The Best and Worst Value Teams of 2016

Since the season is halfway over for everyone I wanted to look at what teams are getting value and which ones are not out of their roster. There are a number of ways to measure value but what I wanted to do here was to use Football Outsiders weighted DVOA and my own scoring efficiency metrics to give an average level of performance for each team. This was then compared with the total amount of money invested in a team for 2016, where the investment equals the sum of all annual contract values as of last week. Each team is then broken down into one of four tiers to really define the winners and losers of the season. The chart below graphically represents where each team ranks with the size of the bubble showing how much cap space the team is sitting on which could have been used this year to better the team.NFL Salary Cap


The average spend per roster is about $151 million and we have a few teams spending less than that and doing well. The Patriots and Falcons are the two best value teams of the season and you could argue over which has done better. Atlanta more or less maxed out their spending so they got the most out of their resources but if the Patriots don’t advance I wonder if there was one more piece they could have found a way to add that may have made the difference.
Oakland has done well and is more or less right on the border between the value and the hitting the mark tier. The Steelers and Saints are slightly overperforming expectations. New Orleans, if we changed the scale to include dead money along with unused cap room, would have a giant bubble next to their name. Their prior contract decisions have hurt their ability to push their performance to a higher level.

Hitting the mark


The further left you are in the chart the better the return for the investment. The Broncos and to a lesser extent the Giants are probably the ones that the front office is happiest with. The Cowboys and Eagles are mega spenders and are justifying it with their very high performance rankings. Dallas is doing it without their most expensive player so clearly the team should be thrilled because his loss could have been a disaster. The Eagles managed their roster such that they could have spent even more this year if they wanted to but its hard to really argue with how they have done so far.

Buffalo, Seattle, San Diego Arizona, and Minnesota represent teams where they are probably reaching expectations. San Diego has had some hard luck but could be a late comer to the playoff hunt as mentioned on this site before. When you consider the massive injury list inflating their salary total I think you could argue them as an overperformer. Give the Bills credit for doing something with that little cap room to sign Percy Harvin to try to make the most out of this season. Arizona has not fired the way they did last year but its still a reasonable result thus far.

As you move down and further right my guess is you get more disappointment with the play of the teams even though they are above average. The Redskins sat on a lot of cap room likely due to Kirk Cousins possibility of a 2017 contract but they may fall into a spot where they could have done a bit more. Green Bay uses the stars and scrubs approach to the roster with no use of cap space on outsiders and they are trailing in performance. Kansas City hasn’t had Justin Houston all year so a big portion of their salary was on the shelf but if they don’t improve in the second half and win a playoff game or two, Im not sure it will be considered a successful year given what they spent.

You Get What You Pay For


These are the teams spending below the NFL average and also performing in the negative range. For Carolina there are going to be questions about the way they handled the roster with the late dumping of Josh Norman and no way to use their cap space. In my opinion they considered this year a freebie because of the unlikely Super Bowl appearance in 2015 and didn’t want to mess their finances up in the future.

The Titans are carrying huge room as well and have always been reluctant spenders, but considering where they are coming from I don’t think it’s a tremendous concern. The Lions on the other hand were capped out but should pull out of it next year. Their record has been better than their play so they wont get any complaints.

The Bucs for some time have been bad performing teams even with the low spending. The Rams are going to get killed for their QB decisions, but their biggest mistake was probably the expectations for Todd Gurley and the running game. That’s killed them this year.

The Ravens, Bears, and Colts are moving closer to the underperformer range. Baltimore’s cap is a constraint at this point but the division is bad so they may get away it this year. The Colts are likely in a similar situation. Im not sure if anyone sees any promise in the Bears at this point.

The Browns and 49ers just took a pass on the year and it shows. They spent nothing, carried huge cap surpluses, and are the two worst teams in the NFL. I’m not sure if in today’s NFL that this is justifiable to be honest. Neither was faced with a Raiders situation where their dead roster weight forced this, nor does cap room mean nearly what it meant in the past since so many teams are better with their cap than in the past. The NFL system was supposed to prevent teams from voluntarily tanking on a year but it clearly isn’t working.

The Underperformers


This is the worst of the NFL- a team that spends a lot and is below average on the field. These are the teams where changes in the front office should be most likely because the return is so bad.

Of these teams the Dolphins have nearly average play so the disappointment level won’t be as high if they miss the playoffs. The Bengals are a team that fans probably should be worried about. This is the first time in awhile that they are really not looking like a playoff team and you wonder where they go from here. The Bengals were never looked at as a team with a “championship window” because they never had a peak season, but their “playoff window” might be shut at this point.

Houston is going to live or die with their division. Their record is above their play level and the AFC South continues to be an awful division that anyone can win. They do have JJ Watt and some others on the sidelines, but even before that they were not performing at the level expected. This is a team that I could see switching coaches even if they make the playoffs if he goes one and done. They are not headed in the right direction even with a five win start.

The Jaguars are another team that is a disaster. A huge payroll and simply no results on the field. They still have a ton of unused cap space but there is not a reason to think they would have spent it wisely since they have moved sideways for years despite the increased spending. They need changes in approach both in coaching and team building and need to re-evaluate everything they are doing.

I saved the “best” for last which is the mess known as the Jets. They rank 7th in spending and 30th in performance. The Jets roster costs $162 million and change, about $40 million more than the 49ers. The performance? -34.4% vs -37.7%. I already said the 49ers simply punted on the year, yet the Jets went all in and did just as bad. Sure they lost Eric Decker early but the next receiver to make that kind of material impact will be the first in NFL history. Their front office and coach are just in their second year, but it would surprise nobody if a change was made at one or both of the spots.

Other Takeaways

For the most part the teams that are spending money on the roster are the most successful teams. Of the teams that spent over the average, 70.5% have a positive DVOA/OTC efficiency grade. Only 33.3% of teams that spend under the average are in positive territory. Here are the summary numbers for the two spending groups.

Spending OTC DVOA Avg. Cap Space Dead Money Cap + Dead APY
Above 6.4% 3.5% 5.0% $7,402,235 $10,244,936 $17,647,171 $162,352,984
Below -7.2% -4.3% -5.7% $12,445,240 $16,648,014 $29,093,253 $139,984,484

For the most part the script is flipped when it comes to performance for teams with below and above average spending with a -5.7% vs a +5.0%, but in looking closer I tend to think that some of the numbers may be skewed by the 49ers and Browns decision to spend so little (though technically neither is really an outlier in anything except their excessive cap space). Here is what things look like with those two out.

Spending OTC DVOA Avg. Cap Space Dead Money Cap + Dead APY
Above 6.4% 3.5% 5.0% $7,402,235 $10,244,936 $17,647,171 $162,352,984
Below -0.4% -0.6% -0.5% $7,296,924 $16,099,059 $23,395,982 $142,981,395

This is probably a bit fairer representation of the differences. Notice that teams are generally carrying the same cap room but the dead money is about $6 million higher (about $4 million higher if the Saints are removed), which is a pretty big difference. Does that equal a $20 million different in overall investment in the team? No but I could see it making a team gun shy at trying to sign some decent mid tier $4-5 million per year players since they will need to make added concessions to fit everyone in on the cap.

Ill revisit this again in a few weeks and see how things are shaping up.