clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How winning teams spend their cash: NFL positional spend analysis 2013-2021

Is there a trend among winning franchises is terms of how they spend their cash?

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Overthecap.com has positional spend data for every team for every season going back to 2013. So we can track how various teams have used their cash to build their rosters.

The two main ways to build a team are through the draft and through free agency. With a finite amount of cash (salary cap) to spend most teams would prefer to build through good drafting (and player development). This is mainly due to the fact that drafted players are by and large much cheaper than free agents at the same position. That being said, if your franchise is good at drafting and developing players, you will want to resign some of them when their rookie contracts expire.

Currently rookies drafted in the first round can be controlled by the drafting team for five years while rookies drafted after the first round can be controlled for four. That being said, teams do not have to pick up their first round pick’s fifth year option. There are plenty of first round picks who are busts. They rarely get their fifth year option picked up by the team.

So here is the data. I am going to focus on offense since OTC changed up how they split up defensive position groups two years ago (splitting edge defenders off from LBs and DL where they used to fall - into both groups). Feel free to do the same analysis on the defensive position groups if you wish (link to data later).

Team QB RB WR TE OL OFFENSE DEFENSE TOTAL SPEND OFFENSE % W-L% PF AVE PA AVE PD AVE
Patriots $14,558,534 $7,428,044 $16,682,134 $10,106,955 $24,678,726 $73,454,393 $67,772,929 $141,227,322 52.0% 71.0% 27.03 18.74 8.29
Chargers $18,349,105 $6,959,189 $19,339,784 $9,476,365 $26,032,207 $80,156,650 $65,744,651 $145,901,300 54.9% 47.6% 23.81 23.09 0.72
Seahawks $18,290,488 $7,626,281 $13,569,024 $9,430,400 $22,652,399 $71,568,591 $70,529,672 $142,098,263 50.4% 65.2% 25.11 19.78 5.33
Commanders $17,745,520 $4,445,810 $15,564,348 $9,090,488 $33,192,664 $80,038,830 $63,538,484 $143,577,314 55.7% 38.3% 20.54 24.99 -4.45
Colts $18,837,449 $5,421,176 $17,544,690 $8,947,542 $27,241,802 $77,992,660 $65,239,452 $143,232,112 54.5% 54.5% 24.50 23.12 1.37
Bears $16,142,172 $6,464,229 $20,617,492 $8,787,625 $22,353,145 $74,364,663 $70,635,200 $144,999,863 51.3% 42.1% 20.87 23.41 -2.54
Jaguars $9,126,256 $8,240,978 $12,775,343 $8,782,981 $27,994,081 $66,919,639 $71,078,091 $137,997,730 48.5% 27.6% 18.70 25.10 -6.40
Titans $11,497,115 $9,481,116 $13,867,801 $8,761,106 $29,290,027 $72,897,166 $69,527,894 $142,425,059 51.2% 49.0% 22.43 23.47 -1.04
Cowboys $14,427,027 $7,349,657 $18,323,878 $8,252,076 $29,902,119 $78,254,758 $60,488,245 $138,743,004 56.4% 56.6% 25.20 22.57 2.63
Eagles $12,605,962 $8,505,196 $17,029,789 $8,175,757 $33,655,071 $79,971,775 $62,125,504 $142,097,279 56.3% 54.1% 25.15 23.06 2.10
Chiefs $12,896,344 $6,665,278 $17,466,246 $8,084,004 $24,255,556 $69,367,429 $74,711,811 $144,079,240 48.1% 71.0% 27.32 20.54 6.78
Buccaneers $12,342,179 $6,311,976 $21,209,136 $7,998,736 $29,188,944 $77,050,971 $73,504,972 $150,555,943 51.2% 42.8% 23.81 24.74 -0.93
Panthers $16,734,925 $9,764,386 $11,234,294 $7,997,086 $24,723,518 $70,454,211 $64,130,439 $134,584,649 52.3% 50.7% 22.81 22.83 -0.02
Rams $14,119,098 $6,502,191 $15,751,102 $7,972,426 $23,007,594 $67,352,411 $71,780,044 $139,132,455 48.4% 54.5% 23.50 21.98 1.52
Bengals $12,014,582 $7,140,885 $21,441,706 $7,925,572 $25,195,806 $73,718,551 $78,713,419 $152,431,970 48.4% 47.9% 22.39 22.53 -0.14
Bills $7,641,432 $9,681,185 $14,559,959 $7,482,331 $25,505,014 $64,869,920 $73,186,297 $138,056,217 47.0% 54.5% 22.96 21.17 1.79
Vikings $19,064,762 $10,479,187 $14,559,822 $7,376,533 $24,029,876 $75,510,180 $73,688,261 $149,198,442 50.6% 53.8% 23.53 22.27 1.26
Saints $21,798,440 $7,069,365 $11,614,773 $7,224,924 $28,068,068 $75,775,570 $54,859,386 $130,634,956 58.0% 62.1% 27.23 23.10 4.12
Packers $22,122,792 $3,767,248 $19,610,512 $7,172,837 $28,977,704 $81,651,093 $68,826,225 $150,477,318 54.3% 64.1% 25.75 22.92 2.83
Steelers $23,560,420 $4,262,330 $11,189,012 $7,119,406 $26,336,178 $72,467,347 $69,300,729 $141,768,076 51.1% 63.4% 24.27 21.14 3.13
Ravens $14,789,265 $5,112,647 $12,330,263 $7,056,177 $21,530,934 $60,819,286 $72,141,240 $132,960,526 45.7% 57.2% 24.62 20.30 4.32
Dolphins $12,497,051 $4,086,785 $18,650,513 $7,008,297 $22,043,843 $64,286,489 $73,867,220 $138,153,708 46.5% 47.6% 20.89 24.19 -3.30
Raiders $15,837,974 $7,432,323 $15,649,568 $6,975,207 $33,833,696 $79,728,769 $58,385,766 $138,114,535 57.7% 42.1% 21.12 26.66 -5.54
Lions $21,580,706 $5,138,893 $16,556,390 $6,640,270 $20,666,638 $70,582,897 $65,193,549 $135,776,445 52.0% 42.1% 22.05 24.56 -2.51
Browns $10,551,880 $4,702,913 $17,002,792 $6,508,323 $33,959,721 $72,725,629 $65,303,516 $138,029,145 52.7% 32.8% 19.54 24.91 -5.37
49ers $19,200,384 $8,004,860 $13,673,455 $6,379,790 $27,218,994 $74,477,482 $63,998,286 $138,475,768 53.8% 45.5% 22.17 23.19 -1.02
Cardinals $13,365,590 $6,014,690 $18,983,894 $6,152,791 $25,658,259 $70,175,224 $71,907,765 $142,082,989 49.4% 53.1% 23.01 22.48 0.53
Giants $19,534,882 $9,272,859 $15,460,582 $6,014,584 $24,357,866 $74,640,773 $64,373,145 $139,013,919 53.7% 35.9% 19.99 24.37 -4.38
Broncos $12,322,989 $5,980,217 $17,822,986 $5,810,165 $24,970,368 $66,906,724 $76,760,487 $143,667,211 46.6% 52.4% 22.99 21.80 1.19
Texans $10,054,010 $10,476,619 $16,664,933 $5,513,442 $26,072,613 $68,781,618 $73,369,636 $142,151,254 48.4% 42.8% 21.02 23.65 -2.63
Falcons $21,638,686 $5,823,722 $22,253,791 $4,890,802 $27,993,929 $82,600,930 $58,618,078 $141,219,009 58.5% 44.1% 23.93 24.97 -1.04
Jets $9,816,676 $6,498,540 $17,984,666 $4,006,787 $33,492,585 $71,799,253 $66,225,058 $138,024,311 52.0% 33.8% 18.59 25.20 -6.61

Here are the Bronco ranks in (mostly offense) positional group spend:

So the only position group on offense where the Broncos are in the top half of the league in terms of average spend was wide receiver. Overall on offense (total offensive spend) the Broncos ranked 29th.

The most important position in football is quarterback. The Broncos were in the top half of the league in QB cash spend when we had Peyton Manning, but have gone cheap at QB ever since (with the exception of 2018).

The QB-on-the-cheap approach only works if you hit on a QB in the draft and Denver has not.

I found it interesting that the two teams with the lowest average spend on offensive line both have a high win percentage 2013-2021, the Patriots (31st) and the Ravens (32nd). The Patriots have won 71.0 percent and the Ravens have won 57.2 percent.

If you wish to view my full data set here is the link.

I pulled the W-L and scoring data for every team during these nine seasons to see if there is any correlation between positional spend and winning. Remember two things

  1. Correlation is not causation
  2. A correlation of 0.70 or better is a strong correlation

Here are the correlations between positional group spend and winning percentage

Position Correlation
QB 0.28
RB -0.07
WR -0.16
TE 0.35
OL -0.34
OFF -0.04
DEF 0.12
TOTAL 0.10

The strongest positive correlation was actually between tight end spend and win percentage (0.35). Interestingly offensive line spend and win percentage had a correlation of negative 0.34, meaning that during this time winning teams in general did NOT spend a bunch on their offensive lines - this tracks with the Ravens and Patriots. The correlation between QB spend and winning was not very strong, probably because of the teams that have picked a winner in the draft. QBs on their rookie contracts are much much cheaper than those on free agent deals. Even the first overall pick only makes about nine million per year. In most years there are roughly 20 QBs that make more than that. For example Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andy Dalton both had cap numbers of ten million for 2021.

The Saints were last in the league in average defensive spend and they have generally had good scoring defenses during this timespan. The Bengals were first in defensive spend, but they have generally NOT had good defenses. The Broncos were second in defensive spend and they have, more often than not, had very good defenses 2013-2021.

The overall correlations between offensive spend, defensive spend, total spend and win percentage were all so weak as to not merit further discussion.

Over this timespan the Broncos were 15th in win percentage, 17th in scoring and 7th in points allowed.

Along with win percentage I also pulled points scored and points allowed data. You might think that there would be a strong correlation between offensive spend and points scored, but you would be wrong. The correlation value between scoring and offensive spend was 0.18. The value between points allowed and defensive spend was negative 0.40. That was a surprise to me. That means that in general spending more on defense does not lead to allowing fewer points, but the correlation is “stronger” than offensive spending to points scored.

The correlation between points scored and winning was 0.91. The correlation between points allowed and winning was negative 0.84 - meaning that teams that ranked high in fewest points allowed generally had a high winning percentage.

When you score more points that the other team you win (duh!) so as you might expect the correlation between point difference, PD, and win percentage is crazy strong - 0.96 (points scored minus points allowed is point difference NOT differential - end short rant). It makes you wonder what teams don’t follow this trendline - teams that are not where the trendline says they should be based on nine years of point difference and win percentage. If you sort by win percentage and trendline that with and PD there are four team that are farthest off the trend line - two of the high side and two on the low side.

The two on the high side are the Patriots and the Chargers - meaning that they have won more than they PD would predict. The two on the low side are the Raiders and the Dolphins. - meaning that they have lost more than their PD would predict.

Poll

Did any of this surprise you? Tell me what in the comments

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Yes
    (69 votes)
  • 45%
    No
    (130 votes)
  • 30%
    Yawn - math. I clicked on accident.
    (86 votes)
285 votes total Vote Now