With the season taking shape now I figured it would be a good time to look back at what teams spent in 2017 to see if they are getting the expected return or not. To qualify as a new expense in spending a player must have signed a new contract in 2017, have the contract be worth at least $775,000 for the year, not be a 2017 draft pick, and not be on a one year restricted free agent tender. So how did the teams fare so far?
The Bottom Spenders
The bottom spenders averaged just $35.4 million in new player contracts in 2017. Those teams include the Broncos, Eagles, Cowboys, Saints, Chiefs, Bengals, Packers, and Jets. The Eagles, Packers, and Chiefs already had high payrolls from prior years so it was natural that they would spend less this year. The Saints and Cowboys had salary cap issues that made it hard to be too aggressive in free agency. The Bengals don’t target outside that often and the Jets were tearing the team down.
Of this group only the Cowboys, thus far, has to be disappointed in the year. You would think that most teams spending low expect the status quo with the draft being the driver of improvement and that is what has happened. The Eagles, Saints, Chiefs, and Jets all look to be better than last year. The Packers, Broncos and Bengals are the same. These teams should all be pretty happy with the current standings.
Mid level Spenders
Our mid level spenders averaged an additional $43.8 million in player contracts. The teams in this group are the Ravens, Seahawks, Colts, Bills, Bucs, Texans, Chargers, and Giants. I’d say that teams in this group expected a bump from last year but didn’t see the need to tweak a great deal of the roster. The Seahawks had a high payroll, were tight on their cap and had to plan for the future. The Colts and Bills were rebuilding under new GMs and just trying to fill roster spots. Houston is not a spender in free agency so they were going to be more limited to extension money. The Chargers are kind of aimless while the Ravens and Giants added pieces they thought would get them over the hump in their limited cap space.
The results for these teams has been kind of bland and trending downward. The Bills are the only team to be improved so far while most of the others are status quo at best. The Buccaneers have taken a step back while the Giants, with 1 win in 6 games after an 11 win season, have taken a giant leap backwards. For most of these teams moving forward I think they will question why they spent as much as they did and if they should have allocated it differently to get that bump.
This group averaged $56.3 million in new contracts in 2017. Those kind of numbers indicate either big additions or a big buy in on the current roster and extending many players. These teams expect improvement in certain areas and certainly a better end result than last season. The teams in this group are the Raiders, Patriots, Titans, Jaguars, 49ers, Rams, Cardinals and Falcons.
Oakland primarily kept their own, signing their QB and guard to big contracts. New England added some talent with the top player being cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The Jaguars continued to spend big and the Titans started to add some value to their roster as they expected to make a playoff run. The 49ers gutted a roster and tried to rebuild it to some extent all in one year. The Rams added to an anemic offense and the Falcons tried to add a part here and there while signing core players to big extensions.
The two teams clearly up in this group are the Rams and Jaguars. Both are at the least respectable one year after being bottom feeders. The Cardinals are around where they were last season and the 49ers have at least been in a few games. If the Titans win tonight they wont be too far off last years pace. The rest haven’t been that good. The Pats and Falcons have both trended down and if you watched their games you would say the record is better than the on field play. The Raiders are a disaster and will rival the Giants for biggest disappointment of the year.
The Big Spenders
Our final group averaged $73.9 million in new contracts. When you spend this kind of money you are expecting a far better result than the year before. For some teams that can only be measured by playoff success or failure. The teams in this group are the Dolphins, Panthers, Bears, Vikings, Lions, Redskins, Steelers, and Browns.
The spending has paid off to some extent. As a group these teams were 56-71-1 last year and are currently 23-23. The Panthers are the team that has improved the most signing some massive extensions and one big free agent and many smaller mid level contracts. The Vikings made massive investments in their own players and may be peaking. Washington is may be bit better than last year and the Dolphins, even with really uninspiring numbers, have found their way to pretty much be on pace with last years record. The Steelers and Lions are a bit off last years pace but still in some contention.
The Bears spent a lot and are still a bad team, but have nearly as many wins as last year. The Browns spent over $64 million on just 9 players are arguably worse than they were last season. Their head coach and front office may have a hard time keeping their jobs if things do not improve this year.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.