the rest of the expansion draft would likely be picking through cheap players close to the bottom of each team’s 53-man roster.

Then Brooklyn could use the No. 1 pick of the 2017 NFL Draft to add pass rusher Myles Garrett to the mix, and possibly the first pick of the second round to take offensive tackle Cam Robinson.


Winning usually doesn’t come right away for expansion teams. The Panthers and Jaguars somehow had just one losing season each before making conference championship runs in their second seasons, but that’s the exception to the rule. The more likely result for Brooklyn would be something mirroring the three consecutive losing seasons the Browns had between 1999 and 2001, or the five straight losing seasons of the Texans from 2002 until 2006.

After all, the Beats wouldn’t have much of an option at quarterback. It’d be bad enough if they decided to dive on the grenade of a pricey quarterback nearing, or bound for, retirement like Romo or Jay Cutler. Another option would be someone like Nick Foles. No thanks.

Their best choice would be to go discount shopping on the free agency market and get a cheap starter like Brian Hoyer, Robert Griffin III, or Colin Kaepernick.

Building an NFL roster takes time and, unfortunately for Brooklyn, the team would be at the bottom of the league for a while. Luckily for Maclin, Decker, and other NFL players, the Beats don’t exist and an expansion team in the league isn’t in the foreseeable future.