Even before the official NFL free agency period officially begins on March 14th, there’s already been significant signings. Teams are hungry to upgrade their rosters at their weakest positions with the goal of a stronger 2018 campaign and even long-term success. While the best players tend to go for higher contracts, teams that pay the most don’t always reap the highest amount of success. Even with the $177 million cap for the upcoming season, teams can’t afford to pay everybody. Smart spending for impact players remains imperative. In the following report, I’ll analyze and report on the salary teams committed to their offensive players in the 2017/2018 season and see how this financial commitment correlated with offensive production.
Here are some key takeaways from the report: • The Los Angeles Rams led the NFL with the most salary-efficient offense, scoring the most points per game while also employing one of the five least expensive offenses. • The Oakland Raiders’ offense under-produced greatly, only scoring 18 points a game despite having the second highest paid offensive personnel. • When organizing teams by their win/loss records, the most successful teams spent a higher proportion of their offensive budget on running backs and tight ends than teams with poor win/loss records while the worst teams spent a higher proportion on offensive linemen and wide receivers than teams with better win/loss records.
2017/2018 NFL Team Allocation to Offensive Personnel Scatter Plot: Salary Allocated ($) vs. Average Points Scored per Game
This visualization looks at the most recent season, and seeks to answer the following question: Did teams that spent the most on offense get rewarded with the most points scored? The answer is not always. As you can see, the chart is divided with total offensive salary spent (according to OverTheCap.com) along the x-axis and average points scored per game along the y-axis.
Low Paid & Low Producing Teams: These are teams that spent below the league median regarding offensive spending and this resulted in below-median scoring, which comes as no surprise. This quadrant is primarily filled by teams that did not come close to a playoff berth (Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, and Cleveland Browns) but playoff teams such as the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans found a way to make the postseason due to strong defensive performances that made up for underwhelming offensive spending and production.
Low Paid but Over-Producing: This quadrant consists of teams that under-spent for offensive players (vs. the average NFL franchise) yet scored above-median points per game. The Los Angeles Rams got the job done in a huge way, leading the league in scoring despite spending much less on offense than the average team.
Highly Paid & High-Producing: This group is another that theoretically makes sense. Teams that spend more on offense receive higher offensive output. Both Super Bowl participants, New England Patriots, and Philadelphia Eagles belong to this group.
Highly Paid but Under-Producing: Teams that overspent for players that underperformed. This is the one quadrant that had zero members make the playoffs and is headlined by recent playoff teams that had disappointing seasons (Green Bay Packers and the Oakland Raiders).
2017/2018 NFL Season: Points Scored per Million Dollars Spent on Offensive Personnel
This takes another look at how efficiently teams spent their budget for offensive players. The new metric here is in the first column on the left, which simply divided the average points scored per game this season and divides that by the offensive budget for each team (presented as points scored (per game) per million dollars allocated to offensive personnel.
As shown earlier, the Los Angeles Rams managed to lead the NFL in points scored (nearly 30 points per game) while spending significantly less on offense than the average team ($63.5 million). The Rams led the league in spending efficiency, scoring .47 points per game for every $1 million spent on offensive personnel. The second-most salary-efficient offense was the San Francisco 49ers with a ratio of .44 points scored per game per $1 million spent), who fell below the median points per game barely with 20.69 but spent the least on offense among all NFL teams. Note here that Jimmy Garoppolo was brought in mid-year in the last year of his rookie year and only started a handful of games. While Niner fans like myself are hoping a full season of Jimmy G boosts the team’s scoring substantially, his record deal inked earlier this year means San Francisco will no longer have one of the cheapest offenses in football.
On the opposite side of the spectrum was the Oakland Raiders whose disappointing campaign of under-production resulted in only .2 points scored per game, per million spent on offensive personnel (less than half of the Rams’ .47 ratio).
The proportion of Teams’ Offensive Salary Allocated to each Offensive Position (Last 5 Seasons)
For this visualization, I segmented every team’s last five seasons into quadrants by the number of wins (0-4 wins, 5-8 wins, 9-12 wins, and 13-16 wins). For each quadrant, here is an analysis of the percentage of each team’s offensive budget allocated to each position. When looking at offensive personnel, the most successful teams (13-16 wins) led all quadrants in spending on running backs and tight ends (11.22% and 12.37% of salary allocated to offensive personnel, respectively) while these teams trailed all other quadrants on spending for wide receivers). The worst teams in the last 5 years led all quadrants on salary allocated to offensive linemen and wide receivers (38.2% and 22.7%, respectively) while being the only quadrant to spend under 20% of offensive salary on quarterbacks (17.5%). Teams that won between 5 and 8 games a year spent the most on quarterbacks (22.65% of offensive salary).
% of Total Salary Cap Allocated to Position (5 years)
Once again breaking NFL teams into the same quadrants based on wins over the last 5 years, this looks at how much teams spent for each position as a proportion of the total NFL salary cap for that year. In a broad sense, more money led to more winning: teams with 13 to 16-win seasons spent 49% of the NFL salary cap on offensive personnel (11.5% more than the league median). However, when looking at specific positions, there were not the same uniform results. Yes, the most successful teams did significantly outspend the rest of the league when it came to offensive linemen (+29.5%), running backs (+51.8%), tight ends (+61.9%), and wide receivers (+19.7%). However, this same quadrant spent 9.4% less on quarterbacks than the league median. Teams in the 5-8 win range actually spent the most on quarterbacks (19.5% more than the league median).
In conclusion, while every player and every contract is unique, there’s to guarantee that spending for the most expensive players will mean more wins. As seen in the final chart, teams that did spend the most money in total on offensive players did have the best winning percentages but spent less on quarterbacks than teams that missed out on the playoffs.