The other day Nick put up a tweet that got some attention looking at the Panthers spending on the QB position the last few years which had some discussion on the Panthers approach. Shortly thereafter the Panthers signed former starter Cam Newton to a very, to put it mildly, player friendly contract which led to me getting a number of questions on spending at that position and how bad the Panthers are. Rather than focus just on the Panthers I took at look at just what was spent on the salary cap by every team in the NFL from 2019 to 2021. While this is in many cases very different than actual spending I thought it would be a fun look to see who has and has not pushed the right buttons over the last few years.
Our first look is how much was spent per team and how good or bad their record has been since 2019.
These numbers will obviously change since this season is only half-way finished but in general the the way you can read this is as follows. The teams in the top right are those who spent a ton of cap on QB’ and have been 0.500 or better. If you are below the 0.600 mark you are probably disappointed because you overspent. As you shift left you find the teams who have been successful but have not had to spend much on the position. For the teams like the Bills and Chiefs the question is how do things change once the cap hits begins to move the teams to the right quadrant.
In the bottom left we have teams that have not spent much on the position nor are the teams successful. Basically these are the teams who have tried and failed to develop rookies but have not gone overboard on veteran backups. The exceptions here are the Texans, who have just been inept, and the Chargers who will probably move to the top left by seasons end. The bottom right is the worst of the worst. Spending big on the position and not having a team that can win games.
I thought the other way to look at it is just how much teams are paying for wins the last few years. Again this will improve for most teams since there are still plenty of games to play but it can give a good idea as to who has really failed at building a team the last few years.
The Lions have been, by far, the worst in the NFL. They have spent a mini fortune on Matt Stafford, Chase Daniel. Jared Goff, etc…and have posted 8.5 wins in the last 2.5 seasons. Their $10.9M per win number is nearly $4 million more than the next closest team in the NFL. They have to draft a QB next season to try to change this approach. Washington was second worst in large part because of the Alex Smith contract while the Jaguars had to deal with the remnants of the Blake Bortles and Nick Foles disasters.
The Panthers, who were the inspiration for this, come in 4th on the heels of the Cam Newton (twice), Teddy Bridgewater, and Sam Darnold messes. It is worth noting that Darnold is carrying a near $19M cap hit next year which is not reflected in these totals. At this point they may have to hope that someone calls them for a 2nd round pick if they take Darnold off their hands. The Colts round out the top five. The Colts landed here because of the Andrew Luck retirement which led to the beyond awful decision to effectively designate Jacoby Brissett a franchise player before he took a snap that year. He was replaced the following season and rode the bench with a $21M cap hit.
Not surprisingly the top three team are the Chiefs, Ravens, and Bills. This is the massive benefit of hitting on a rookie QB and not worrying much about the backup. For Kansas City and Buffalo the free rides may end soon while the Ravens may be able to defer it a bit longer. As I mentioned above these are the teams that will be interesting to watch as the margin for error on the other 52 players is much smaller. The Ravens have some experience following the Joe Flacco contracts but this will be completely new for the Bills and somewhat new for the Chiefs who have more experience with a mid level pay structure than the big numbers for Mahomes, though that is somewhat mitigated by the incredible length of that contract.
Here are the numbers for every team over the last three seasons.
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.