In Part I of our look back at the salary cap spending of Super Bowl Champions we looked at spending on the top spots of the roster. In this one we want to look at the positional breakdowns of those top roster spots on the champions. Just as a quick reminder we are not including the 97 and 98 Broncos due to salary cap violations nor the 2010 Packers since the 2010 season had no salary cap. All figures are based on percent of the teams adjusted salary cap to adjust for the differences in salaries over the large time period.
Top Player Breakdown
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that quarterback dominates the top salaried player on the team as 8 of 17 champions have spent the most money on the QB. I would have expected to see a few more pass rushers on the list, but only Terrell Suggs was the top salary cap player on his team. The highest average spending came on cornerbacks, but those were both the huge numbers spent on Ty Law by the Patriots. The two strange ones were Guard and Tight End. The high priced Guard was Alan Faneca on the lower spending Steelers team and he would not have been anywhere near the top of almost any other team except the 2000 Ravens. Zach Miller took the top spot on the Seahawks, whose roster construction was very different than almost anyone else of the Super Bowl era.
Top Three Breakdown
We move up to 11 QB’s once we expand to the top 3 cap charges on a team and now we get more of those pass rushers that I thought would be in the top spot. Offensive tackle also makes a big leap, which I think would be expected since teams with a high priced QB should be paying big money to protect his blindside. Five of the seven tackles who made the top three also had a QB in the top 3 in salary. Those teams were the 1994 49ers, 2006 Colts, 2007 Giants, and 2008 Steelers .
Top 5 Breakdown
Once we extend to 5 teams we have almost every position represented (punter and kicker are missing). 15 out of 17 teams had the QB as one of the top 5 paid players on the team which is basically telling everyone that you won’t win without a reasonably compensated QB. Wide Receiver, which was almost non-existent in the top of the roster cap charges sees a massive jump to 12 players. So while teams may move away from paying them the biggest money they are certainly not shy from paying them big money. Another interesting takeaway here was the lack of running backs. Though the league was not considered a “passing league” until the last 6 or 7 years, the runners on the SB champs have not been big money earners. The 4 runners that make the list are split between the 90s era and the more pass happy era.
Top 10 Breakdown
QB drops out of the top spot since there is only one spot available per team, but does remain the highest compensated. The only team that did not have a top 10 paid QB win the Super Bowl was the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. The most popular positions are the Defensive End and Linebacker positions. Some of those linebackers are pass rushers, so I think its sf to say most teams want to wind up with a strong pass rush. In fact every team had at least one “pass rusher” make the top 10 salaries on the roster.
Five teams did not have a top 10 paid cornerback on the team. Those teams were the 1996 Packers, 2005 Steelers, 2006 Colts, 2008 Steelers and 2013 Seahawks. Only five teams did not have a high priced running back on the roster, all of whom won before 2008. The teams were the 1994 49ers, 2001 Patriots, 2004 Patriots, 2006 Colts, and 2007 Giants. Only four teams failed to have a high cap tackle on the payroll- the 1996 Packers, 2002 Buccaneers, 2004 Patriots, and 2012 Ravens. Just two squads did not have a top 10 paid WR. Those teams were the 2000 Ravens and the 2011 Giants.
Positions on the lower end of the salary scale did not make many appearances on the list with multiple teams passing on spending much space on centers, defensive tackles, guards, tight ends, safeties and special teamers. In general these are all the lowest salaried positions in todays NFL, though safety is becoming more and more valuable.
Overall there is a pretty even split between offensive and defensive positons making up the top 10. 83 of 170 positions were defensive players and 85 were offensive players, but teams skew towards offense first and defense second. 13 offensive players are the top cap hit for a Super Bowl champ to just 4 defensive players. When we look at the top three it balances out to 26/25. When we get to the top 5, though, again we get the heavy offensive investment- 49 offensive players to 36 defensive players- before it balances out again when we look at the top 10.
The Most Non-Traditional Teams
Seattle was the only team without a top priced QB, had a top 5 paid running back and tight end, and had a top 10 defensive tackle and center. There were no cornerbacks or linebacker in their top 10. All things considered that was probably the most non-traditional built team from a salary cap perspective of all time. A very unique team that will be very hard to duplicate.
The 2006 Indianapolis Colts spent the most on offensive talent with 7 of their top 10 cap positions being held by offensive players. The opposite end of the spectrum was the 2004 Patriots with just two offensive players in the top 10. They had 7 defensive players and a kicker to round out the list.
Next week we’ll look over the current rosters in the NFL and see what teams are and are not built like most of the Super Bowl teams of the salary cap era.
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.