Recently Jonathan Vilma was sidelined by the NFL for the entire 2012 season. Vilma is an impact player on the Saints' defense.

What measurable impact does a full season suspension (or injury, like in the case of Suggs' with the Ravens) have on a team?

4 Answers 4


Like Jacob mentioned, in Football it is much more difficult to measure a single player's contribution to a teams win. In baseball they have WAR or Wins Above Replacement which describes how many wins a single player accounts for over a basic or average replacement level player.

In my opinion; however, Jonathan Vilma is an aging player on an already poor defensive team. The Saints scored in the bottom fourth of the league in defense. Obviously they won games by simply outscoring their opponents. The offense will be just as potent as last year and they will probably take more of a hit in the wins column by losing their head coach, Sean Payton, for a year than Jonathan Vilma.

As far as morale goes, most NFL players grew up in poor families and reached the NFL against all odds. Most view themselves as underdogs and I am sure that the Saints as a whole will respond positively, as they have been some how wronged by the NFL and will rally around the suspensions of Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma.

This is my opinion of course as it is nearly impossible to know for sure in a sport such as football where the outcome of a game is much more reliant on the team as a whole compared to other sports.

  • Most NFL players grew up in poor families?
    – Brad Koch
    Commented Sep 22, 2012 at 23:14
  • Absolutely, most NFL players are products of the inner city.
    – Jerrod
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 0:27

A relatively new way of measuring player value in the NFL is WPA (and it's sister for Defensive players +WPA). Win probability Added is the measure of impact a player has on the game and effects his team's ability to win. This is a narrative stat, it gives us an idea of the impact of plays in the context of the game rather than in a vacuum.

While it is not predictive (it only shows what happened in the past). And is also still being tweaked and redefined as more information on game probabilities is assembled (allowing for better modeling). It can be useful here to see what kind of impact a player had on his team's season.

Lets take the example of Jonathan Vilma. Last year he was worth .35 +WPA in the regular season or less than half a win to the Saints. This is a measure of all of his positive WPA plays. It does not account for any negative plays that were his fault (or the fault of his teammates) and I've yet to see a stat that does. So at best, Vilma was worth a third of a win, unless his replacement is significantly worse the Saint's should not see a measurable impact in wins and losses. In Contrast to Vilma, Terrell Suggs' injury deprives the ravens of 2.63 WPA+ this coming year that they will have to replace, a far more important injury than Vilma's suspension.

Peyton Manning was another player mentioned in this discussion and out of curiosity I wanted to check to see if his absence was as big a deal as it was made out to be. In 2010 Peyton had a WPA of 2.89 (7th among quarterbacks). His replacements in 2011 combined for a WPA of -.56. A difference of 3.45. WPA suggests that Indianapolis would have struggled in 2011 regardless of Peyton's absence (This suggests they only would have won 5-6 games).

Let's be clear, this is the best effort attempt at determining the measurable impact of player loss. It is not definitive and it is not necessarily predictive. But it's a start towards developing some statistical analysis of player values.

  • I am interested in seeing how the WPA of one player affects the other players he plays with. In P. Manning's case, his absence affected how that offense was run.
    – user527
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 15:09

If we say that things like "team morale" and "impact on win probability" are immeasurable, then there is virtually no measurable impact on a team for a suspended player. Not only does the team not have to pay the player, but the player also does not count against their available roster space.

In the case of an extended injury, the team will place the player on the Injured Reserve List and then he won't count against their available roster space. However, the player will still receive payment and treatment for injury.

  • 1
    impact on win probability should be quite measurable. It's easily measured in baseball (several stats, WAR to start with, measure this), should be fairly easy to measure in football as well. morale is much more like immeasurable. Leadership is also likely hard to measure.
    – wax eagle
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 18:29
  • Based on this harvardsportsanalysis.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/… -- I don't know if there is such a stat in use for football. How do you measure the impact of a defensive tackle?
    – Jacob G
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 18:35
  • 1
    we need fangraphs win probabilities for football asap :).
    – wax eagle
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 18:38
  • Awesome, Advanced NFL stats has win probabilities for football ala fangraphs!
    – wax eagle
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 11:07

Anecdotally, an extreme example of a single player's loss might be the New England Patriot's QB Drew Bledsoe, who was out for the season starting the second week of 2001. Tom Brady, then in his second year (drafted in 2000, round 6), took over as quarterback. The Patriots went on to go 11-5 and win the Super Bowl.

So, the negative impact of a single player's loss might be none at all. Healthy teams compensate for losses of single players and entire positions on a regular basis. It's part of the game.

  • The Pats are a bit of an exception here (See Matt Cassel)
    – wax eagle
    Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 13:19

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