AFC Championship Caponomics Notes

I started writing these on Friday night to start preparing for the offseason and I thought you guys would enjoy some of the comparisons. Coming within the next day or two will be the NFC Championship team notes and then further explanations of the data will be coming moving forward. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll address them in the next podcast. I’ll also be discussing the four teams in a podcast this week using all these notes, so stay tuned for that as I’ll be able to explain this further.

Continue reading AFC Championship Caponomics Notes »

2015 Positional Spending for Playoff Teams

I have some podcasts and articles coming soon, so here are some more figures that will be referenced to often. Below are the offensive and defensive averages for all 12 playoff teams as well as the Super Bowl positional averages that I compiled last offseason.

Tweet me at @ZackMooreNFL with any questions that you want covered in the podcasts. The first one should be up this week as I’m putting together my notes on the 1997/1998 Broncos and how they have given the 2015 Broncos, and others, a Super Bowl blueprint to follow. Continue reading 2015 Positional Spending for Playoff Teams »

Caponomics Book Excerpt from Theories Section: Be Different, Creative and Unique

This is a first draft of one of the 25 or so theories from the “Caponomics Theories” section of my upcoming book Caponomics: Understanding NFL Roster Building through Super Bowl Champion Salary Cap Analysis. Any of the references to other chapters in this article are

E-mail me at if you’re interested in staying updated when preview chapters are released to the e-mail group and want to be alerted to when the book will be made available. Join the list now and you’ll receive the chapter on the 2000 Ravens, which we’ve already sent out to the group! Continue reading Caponomics Book Excerpt from Theories Section: Be Different, Creative and Unique »

@ZackMooreNFL’s Super Bowl Pick

I’ve done okay with a 6-4 record this postseason. Two of those losses were mainly due to me underestimating the impact of the injuries to LeVeon Bell and Peyton Manning and the other two losses were a 1 point loss with the Packers -6 at home against Dallas and the beat-down the Pats gave the Colts two weeks ago. I thought the Colts were ready to step up on the big stage as they had beaten a very good Broncos team the week before, but I was so, so wrong.

We’ve got one more game to get our money up, so let’s get into it.


Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots, Pick Em; 47 o/u


This is a match-up between two teams that have taken different approaches to roster construction, but have created their own model that has proven to produce Super Bowls. The Seahawks are old school with the best rushing attack and defense in the NFL, while the Patriots are new school with a top veteran gunslinger. What makes them such great organizations is something we’ve gone over time and time again here in that they know what they want to do and they continually find players who fit these roles. It doesn’t matter if the guy is a big name player, in fact, many times for these teams; it’s about finding undervalued guys who fit exactly what they want to do.

The reason both these teams are here is because they know who they are, they know what they do well and, because of this, they’ve found value where others couldn’t. The Seahawks with Wilson, Sherman, Chancellor, Baldwin, Kearse and others as late round picks and Lynch when Buffalo didn’t want him anymore. The Patriots being built off of the 199th pick of the 2000 draft, Tom Brady and finding undervalued free agents like Brandon Lafell.

Just how good are these teams at finding value where others don’t? This will be the first Super Bowl in NFL history that neither team has a first-round pick that they drafted at one of their offensive skill positions. On top of that, Rob Gronkowski is the only second-round pick starting at one of the offensive skill positions as well.

The Seahawks have been the best defense since Bobby Wagner returned to play MLB and the Patriots have arguably been the best offense since Gronkowski returned to form.

The Seahawks gave up a mere 39 points in six games after Wagner returned from a turf toe injury Week 12, less than a touchdown per game at 6.5 points per game. Once Gronk hit his stride in Week 5, the Pats turned their offense around. During the first four games, the Pats averaged 20 points per with Gronk only having 36.75 yards per. In Week 5 in a beat down of the Bengals, Gronk returned to form with six catches for 100 yards and one touchdown and the rest of the season they averaged a staggering 34.5 points per game (excluding a meaningless Week 17 game against Buffalo). In those 11 games, Gronk averaged 88.8 yards per game and had nine of his 12 touchdowns.

With the defense of the Seahawks and the offense of the Patriots being the big match-up of the game, these two are going to be major x-factors on Super Bowl Sunday.

Speaking to that, here are the two main things that each team needs to do to win. The Seahawks need to follow the Giants blueprint that helped them win the last two Super Bowls the Patriots played. Considering that the Seahawks have such a strong defense, they’re built to play this way with guys like Michael Bennett, Bruce Irvin, Cliff Avril, Kevin Williams, KJ Wright, Wagner and O’Brien Schofield rushing the passer. Since Week 11, only the Giants have had a higher sack per passing attempt percentage than the Seahawks, so they’re in a good position to replicate that game plan.

Gronkowski is going to have to have a huge game for the Patriots to win because the one weakness in the Seahawks defense is defending the tight end. When throwing to wide receivers, the opposing quarterback’s QBR was 62.7, but when throwing to tight ends, their QBR was 87.2. When throwing to tight ends, opposing QBs had 11 touchdowns to only two interceptions, but while throwing to running backs and wide receivers they only had six touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

For all those daily fantasy football league players, we all know that the only position that you even thought of playing against the Seahawks this year was the tight end as they were near the bottom of the league in defending tight ends in fantasy football.

Simply put, that all sums up that the Patriots are going to have to attack the Seahawks in the middle of the field and the Seahawks have got to hope that their defense is ready for the task. Apparently, they’re going to take a team approach to defending him. In the middle of the field, Kam Chancellor and KJ Wright will be the guys covering Gronk, but if he goes out, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell will be covering him depending on which side of the field he lines up on. Apparently, Wagner might cover him as well, but overall, you get the gist, it’s not going to be a one-man job.

If I was the Pats, I would use Gronk all over the field like they do, of course mainly focusing on the middle of the field where the Seahawks have had so many defensive issues. He’s also become such a threat as an outside receiver because he’s so much bigger than the cornerbacks he’s up against. I could see him having some success on the left side, outside against Byron Maxwell in the redzone, which is something I’ve seen the Pats do with success during the season.

An interesting fact about the four games the Seahawks lost this season is that the winning team ran the ball 25 times or more. The Packers almost got the win last week running the ball 30 times and averaging 4.5 yards per carry, so there might be a correlation there. But, considering that the Pats were so horrendous against the Ravens in the Divisional Round, with 14 yards on 13 carries, I don’t think they’ll be able to get anything going on the ground against the best rush defense in the NFL.

Also, I think that Marshawn Lynch will be able to run all over a defense that gave up 129 yards to Forsett at 5.4 yards per carry. Even Dan Herron had 51 yards on only 10 carries in the AFC Championship Game. Even though the Patriots were ranked ninth in the NFL against the rush, I don’t think they’ll be good enough to stop Lynch and Wilson on his QB runs.

One thing about Belichick, Brady and the Patriots is that they consistently attack teams at their weakness and the Seahawks defense has only one weakness, their tight end defense. As good as Gronkowski is, I don’t see him being enough to beat the best defense in the NFL. The Seahawks ground game will be the difference in this one.

I am a little biased due to my desire to see the Patriots lose as a New Jerseyan (or New Jerseyite?) who went to school in New England, but the Seahawks will repeat.

A note on something outside the salary cap, both of these teams are here because they have the two best coaches in the NFL, the two most innovative, the two who must comprehend who their teams are and how to built them. It’s going to be a fantastic match-up between the only two coaches Robert Kraft has ever hired: Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick.

MY PICK: Seahawks


The NFL Salary Cap and Super Bowl Champions, Part I

Salary cap research, at least outside of an NFL organization, is pretty much an empty field. It’s understandable as salary cap numbers were always something that would be briefly mentioned in an article about a team and were not exactly public knowledge. There were more resources when various salary cap sites doing their best to track their favorite teams began springing up. I believe Miguel’s was the first site. Ian Whetstone, who contributes to OTC from time to time, kept (and still keeps) these great word docs and spreadsheets detailing salary cap reports from various sources. And with sites such as OTC now there is more ability to do research on current trends. But historical data is still a tough subject to come by.

For this series of posts I wanted to get together as much accurate historical data as I could and start looking at just how Super Bowl champions spend their salary cap dollars in building a championship team. So for this series we will go all the way back to 1994 and look at how each Super Bowl team was built. My focus is on top of the roster spending because that is the area that eats up essentially half a teams’ budget and is what we discuss the most on the site.

In part  1, which is today’s entry,  we are going to look at the percentage of adjusted salary cap spent on the top player, top 3 players, top 5 players, and top 10 players on a roster. In part 2 we will look at the positional allocations among the teams. Finally in part 3 we’ll take a look at these trends and apply them to today’s NFL and see which teams most closely resemble the salary cap construction of Super Bowl champions.

There are a few things to keep in mind about the numbers. One is that the 2010 Green Bay Packers are not included because the year had no salary cap and thus there is no basis to rate their salary cap spending. The second is that, when discussing the spending I will be eliminating the 1997 and 1998 Denver Broncos from the discussion. I’ll include a separate section to explain that later in this post..

Top Player Salary Cap Spending

Average Spend:  9.5%

Largest Spender: 13.1% (Steve Young- 1994 49ers)

Lowest Spender: 6.7% (Jon Ogden-  2000 Ravens)

Just 7 of the 17 Super Bowl Champions of the salary cap era spent more than 10% of their entire salary cap on their highest priced player, with four of those teams coming between the 2001 and 2006 seasons (all three Patriots champions and the 2006 Colts). In general the trend has been towards less spending in recent years with 6 of the lowest spenders having come post 2005. I would tend to think that this could be due to teams putting more of an emphasis on drafting than veteran free agent starters, though it could also be teams being more effective for one year manipulation of the salary cap.

Top Spending Salary Cap

Top 3 Salary Cap Spending

Average Spend:  22.4%

Largest Spender: 27.8% (Warren Sapp, Brad Johnson, & Simeon Rice- 2002 Buccaneers)

Lowest Spender: 17.4% (Ogden, Ray Lewis, & Michael McCrary- 2000 Ravens)

I was a bit surprised to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers team rank so high since everyone associates Brad Johnson with journeyman QB, but he was highly enough compensated along with two defensive stars to push


them to the top of the list. Not surprisingly the Ravens were at the bottom as Trent Dilfer was paid more like a journeyman with just a $1 million cap hit.  We have a nice spread of data here with some current teams over the average and some under the average.

I think two of the surprises are the Patriots’ 2001 and 2004 teams. These are squads that are associated with reasonable priced QB play, but all the Patriots teams had big money invested in Ty Law and the two teams had money invested in QB- by 2004 Brady had signed a pricier extension and in 2001 Drew Bledsoe was a big earner. NE overcame a lot of salary cap waste those years to win their Super Bowls. In 2001 Bledsoe was injured and replaced and in 2004 Law only played in 7 games while their third highest cap charge came from Lawyer Milloy, a player who was released a few days before the season began.

Top Three Cap Spending

Top 5 Salary Cap Spending

Average Spend:  32.5%

Largest Spender: 38.4% (Sapp, Johnson, Rice, Derrick Brooks & Jeff Christy- 2002 Buccaneers)

Lowest Spender: 27.0% (Ogden, Lewis, McCrary, Rod Woodson, & Peter Boulware- 2000 Ravens)

On average teams allocated about 33% of the entire salary cap to just 5 players. Our two most recent NFL champions both rated above the average which was a slight jump for both teams indicating that their GMs believed in continuous spending rather than drop-offs after the top few players. In light of the last category it is not surprising to see the Bucs and Ravens rate highest and lowest. The Bucs were a veteran laden team that was near the end of their run with Jon Gruden being brought in as a replacement for Tony Dungy. The team would win just 12 games in the next two years and has been the worst futures performing Super Bowl champion, though the Giants look poised to take that title this year if they fail to advance to the playoffs.  The Ravens were the very young group with a number of contributing top draft picks on the team and made the playoffs in two of the next three years, so they did better than the Bucs, but were actually towards the bottom of the list in future playoff success as well.

Cap Spending Top 5

Top 10 Salary Cap Spending

Average Spend:  50.0%

Largest Spender: 56.0% (2002 Buccaneers)

Lowest Spender: 44.4% (2000 Ravens)

It certainly pays to be considered a good player, as Super Bowls champions invest half of their budget on less than 20% of the players on the team.  One of the interesting takeaways here is that the Seahawks ranked 2nd out of 17 teams with 55% of the cap being allocated on 10 players. I think this actually goes against the popular thought about the way the team was constructed. Because the Seahawks get so much mileage out of their young talent people but this was a team that spent on veteran talent. It shows the impact of the draft on a team as they received little from Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, and Percy Harvin and others were released this season for cap considerations.

In general the more recent trends have pushed towards lower spending on the top player on the roster with increased spending on the “above average” talent base. Since 2006 only the 2009 Saints spent less than 48.9% on their top 10 players. Perhaps the most interesting teams were the Patriots dynasty teams that were big spenders up to the top 3 players, but ended up among the bottom 6 in the top 10 category.


Top 10 Cap Spending

Overall Spending Breakdowns

I just wanted to take a small sampling of the teams to see how the league spends so much on so few players.  Though there will be some differences in how teams are built, once you extend rosters out to 60+ players (these include terminated contracts obviously) we can see that about 75% of funding is spent on just 25 players and 80% of all funding on just 30 players.  That is essentially our starting roster and it is why I often talk about roster turnover every year and how almost nobody is safe. If you are not an entrenched starter you either need to show potential to be one or bring value added services (special teams, multiple positions, specialized packages) to keep from getting your number called in the final days of the preseason.

Complete Salary Cap Spending

So Why No Broncos?

The 1997 and 1998 Broncos are one of the more well remembered champions of recent NFL history primarily because of the storybook ending to the career of John Elway. But this was still the earliest days of the salary cap and certain teams in the NFL were always finding ways to try to cheat the salary cap. Some violated the spirit of the CBA (I think every early CBA seemed to have some type of prior Dallas Cowboys loophole closed), but the Broncos remain were found in violation of the salary cap and were fined years later for these violations.

The general nature of the violations, which were found to run from 1996 to 1998, surrounded deferring large payments for star players like Elway. There were other types of guaranteed bonuses being promised to players  to avoid proration treatment of the bonuses. Denver claimed that these maneuvers were simply done because they were having cash flow problems and that no benefit was gained despite the league penalties.

When tabulating the data it just felt wrong to agree with that assessment. The 5.5 and 5.3% that was spent on their top player was at least 1.2% less than the next closest teams. Their top 10 spending in 1997 was just 40.2%, 4% less than the 2000 Ravens. What those numbers are not so ridiculous, to expect a team with a Hall of Fame veteran QB to be playing for pennies is.

Elway’s cap charges in the Super Bowl seasons were just $2.1 and $2.6 million respectively. By comparison Dan Marino, who would be the most logical comparison, had cap charges of $4.3 and $7.6 million. Troy Aikman’s cap charges were both over $5 million in those seasons. Some may argue that Steve Young had low cap charges ($3.5 million), but that was also a team found in violation of the cap. So for the purposes of this study it just did not seem relevant to include this group as a reasonable way to look at building a team especially in light of the violations they were found guilty of.


Future Success

I wanted to also look at how the team performed in the three year period following the Super Bowl. Ranking them was solely based on playoff success with a team being awarded 10 points for winning a Super Bowl, 8 points for losing a Super Bowl, 6 points for the conference championship, and so on. Since we are going in a three year period we have limited our pool by three more teams.

The average score was 10.85 with a median of 10. The teams who invested heavily in one player were the teams who had the most success  in the future. The 49ers, Patriots dynasty, and Manning Colts all were big playoff successes in the future. That slowly begins to shift as we move to top 10 spending as you get three of the lowest five in the top 6 of spending and four of the best teams in the bottom 6.

The following chart shows the salary cap spending for each of the teams discussed including the Denver Broncos. Clicking on the headers should allow you to change the sorting method. In our next part of the series we’ll see exactly where this money was spent.

YearTeamTop 1Top 3Top 5Top 10
Average (w/o Den)9.5%22.4%32.5%50.0%
Average (w/Den)9.0%21.7%31.7%49.1%