Does Spending Money Help NFL Teams Win?

November 30, 2011 in Editorial


This offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles decided they would not be content with just adding depth to their roster in free agency, they wanted top talent. The season prior, the Eagles had looked like a strong team, but were eliminated by the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers. They went out and signed a litany of players including their biggest target, Nnamdi Asomugha, and the resulting press had many pundits picking them to be one of the favorites for the Super Bowl. Their moves undeniably added depth and talent to their team but after losing to the Patriots on Sunday their record dropped to 4-7. According to Football Outsiders the Eagles’s chance of getting into the playoffs this year fell to 2.7 percent following the loss.

How did the Eagles get here? Even though the Eagles looked like they had the potential to come together late in the season it never quite happened. They dropped a few close games early and we’re never able to overcome that deficit.  Even though Philadelphia opened up its wallet and spent a great deal of their salary cap cash, it should be noted that this has little impact on overall success.

Unlike baseball, the NFL has a salary cap which keeps bigger market teams from outspending teams that are not as financially fortunate. However, some teams still tend to shy away from making big free agent acquisitions and as such come in below the salary cap. Centives wanted to see if those teams put themselves at a disadvantage during the season, so Centives decided to look at how many wins teams were getting in comparison with the amount of money they spent. Because the salary cap differs every year, Centives used percentages of the cap used as opposed to raw dollars and cents. Using salary data found on USA Today’s website between 2006 and 2009 Centives found there to be no correlation between the amount of cap space used and how teams fared in the wins column. This isn’t an unexpected result; sports are never decided in cash alone, although in some sports it may help more than others.

This offers some hope for fans of smaller market teams, or just fiscally conservative teams. Possibly the most interesting finding from this data is that two recent Super Bowl winners, the Giants and the Colts, were the lowest and highest spending teams in their respective winning years. Obviously there are many ways to build a winning team, whether cultivating talent in house or going out and finding the best talent available. The Eagles believed that they needed to go out and bring talent to them, and it did not work for them this year. It’s possible that next year they will show form they will show form that was rarely present this year. For the next team that goes on a spending spree in free agency, the Eagles should be remembered to temper any extreme expectations.

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