While the NFL’s salary cap may create one of the more even playing fields in professional sports, it still leaves room for organizations to make choices. Should they spend more on offense or defense? Are special teams a priority? A new interactive database by Guardian US shows it’s not necessarily the teams who spend the most overall who make the playoffs, but it's important where you spend it.
As general managers around the league plan for next season, perhaps they should take note that all 12 teams in the playoffs this year had something in common: they each spent at or above the league average for players on either offense, defense or special teams. Seven of the 12 teams spent above the league average of $53.6 million on offensive players. The $53.5 million average for defensive players was exceeded by five playoff teams, and 5 teams met or exceeded the special teams average of $4.1 million. Only one playoff team spent above average in all three categories: the San Francisco 49ers.
Just three NFL teams fell below the average in all three categories in 2012: the Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams. The Rams and Cardinals each had losing seasons. The New Orleans Saints, who only exceeded the average for special teams spending, and by less than half a million dollars, also experienced a losing season.
The Lions, Bears and Cheifs, however, proved that spending above the average won’t always get you a playoff berth, or even a winning season. Detroit went 4-12, despite spending well above the average in all three categories, and the Chiefs were even worse off with a 2-14 record.
Some other interesting data from the 2012 season shows the Raiders spent the most on special teams at $10.9 million. Oakland spent nearly $3 million more than the next-highest team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Neither of the top spenders on offense, Tampa Bay ($79.8 million) and Tennessee ($69.1 million), made it into the postseason.
The top-earning defense, Denver ($70.2 million) did make it to the playoffs, but the next-highest earning defense to make it into the postseason was Baltimore ($64.0 million) in fifth place. The New York Giants ($68.6 million), New York Jets ($68.1 million) and Pittsburgh Steelers ($64.9 million) failed to make it despite having the second-, third- and fourth-highest-paid defenses.