There’s an old maxim that “you get what you pay for”. Every year in the NFL, GMs test that maxim by attempting to squeeze as much production as they can out of 53 players under the salary cap. Because, in order to be successful in the NFL, you have to prove that saying wrong.
Every year, the teams that make a run, have top performers on cheap deals, or have guys come out of nowhere and produce well above their contract price tag.
Let’s test this theory with some recent history.
2013: Seattle wins the Super Bowl with a Pro Bowl QB on his rookie deal, and All-Pro corner, Richard Sherman on the cheap.
Seattle’s 3 biggest stars that year (Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson) had a combined cap hit of $4 million!
2014: New England Patriots Super Bowl star, Malcolm Butler made $420k this year, and Brady’s two favorite weapons (Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski) combined for a cap hit of a little over $8 million, which is about 62% of Demaryius Thomas’ cap hit last year.
2015: The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl with a historic defense, that was largely on the cheap. Derek Wolfe signed a deal midseason, but was on his rookie deal before that. Malik Jackson gave us top 15 production at his position for $1.5 million cap hit (about 10% of what he would eventually make with Jacksonville). Brandon Marshall played last year on a RFA tender, Von Miller was inexpensive due to a 5th year option, and Emmanuel Sanders was still on the bargain deal he signed in free agency.
2016: Fast forward to this year, the majority of those guys listed above have new contracts with Denver that now match their production. This is not a bad thing because they deserve those deals.
However, we are now “getting what we pay for” from those major stars, which means we need some rookies to step up, some bargain bin free agents to come through, or an undrafted/PS player to make some noise.
So far that hasn’t happened.
Guys like Bennie Fowler, Booker, Crick, Sly Williams, Jordan Taylor, Justin Simmons, Michael Schofield, Max Garcia all have had opportunities to outproduce their price tag and be the guys that stepped up this year like all the players listed previously did a season ago.
Look at a team like the Dallas Cowboys. They are so successful this year because three of their best players, Dak Prescott, Zeke Elliot, and Zach Martin are playing at a Pro Bowl level on rookie (cheap) deals.
In this salary cap era, you can’t afford to pay all 53 guys and “get what you pay for”. GMs make their living by getting more than they pay for. John Elway needs some more of that to push this team over the top.