Moneyball, NFL style

The Cowboys don't have much to show for their recent spending. (Jeff Lewis / NFL.com)

The Cowboys don't have much to show for their recent spending. (Jeff Lewis / NFL.com)

I was able to get a look at some NFL Management Council figures on “committed cash,” which is a fancy way of saying how much each team spent in actual dollars (not salary cap funny money) on player costs during a fixed period of time. In this case, we’re looking at the gross totals spent on salaries and bonuses to players for the past five seasons — from 2004-2008.

Later today I’ll post another chart that actually takes these numbers, figures in regular-season win totals over the past five years and displays which clubs are getting the best bang for their buck. As we break this stuff down, certain realities come to light, and it also crystallizes why certain execs and coaches are on the hot seat. I’ll go back to these numbers from time to time, and we’ll also come up with a list of some coaches and execs to watch in the future — you know, sort of the guys-behind-the-guy right now who could become The Man at a later time, either with their current organization or another one.

OK, I’ll stop yammering now and let you guys take a look at the list, and I’ll throw in a few observations below. The teams are listed from highest to lowest spending, and the dollar amounts are, obviously, in millions:

Team Dollars, in millions
1. Cowboys $566.89
2. Seahawks $552.42
3. Redskins $547.37
4. Colts $532.77
5. Vikings $526.87
6. Texans $522.23
7. Saints $518.49
8. Steelers $516.69
9. Panthers $516.09
10. Patriots $513.31
11. Raiders $513.21
12. Ravens $507.05
13. Browns $506.43
14. Cardinals $505.30
15. Lions $505.04
16. Jets $502.53
17. Rams $502.08
18. Dolphins $500.56
19. Giants $497.63
20. Eagles $495.75
21. Bears $495.57
22. Falcons $493.07
23. Bengals $491.06
24. 49ers $486.40
25. Chargers $485.46
26. Broncos $485.40
27. Bills $493.71
28. Jaguars $480.06
29. Titans $465.29
30. Packers $457.16
31. Chiefs $451.58
32. Buccaneers $449.00

There are some striking things that leap out to me. Of the top three spending teams, only Seattle has had playoff success in this span, reaching a Super Bowl and dominating its (weak) division for a good stretch. There is a sheer disparity between clubs — Dallas’ Jerry Jones spending $115 million more than the Glazers in Tampa Bay, for instance — and in some cases, teams spent $10-$20 million more per season on average than a foe, often with no additional wins to show for it.

The Patriots, rulers of this decade of NFL football, are only the 10th highest-spending team over these five years. And owners who sometimes carry the frugal label, like Tom Benson in New Orleans and the Bidwills in Arizona, are nowhere near the bottom of the list. When you look at the money the Chargers have spent vs. other top teams, you have to tip your cap to GM A.J. Smith. Likewise, the front offices of Philadelphia, Baltimore and the New York Giants stand out, stringing together a good run without grossly overspending. The Bears have won some division titles without coming near the upper reaches of this list. The Jaguars’ small-market woes have been overcome for the most part as well, as they have been a competitive club without spending anywhere near to the extent of guys like Jones, Washington’s Daniel Snyder or Seattle’s Paul Allen.

There is no single way to operate a club, but when you glance at this list, it’s clear that money doesn’t always buy you wins. Let me know what you guys think, and if anything jumps out to you.

Jason La Canfora

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