The Most (and Least) Efficient Salary Cap Spending in the NFL


After the third week of the season I took a look at how teams were performing based on a matrix using Pro Football Focus statistics and with all teams having completed 8 games now I thought it would be a good time to look again at the teams.

PFF grades teams in a number of offensive, defensive, and special teams categories. They usually give them equal weight sum them up and come up with an aggregate score for a team. I wanted to weight the categories with the passing categories having a weight of 56% and rushing categories 44%. These numbers simply represent the league wide play selection in 2012.  I added 20% of the penalty grade assigned to each team to calculate an offensive and defensive score.  A total grade was calculated by adding offense, defense, and special teams with the weights 42.5, 42.5, and 15.

I wanted to plot those scores against salary cap spending for the season and then add another dimension- unused cap space. So the following chart plots the score against spending with the bubble size representing unused cap room. A smaller bubble indicates minimal unused room while a larger one indicates significant unused dollars.

salary cap nine weeks

I do think what is very interesting is that the three biggest spenders (Denver, Kansas City, and Seattle) each rank right near the top of the league in performance. That sounds kind of normal but I would think that one team that goes overboard on spending would have a poor season.

The three teams that stand out with the most efficient use of cap dollars are the Bengals, Panthers, and Browns. Each is carrying significant cap room and still getting top of the league performance. The Panthers pretty much look to be the best bargain in football which ties in with the same takeaway I had in my Power Rankings. On the downside for the Panthers is that their salary cap will be more difficult next season as they have pushed money into 2014 and have a few deals set to void.

Philadelphia is one of the more disappointing teams. They have a high payroll and are carrying a ton of cap room yet the performance has basically been average. When I see that I wonder if a team would have pushed the payroll more if they might have been able to improve?  Tampa Bay and Minnesota would be the other two higher spenders with poor results.

Jacksonville remains a class to themselves. They are non-competitive and carry a high salary cap payroll due to significant amounts of dead money, but the huge cap space sends a message that the team just didn’t bother to do more. I understand the concept of the bigger picture but to just throw away a season this way has to be disappointing to fans of the Jaguars.