With three weeks of the NFL season behind us I thought it might be fun to compare salary cap spending versus performance. I keep my own team efficiency rankings, but they are based on scoring and strength of schedule and quite frankly not very reasonable at this stage of the season (for instance the Bills rank 2nd because they have faced 3 teams that have given up next to no points while the Bills are averaging 21+ a game and those numbers will even out once their schedule normalizes somewhat), so for this exercise I wanted to use Pro Football Focus’ data. Perhaps another time we will use some numbers from Football Outsiders.
I don’t like reprinting data from other sites and I usually like to use the data to come up with different numbers anyway so that was what I did here, so if you want to see the actual PFF grades you will need to subscribe to PFF. PFF scores 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.
I admit I was a bit surprised at the results in that no low spending teams really broke through in the early stages of the season. The Chiefs, Broncos and Seahawks all have significant salary cap charges on the season. The Cowboys, Saints, and Panthers are all high payroll teams that have deferred significant costs to 2014 and beyond.
One of the more interesting teams could be Green Bay. The Packers offense is terrific. Under this grading criteria its just a few decimal points behind that of the Broncos, but their defense is 4th worst in the NFL. While they are not a team to spend heavily in free agency you have to wonder if they could have perhaps upgraded somewhere in that defense to improve their rankings.
The flipside of that is that the Packers have a pretty good team and will be able to carry over money next season to help them improve or maintain their roster in the future. The Patriots and Bengals would also fit in that same category. It’s probably the exact opposite for a team like the 49ers who is basically capped out and had to let some depth go this past year due to salary cap constraints.
Teams like the Raiders and Jets are actually impressive. The cap space is about average but both carry large amounts of dead money on the books and used almost all their cap resources to field what have at least been competitive teams.
Jaguars and to a lesser extent Bills fans probably have the most to gripe about in the early part of the year. Jacksonville is awful, maintains a high cap charge because of so much dead money but they still had tons of cap room to improve this team. To sit on that amount of cap space and be that bad has to rub a fan the wrong way. There had to be players out there that were at least upgrades, even in the short term than what they are currently presenting on the field. Carrying over huge amounts of cap space is all good, but eventually it gets to the point where it is so much it becomes useless.
The reason the Bills are a little different is because they decided to take a large cap hit in 2014 for former QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, so they will likely be using a good chunk of this cap room to cover for that charge. It’s still a nice amount of cap room they could have spent, but they at least have a purpose with their unused cap space.
As the season goes on I’ll so some more snapshots like this using various published criteria so if you have any sources you want me to consider using feel free to pass them along.
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.