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Building an NFL Expansion Team

If the NFL decided to expand, what might the team look like? SI's Chris Burke first examines potential locations, head coaches, coordinators and GMs. Then he breaks down the players each team would protect, and then drafts the complete expansion team.

The last time the NFL held an expansion draft, for the Texans’ inception in 2002, very little talent made its way onto the board. The rest of the league’s teams had to expose just five players of their respective rosters, with minimal restrictions (no impending free agents, one player with 10-plus years experience, no kickers or punters, etc.) The results were unfortunate for a league that prides itself on parity—Houston did not finish above .500 until its eighth season, did not make the playoffs until year 10, and the career of QB David Carr (No. 1 overall draft pick in 2002) imploded behind an awful supporting cast.

Is there a way to put a more competitive product on the field, should the NFL go the expansion route again?

That was one of the driving questions behind our NFL expansion project, which includes a series of challenges: narrowing down the potential host cities to a handful of viable options, establishing “keeper” lists for each of the league’s 32 current rosters, conducting an expansion “draft” and finally, laying the foundation for a front office and coaching staff.

The rules for our draft tossed aside the NFL’s ’02 model and stole a page instead from the NHL’s recent expansion draft, involving the Las Vegas Golden Knights. In this exercise, each team was permitted to select one of two protection options: 1) Six offensive players, six defensive players plus a kicker/punter for a total of 13 on the keeper list; 2) A keeper list of 10 players, without any positional restrictions. The latter came into play for a couple of rosters.

(The ’02 Texans also were required to fill a set percentage of the overall salary cap via the expansion draft. No such requirement was made here, nor were players on the final year of their contract blocked from being exposed to the draft.)

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An additional piece of help for the current 32 teams: Any player taken in the past two drafts, and still on his original roster, was automatically protected. So, teams did not have to spend a keeper spot on rookies or second-year players, provided they used a draft pick on said players.

Our expansion franchise had to pick at least one player, but no more than two, off each current NFL roster. If the franchise selected two players off the same roster, they had to come from different sides of the ball—one defense, one offense (or special teams); it could not, for example, select two Seattle wide receivers. 

The post-draft roster includes 42 players, of varying contracts and NFL experience. It is, at first blush, a stronger outfit, on paper, than the Texans cobbled together.

Got all that? Well, then, here we go ...