The 2022 NFL free agency window officially opened on March 16. Many players who currently are not under contract are weighing their options to decide where they should sign. There are many factors that go into a player's decision, including contract terms, coaching staffs and the potential success of a new team. Perhaps a less-frequently discussed factor: the proximity of each team to where a player grew up.
To assess whether or not players are more likely to sign near where they grew up, we looked at all free agent signings during the opening weeks of free agency from 2016 to 2021. This time period corresponds to when players tend to have the largest number of teams competing for their services. Of the 266 free agents with available birth location data, 13 (4.8%) signed with a team located close to the city in which they were born.
While that doesn’t sound like a high rate, it is substantially higher than what we’d expect due to chance. To estimate chance, we simulated free agency 10,000 times for each season by shuffling the locations where each free agent signed and calculating the distance between that city and the player’s birth city. We then compared the actual distribution to what was observed. The blue density curve below represents the 10,000 simulations, and the red line represents the observed percentage.
Overall, the observed rate with which players choose to play within 50 miles of home is larger than more than 99.9% of the simulations. Additionally, the relative rate of players signing closer to home is about 2.3 times higher than the average simulated percentage.