Spending on the NFL Passing Game

With this being kind of a slow time of year in the NFL I thought it would be fun to look at the teams that are spending the most in the NFL on their passing games. To evaluate the teams makeup we will look at their top three wide receiver (or tight end) and the top quarterback average salaries to get an idea of what teams are investing in their passing attack. We’ll also compare the numbers with last year’s adjusted yards just as a guide for how efficient or inefficient their spending will be if they perform the same as last year.

The Most Bang For the Buck

Indianapolis Colts

There is no team that can match the Colts in terms of bang for the buck with Andrew Luck still on his rookie contract and a receiving corps of Andre Johnson, Phillip Dorsett, and Coby Fleener. The combined spending ranks 29th in the NFL and last year the offense finished 2nd in the NFL in adjusted yards. Johnson replaces Reggie Wayne, whose numbers were highly correlated with Lucks play, so there is a chance that they are even better this year. If they put up the same numbers the 27 rank difference is the best in the NFL by 12 spots.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints are going to test the idea that it is the QB and not the receivers that make the passing game. Gone is the high priced Jimmy Graham and the team slashed the salary of Marques Colston. Their spending on receivers is now last in the NFL, which essentially compensates for Drew Brees massive contact and cap number. If Brees pulls off the 5th best yardage totals in the NFL they will be getting incredible value out of this group.

Tennessee Titans

I almost feel silly putting this team here, but this is an example of a team not doing something stupid and overspending when there is almost no chance of a positive return. That’s not a defense of the way the Titans run their team, but at least they aren’t throwing money away the way some other teams do. If Marcus Mariota works out then this has to change next season, but for now you don’t get much but you cant expect much either given the talent. So I guess somehow that’s efficient.

New England Patriots

No big surprise as the low cost Brady and receivers more than offset the impact of having a top paid tight end. The team gets great results out of Edelman and Lafell while Gronkowski is clearly the best tight end in some time in the NFL. About the only player that doesn’t justify the cost is Danny Amendola, who did have a good playoffs, so if you take a fantasy flyer on someone take it on a random Patriot. The team ranks middle of the league in spending and will likely finish top 10 in passing, especially if Brady’s suspension is reduced.

Philadelphia Eagles

It is kind of hard to get a full handle on the Eagles who will replace their top receiver from last year and possibly their quarterback.  The move away from Jeremy Maclin this offseason and DeSean Jackson last year shows a belief in the system and the ability to be conservative in their spending. If they can find a take for Sam Bradford and leave Mark Sanchez as their starter this will end up as one of the top value constructions in the NFL.

Throwing Away Money

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are counting on newly acquired receiver Torrey Smith to make a major difference in the pass attack and a bounce back year from Vernon Davis to salvage a disastrous passing game. Last year the team ranked 24th in the NFL in adjusted passing yards and this year will have the 5th highest salaries for the passing game. They are essentially the anti-Colts with high priced talent and limited returns. Even if they improved their passing ranking by 10 spots they would still be tied for worst disparity in the NFL, so they need massive improvements this year.

Minnesota Vikings

The best thing Minnesota has going for them is that Teddy Bridgewater played well last year and will be the QB for all of 2015. The negative is they replaced Greg Jennings with the even more expensive Mike Wallace. Bringing Wallace in is a risky move and when you combine that with the presence of the often injured and expensive Kyle Rudolph they need Bridgewater to really raise the passing game to justify the cost in those two players.

Carolina Panthers

$20.76 million for Cam Newton is a leap of faith that he can find a way to pull the 18th ranked passing attack into the top 10. Considering the teams offseason moves were increasing the salary of Greg Olsen and signing Ted Ginn and Ed Dickson this looks like a sure fire bet to be in the bottom of the NFL in 2015 for effective spending. The team will likely need to add a major talent in 2016 to justify the cost in Newton.

New York Jets

The Jets actually rank 8th in the NFL in top 3 receiver spending so they are going with the theory that the receiver can make the QB. Last year that clearly did not work as they ranked worst in the NFL in passing. Gone is Percy Harvin and in comes Brandon Marshall. Marshall is the far more polished player, though he is coming off his worst season since he was a rookie. They need Marshall to take the pressure off Eric Decker to get the most out of this group, but it will all be for nothing if the Geno Smith/Ryan Fitzpatrick tandem resembles the Smith/Michael Vick tandem of a year ago.

Detroit Lions

1st in spending, but 10th in effectiveness is not exactly a good place to be in the NFL. The Lions have huge money invested in Calvin Johnson and significant money invested in Golden Tate. What tips them over the edge is a complete waste of money in Brandon Pettigrew who they decided to pay $4 million  year for what reason nobody can explain. If they get more out of Eric Ebron this can improve, but the reality is the team is just overinvested in the passing game and Matt Stafford has a big arm but has yet to find a way to use it effectively in the NFL.

Random Thoughts

Kansas City Chiefs

In terms of salary, the addition of Jeremy Maclin was essentially a wash with Dwayne Bowe, so the question becomes how much can Maclin improve the offense. It is an odd pairing between he and Alex Smith since Maclin’s biggest strength is getting down the field and Smith’s biggest strength is having Jamaal Charles catch passes one yard down the field. They need a big turnaround to keep from being a bottom 1/3 team in efficiency.

Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers

Both teams spend a great deal and essentially get the proper return. Denver ranks 5th in spending and was 4th in performance last year. Wes Welker was replaced by the slightly cheaper Owen Daniels so no real change is expected if Peyton plays ok….Green Bay increased payroll but ranked 3rd in passing last year and could have been higher if they wanted to. They basically get the perfect return for their spending.

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas ranked 9th in passing last year but will rank 3rd in spending if Dez Bryant signs his franchise tender. There is essentially no change in the offense and they will likely perform the same this season. The disparity between the two numbers is probably one of the reasons the Cowboys are hedging on  long term contract with Bryant, but they do need to ask themselves how much worse off would they be without it. The answer to that question may not be good for the Cowboys.

Chicago Bears

The Bears rank 10th in spending and that is with Marshall off the team. The team ranked just 17th in the NFL in passing effectiveness last year which is why they needed to make changes with Marshall being the most logical guy to move. He is replaced by Eddie Royal and if Royal flops the Bears have a chance to be really bad in their allocation on the passing game.

Here is the full list of the teams

TeamQBTop 3 Rec/TE. APYTotalAdj 2014 Yards2015 Salary RankYardage RankDifference
  • icerob

    “If they can find a take[r[ for Sam Bradford and leave Mark Sanchez as their
    starter this will end up as one of the top value constructions in the

    I’m sorry, what? I can’t see how Sanchez at QB would be a top value under any model, unless we omit quality completely. Sanchez might be a decent backup, but you don’t want him starting for you no matter how much you save.

    • McGeorge

      If Mark Sanchez can play as as well as Andy Dalton, the eagles will a so-so QB for a very low price. I think Sanchez makes around 4.5MM if he meets incentives. And less if he doesn’t. That’s good value, provided he’s at least so-so. He seems to be better with the Eagles than with the Jets.
      I’m not saying Mark Sanchez is good, just that for such a low price, the Eagles are saving 12MM/year that they can put towards other players.

      I have my doubts about Bradford, but who knows, maybe he works out.
      And after the season he will want to get paid like other tier 2 QBs.

      • I would think the primary reason the Eagles traded Foles is because if he hit free agency he would be worth, at a minimum, Dalton money, which isnt really in line with production. If you can get similar value from Sanchez at $4 million it makes sense to go that way. I still believe they only traded for Bradford thinking they can move him, but if he does ok and has the Dalton money with the upside of a top player thats probably a better keep than Foles. I dont like Bradford at all but I understand the possible logic. You dont pay a player you dont view as a potential top line starter $15M+ just because thats what others are doing.

        • McGeorge

          I have no inside knowledge and am speculating, but I think there is a 99% chance Chip Kelly had a deal worked out with the Titans to trade for Mariota and they backed out on him. He’s probably not happy to have given up a #2 for Bradford, when he could have just traded Foles or something, maybe a #2?

          I can see trading Foles, but not Foles and a #2 for Bradord, with his history of injuries, and who can leave after the season if he has a good year.
          If Bradford has a good year, he can ask for Ryan Tannehill money.

        • PerfectTrader777

          I’m going to disagree with a lot of you. I believe that the offense the Eagles employ makes QBs look much better than they would be in other offenses. I believe Nick Foles is an average QB at best (poor decision making, no mobility, average short/intermediate accuracy) and that Mark Sanchez is an average to below average QB although his limited array of skills is highlighted well by the Eagles in that he can get the ball out fast and is accurate in short and intermediate passes.

          On the flipside, Bradford has been in one of the top 5 worst offenses in the league for his tenure in the NFL. He’s got the same abilities as Mark Sanchez but he also has arm strength, accuracy on deep balls and good mental processing. I didn’t believe this to be true until I watched 6 or 7 of his 2011 and 2013 games and saw just how atrocious the rest of that offense was, including the OC Brian Schottenheimer. I think Sam Bradford is a top 15 QB in the league and that his skills will be maximized by the Eagles offensive play-calling and the talent around him.

          I think the Eagles are hoping to extend Bradford for a few seasons now and pay him Andy Dalton money in return for top 5-10 QB production. That would still be a big value.

    • Based on how Mark played last season they get good value for the position/passing game. For all his faults, Sanchez is fine as a $4 million type QB. They now have no spend at the other skill positions so they will end up as a bottom 5 spending team with say a number 16 pass attack. Thats decent value as long as the team goes into the season with the expectation that they arent paying for much as shouldnt be a top 5 passing unit.

      • icerob

        He’s ok value for a $4 million QB, but there’s a reason nobody starts $4 million QBs unless theyr’e on rookie deals or they’re the Browns. That’ simply not enough to win unless you build a powerhouse around them and the Eagles haven’t.

        I don’t agree with the comment below about Sancehz being simlar to Foles. Sanchez has never had a season in line with what Foles did two years ago -few have. The difference between them is basically nobody knows just how good Foles is. In my opinion, the Rams swindled the Eagles. And it’s useless to wonder what Chip Kelly thought of Foles, he’s been walking a very thin line between genius and lunacy lately. He might very well be gone at the end of the year.

        As to the Dalton comment, that’s the problem with “if” sentences -they tend to distort things. Dalton is a mediocre QB who is way overpaid, but he’s in a very good team and that helps him get away with it. Even so, he’s better than Sanchez. The point is after the kind of offseason the Eagles have had, if I were a fan I’d be terrified to see Sanchez start. Their only hope is for Bradford to be everything Kelly thought he was when he paid that absurd price for him.

        • McGeorge

          Foles performance 2 years ago may have been an aberration, something he is unlikely to repeat. We don’t know how good Foles really is. presumably Chip Kelly has seen him up close and has a fair idea. It’s not useless to wonder about that. And I think teh reson the trade was made was to get Mariota.
          I’m looking forward to seeing how Foles and Bradford perform this year, it was an interesting trade.

          Dalton is a mediocre QB who is over paid BUT there is a shortage of slightly worse QBs. It’s not like you can say “I’ll let Dalton go and get XXX, and pay him 4MM less”. Who is XXX? There is a labor shortage (of serviceable QBs), and that drives up the price for the Tier 2 QBs.

          • icerob

            It may have been an aberration, but Sanchez would -and he’s not alone in this- would do anything to have an aberration like this one of these decades. Presumably Kelly knows best, but Kelly has lost credibility at an amazing pace this offseason. At this point I simply cannot trust his judgement unless he can back it with wins this year. I do agree in that I’m also looking forward to how all this madness turns out.

            And I also agree about Dalton, it seems that QBs can only make 4 million or 16 with no middle ground in between. It’s really strange. And I’d rather have Sanchez at 4 than Dalton at 16.