Any NFL GM could probably spend the entirety of their salary cap before the bathroom mirror steams up; how they spend it is another story all together. This isn't baseball, where the Yankee pay more to fill in 1st and 3rd on their lineup card than three teams pay to employ their entire organization. In fact, in 2009 the Yankees will pay for A-Rod only slightly less than the Marlins will pay for the Marlins. J.I. Halsell at Football Outsiders takes a look at how efficiently teams spent and handled their cap space in 2008.
As we all know, the team that spends the most money on players isn't always the team with the most wins; to that point, the Seahawks had the fifth highest 2008 Team Salary with $122 million but could only muster four wins. Conversely, the Giants had the fourth lowest Team Salary at a little under $105 million, yet had 12 wins.
Well that was rude. Barely sets foot in the house and already he's insulting the upholstery. I'll let Halsell continue, but only because he brought pastry. Who can say no to rugelach?
Keep in mind that "Team Salary" is not cash paid, but instead represents contract amounts accounted for. For example, if a player signs a contract with a $1 million signing bonus, the full $1 million isn't counted in 2008 Team Salary, but instead the prorated amount counts; that would be $200,000 on a five-year contract.
It is important to note that the Efficiency Rating is based solely on wins, which as we know is an outcome subject to all sorts of other factors. A bit of NFL accounting information that I had not previously heard about:
The cap space rolled over component is important in my opinion because the NFL practices a "use it or lose it" philosophy towards unused cap space. Therefore, teams are wise to roll over their unused cap space into the next capped year; interestingly, not all teams rollover their unused cap space.
On to the results. You will want to click through to see the tables. As is no surprise in a metric that revolves around wins, most of the teams that scored well in Efficiency Rating made the playoffs (or didn't despite 11 wins). More interesting are the teams that scored higher or lower than expected. Tampa Bay finished a narrow second despite winning only 9 games. How? They had the second lowest payroll in the NFL and rolled over more than $25 million.
Atlanta rated on the low side for an 11 win team, as they rolled over only $1.2 million. Pittsburgh, despite 12 wins, managed to cost themselves cap space in 2009 by running a deficit. Likewise, Baltimore carried over a red number. Unsurprisingly given their 4 wins, the Seattle Seahawks finished near the bottom of cap efficiency after a high payroll and low rollover.
Looking at the 2009 Adjusted Cap numbers, Tampa is excellent cap position headed into 2009. Third on the list? San Francisco. Having cap space and spending cap space wisely are still two entirely separate entities, but take a look at how teams have positioned themselves for the upcoming season from an accounting.