Few weeks ago we tried to find out whether there is any kind of correlation between cap spending and success in the NFL, and we came to the conclusion that while the evidence seems to support a direct correlation, teams which do not spend are bound to perform poorly on the field.
We also asked ourselves at the time whether the dead money a team incurs during a season has any bearing on its Win-Record – in other words does the “quality” of its spending affect its success too? Again we analyzed a four-year span from 2011 to 2014, from the start of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to the end of last season, courtesy of Spotrac.
One of the first things we wanted to debunk was whether Dead Money is crippling a team all the time or if, in acceptable doses, is it an “evil” necessary to do business in the NFL.
Let’s be honest here – while there are one or two teams that have been exceptionally good at keeping the dreaded cap waste at a very low-level (more on this later). For the great majority of the franchises, there will always be few players’ signings that simply don’t pan out, either from wrong talent evaluation or from “unforeseeable circumstances” at the time of the signing (injuries and retirements are the most common reasons and, recently, even players turned into suspected murderers…)
As a rule of thumb, it seems dead money within 10/15% of the cap space for a single year does allow a team to do business. But it might well happen that reasonably cap-savvy teams still don’t win and teams burdened with a medium/high wasted cap do manage to get it done on the field.
Like we said earlier on, the data we analyzed refer to a four-year time span and might not reflect accurately a snapshot of the year’s cap. Also, big dead money “dumps” tend to usually occur at times when a good team “retools” at the onset of a new cycle, and a bad team “rebuilds” (yet again). While the numbers might look the same from the outside, they are most certainly not.
Without further delay, the following table shows the combined dead money for the period in question, again matched against each team’s winning record. We can easily see on one end Oakland as the poster boy of bad cap management (almost 20% of the total Cap of the period), and at the other end Green Bay as the cap guru in the league (less than 3%).
Again, plotting these numbers on a chart can give us a clearer idea of what is going on.
While it is difficult to generalize, as each team has a management style that is pretty unique in many ways, we can still notice the following:
– New England, who has been in a bad “cap shape” during the period, has just won the Super Bowl…. To add insult to injury, they closed last season with over 18 mil in Dead Money on their books – go figure huh? This seems to suggest that a franchise QB and a top coaching staff give a team a ton of leeway when things are not working smoothly everywhere.
– Green Bay deserves an honourable mention – not only they have been the best team in the NFC over the time span, but also lead the league in terms of savvy cap management. Their unique style – they hardly get involved in Free Agency – is a testimony on how successful they are at evaluating the players they draft, and whom they tend to keep at the end of their initial contracts or following extensions.
– Yours truly Saints are doing a darn good job. While this number (35 mil in four years) doesn’t include the wheeling and dealing of this post-season and its 21 mil (and counting) in dead money they have accumulated so far, they have been consistently in the bottom third of the league in terms of wasted cap. Calls for Loomis’ head can’t be further out of touch and detached from the fact that he (and his staff) has been very effective at managing the cap for the team and worth every cent Benson is paying him.
– For the rest while there is not an incontrovertible evidence between success and good cap management when it comes to dead money, we can’t help to notice that teams with the lowest amount of waste tend to have winning records (GB, SF, CIN) and teams with the highest do not (OAK, CLE, JAX).
– A big group of teams with “average” winning records tend to also have average success in managing the cap effectively. Of those DAL stands out probably because an “exuberant” GM/OWNER is very prone at splashing money and at bailing out more often he would like to.
– Seattle on the other hand is the success story of a team that has been able to “reset” and embark in a successful campaign over the last four years, although it is remarkable that like NE they closed the season with 18 mil in dead money (or 13% of last year available cap).
Again, for those into numbers, the correlation between a winning record and dead money over the period is negative (-0.27) for the whole league. The higher the cap waste, the less a team wins to some extent. The number is -0.45 for the AFC where the top hitters OAK, CLE and JAX lead the way (and in spite of NE being the outlier there), and close to zero for the NFC, where SEA and DAL probably skew the number by posting winning records in spite of high cap waste.
To summarize – at the two extremes, keeping the dead money very low is more often than not guarantee of success and being clobbered by it leads most certainly to failure. In between a wide range of scenarios are possible–with good teams being able to use a temporary reprieve (the misused “cap hell” seems like an over-stretch in this regard) to build successful “runs” for the immediate future, like the Saints seem to be doing this year.