About all that hubbub about all that room under the Chiefs' salary cap...
The Kansas City Star
Programming note: mentioned this on, umm, Twitter, but there is no Twitter Tuesday this week. I’m moving, which means a light week for me here and in the column before watching Mizzou’s SEC debut this weekend against Georgia, and then the Chiefs’ attempt to prove their went-nowhere preseason won’t matter in the season opener against Atlanta.
In the meantime, Pro Football Talk posted the cap space report for all 32 NFL teams, and, as has become custom, the Chiefs are among the league leaders in available cap space. So while it can be frustrating to see your team, for instance, let a very good cornerback and solid quarterback option walk because of money while hoarding available money … it does make this column I wrote last August timely again. It might surprise you. The one update I’d add to this column is that the new CBA’s gotta-spend-89-percent-of-the-cap-or-else rule kicks in next year, so the Chiefs are likely going to need to splurge.
But, anyway, this Chiefs salary cap thing for the most part has been a wildly overblown issue — a whole different thing than if David Glass doesn’t extend payroll for a starting pitcher, for instance.
FROM THE STAR, Aug. 2011:
What if the money that NFL teams spend on players had no connection with their chances of winning? What if that correlation simply did not exist?
What if you knew that all the talk about what the Chiefs are and are not spending is wasted energy about an irrelevant fact, the equivalent of arguing the shade of red in the Arrowhead Stadium end zone?
Would it change the way you think about Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt? Would it change how you view general manager Scott Pioli’s reluctance to chase big-name free agents?
Would it change the way you follow the business side of football?
Think about it for a moment, because the following words are both shocking and true: The amount of cash that teams commit to players has no impact on their success.
Not some impact. Not a little impact. Zero impact.
That’s according to documents obtained by The Star through league sources, numbers that show that today’s NFL can be conquered equally by big spenders and small. Analysis by third-party sources confirms that there is no connection in the amount of money teams spend and the amount of on-field success they have.
Chiefs officials have spent a lot of time lately defending the organization’s spending habits, but it turns out they could have saved their breath. The team figures to rank in the middle of the league in spending, which recent history says is plenty.
Since 2001, the highest-spending team in each season won an average of 8.3 games. The Packers and Colts won the Super Bowl in years they spent the most money, but six other seasons the biggest spender didn’t even make the playoffs. The Giants won their Super Bowl while being ranked 30th in spending.
Over the same period, the top quarter of spenders each year won an average of 8.4 games. It’s consistent too: No year averaged more than 9.4 wins (in 2009) or fewer than 7.1 (2005).
The last 10 Super Bowl winners have ranked, on average, 15th in spending. The Super Bowl loser ranked 16th.
A connection between spending and winning just does not exist.
Keep in mind these numbers reflect actual cash spent, not the funny-money manipulation of salary-cap numbers.
Through deeper analysis and conversations with personnel men throughout the league, logical reasons for the disconnect between big spending and big winning begin to surface.
First, as Washington and Dallas and a few others have proved, free agency is an extremely inefficient talent pool.
Second, big-spending teams are often desperate teams with a coach or GM clinging to his job. Free agency is often used to cover holes or chase bad investments, so steady and improving teams are better at resisting those temptations.
And third, under the old collective-bargaining agreement, top draft picks commanded huge contracts from bad teams.
Those first two factors are the ones most commonly agreed upon by the men who spoke for this column. The importance of top draft pick contracts drew some disagreement, and, anyway, figures to lessen with the new limits on rookie wages.
The consensus is that teams win by how they spend, not by how much. It’s good to have the option to spend big money, but it can be detrimental if money is spent carelessly.
The personnel men make a good point about the middle spenders, too. Like the other major professional leagues, NFL payrolls often have more to do with the age of players than their current ability. Young players are generally cheaper than older players.
And perhaps more than the other leagues, the best NFL teams are typically a mix of young and old. If some are expensive and others are cheap, it makes sense that the middle spenders would be in a good spot.
The Packers’ spending last year was largely driven by a handful of contracts they either redid or extended for players both young (quarterback Aaron Rodgers) and old (cornerback Charles Woodson).
When the Colts led the league in spending, it also coincided with big contracts, most notably Peyton Manning.
This is relevant with the Chiefs, too, because they have some bills coming due. They’ve signed Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson, Andy Studebaker and Tamba Hali for the long term.
Soon they will face decisions about Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, among others.
That process will begin to happen this season, and it will drastically change the Chiefs’ financial commitments.
At least a decade’s worth of NFL history says the dollar figures will be irrelevant to whether it leads to a championship.