ESPN Insider (Football Outsiders) wrote:
FBO: Position group salary analysis
By Bill Barnwell
When it comes to QB, you get what you pay for. RB? Not so much.
It doesn't take knowledge of the impending lockout to know the NFL these days is a high stakes game. The league's 32 owners have to shell out billions of dollars to acquire and retain talent; that might seem like a small beer for wildly successful franchises like the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles, but would you want to be the Ford family, propping up a dismal Lions team in a half-full stadium? Probably not.
Every owner enters the league expecting to spend money, but most owners hold out some hope that they'll see some return on their investment. Earning the television rights fees commensurate with membership in the NFL is one thing, but when a general manager goes to his owner and asks for a huge lump sum to pay a free agent, well, it's only natural that the owner would expect that player to improve the team.
Do owners that spend more at a given spot actually see a return on their investment, though? And do the relative cheapskates breeze through, saving money without sacrificing performance? It depends on the position.
In this article, we'll look at the teams that spent the most and the least at each spot on the field in 2009 and use Football Outsiders' advanced statistics to reveal what those organizations got in return.
Highest Spenders: San Diego Chargers ($28,604,890)
Lowest Spenders: Buffalo Bills ($3,460,790)
At quarterback, the salary peak was hit in Southern California. San Diego led the league in spending at the game's most important position, with a large majority of that money tied up in a contract extension for Philip Rivers. (The New York Giants, who gave Eli Manning a similarly mammoth extension, were second.) The Chargers ended up with the league's highest passing DVOA for a second consecutive season, so it's hard to argue that it wasn't money well spent. On the other side of the country, Buffalo owed initial starter Trent Edwards only $465,200, while eventual replacement Ryan Fitzpatrick got a shade under $3,000,000. In return, Edwards ranked 36th in DVOA amongst qualifying starters, while Fitzpatrick was 38th. In this case, both teams got what they paid for.
Highest Spenders: Jacksonville Jaguars ($18,188,450)
Lowest Spenders: Baltimore Ravens ($2,214,280)
Although the Jaguars led this category by virtue of Maurice Jones-Drew's contract extension kicking in, the Chargers were just behind them; they paid LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles more than $14 million combined in 2009, and for that, they got the league's worst rushing offense by virtually any metric available. It's another lesson in paying your offensive line and not your running backs, which is reinforced by Baltimore; after giving a huge contract to Willis McGahee several years ago, their running game was third in the league last year, and their primary runner was mid-round pick Ray Rice.
Highest Spenders: Green Bay Packers ($25,887,380)
Lowest Spenders: St. Louis Rams ($3,270,931)
The Greg Jennings extension pushed Green Bay to the top of the list, while St. Louis was starting castoffs by midseason. But the teams just behind them on this list are more interesting. Buffalo spent the second-most money on wideouts, thanks to Lee Evans and $6.5 million in guaranteed cash for Terrell Owens, while San Diego spent the third-least on their wideouts, finishing right around $6 million. You'll remember how well this worked out for those teams from the quarterback stats above.
Highest Spenders: Pittsburgh Steelers ($9,041,920)
Lowest Spenders: Philadelphia Eagles ($961,162)
Pittsburgh gave a well-deserved extension to Heath Miller, giving them a rare chance atop a spending leaderboard. Meanwhile, the Eagles' extension for Brent Celek doesn't kick in until next year, meaning that Philly got above-average production at a bargain basement price.
Highest Spenders: Miami Dolphins ($41,649,735)
Lowest Spenders: Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($9,688,240)
Wow. The Dolphins spent nearly 33 percent of their money in 2009 on the offensive line; great teams build through the lines, but even that might be a little too much. Jake Long has a massive contract, while new deals for Vernon Carey and Jake Grove helped push the Dolphins to the top. No other team was above $27.7 million. On the other hand, the Buccaneers had the only offensive line in football that cost less than $10 million. Unfortunately, their offensive line played as if it was being overpaid. Left tackle Donald Penn is in line for a new contract, one that would push them towards the middle of the pack.
Highest Spenders: New York Giants ($33,973,330)
Lowest Spenders: Philadelphia Eagles ($9,530,900)
The Giants shelled out in free agency for Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard, but Canty was injured for most of the year and Bernard barely made an impact. They were better off saving their money -- or spending it on a better defensive coordinator than Bill Sheridan. Meanwhile, Philadelphia's defense was sixth in the league in defensive DVOA, and it was the only team that kept its line at seven digits. New contracts loom for Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson, while Trent Cole remains criminally underpaid at a figure of around $4 million.
Highest Spenders: New York Jets ($30,502,480)
Lowest Spenders: Washington Redskins ($3,764,805)
The Jets imported the expensive Bart Scott and were already giving Calvin Pace elite money. (We'll be charitable and gloss over the Vernon Gholston cash.) Washington, meanwhile, only had London Fletcher to pay among a group of disappointing linebackers.
Highest Spenders: Denver Broncos ($32,494,375)
Lowest Spenders: Cincinnati Bengals ($7,863,150)
Denver went high-risk, high-reward in the secondary and won; it signed Brian Dawkins, Renaldo Hill and Andre Goodman to play alongside Champ Bailey, and the Broncos were healthy (63 of 64 starts) and effective (sixth in pass defense DVOA). Meanwhile, Cincinnati had arguably the league's best corner tandem in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, a pair that were still on rookie contracts in 2009. They were 10th in pass defense DVOA at less than a quarter of the cost.
Highest Spenders: Oakland Raiders ($8,403,120)
Lowest Spenders: Green Bay Packers ($856,960)
We end with a position where things, again, worked out the way they're supposed to. Oakland shelled out the cash for Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler, and it has worked. Although its special teams DVOA was average, that was because of issues with returns, not the performance of its kicker and punter. Green Bay spent nothing on special teams, and it had the league's worst special teams DVOA. It won't spend much in 2010, but it has dumped the awful Jeremy Kapinos, a step forward by itself.