This is something that kind of goes along with whistlingmountain's salary cap FanPost.
I saw a comment the other day about how our last championship team "bought" a lot of their defense that year. I can't speak to that. Back in those days, it was good enough for me to know that my team was winning and that I could hate the Cowboys and not feel bad about it. I didn't really pay attention to the nuts-and-bolts kind of stuff until this offseason. The other part of that comment contrasted that team with this defense that is built more through the draft. That got me checking through the roster for draftees versus free agents. This is what I found.
For the purposes of this, I didn't include any Practice Squad players but I did include reserve players (Fleming, Hampton, Haralson). I just had to go back through my notes and change it a little more due to the recent roster moves, but Haggans and Bakhtiari are now both included instead of only Haggans.
Of the 57 qualifying players, 32 were drafted by us, 8 were picked up as rookie UDFAs before the full season was underway and 17 came to us as FAs. That makes a 56%/14%/30% split. For this I counted Bakhtiari as a FA even though we got him as a UDFA his rookie year. He came to us after the season was well underway and has bounced around an awful lot after that. I also counted Grant as a draftee despite him going off for a while before we re-signed him because, hey, we did draft him after all.
Of our starters, counting the ST guys (Akers, Jennings and Lee), 17 are draftees, 1 was an UDFA and 7 are FA. That's 68%/4%/28%. That says something about our UDFAs, but says even more about our draft picks. 68% of our starters are comprised of 56% of our players. Over half of our draft picks are now starters.
Now we all know we have plenty of talent on this roster that goes deeper than the starting 22 (25 for the purposes of this article). So I also took a lot at what I'm calling impact players. These are players who don't start, but are regularly on the field for offense or defense as rotational subs in our base packages or have made enough of an impact with the staff that our sub-packages feature them. The most prominent of these players are probably Culliver, Hunter and Walker, but there are more. Roughly 9 more. I have 12 counted. These plus the starters make up 66% of the roster. Two-thirds of our roster is good enough to see the field on offense or defense every game. Of these, about 68% are draftees and UDFAs: guys we didn't "buy" but developed on our own.
That's just under half our roster; 44% to be exact, coming out to roughly 3.5 players (isn't that roughly how many are on reserve lists or suspended? gasp). So basically half our roster is full of talent that we identified, fostered and developed enough to have a major role every Sunday. The other half are FAs with a major role and ST role players who don't make it off the coverage/return units unless there's an injury. The non-FAs are otherwise inactive because they haven't been developed yet, on reserve due to injury or guys who could easily start for other teams and don't here because the guys in front of them are just that much better. Grant, Jean-Francois and Kaepernick, I'm looking at you guys in particular. Really, the only draftees who don't fit that are Brock and Dixon, and arguments could be made for them being starters or at least impact players on some of the needier teams in the league at their positions.
On the FA side of things, we have a history of identifying talent there as well. Some of them we pick up and are already solid (see Smith, Justin) while others are on the downswing and we re-energize their careers here in SF a la Brooks and Rogers.
In other words, we're good at finding talent, especially rookie talent. How does this tie in with whistlingmountain's salary cap FanPost like I said it did in the beginning, you ask? Yeah, we could be losing a lot of valuable players to FA soon due to bigger paydays and the limits of the NFL salary cap. We'll also use the money we saved to keep on building a championship caliber team. After all, we only "bought" about a third of this team and only about a third of them see the field in any meaningful way on game days.