When NFL owners opted out of the final year of the collective bargaining agreement, that left the teams without a salary cap for the 2010 season. And without limits in place, several teams went crazy with their spending this season.
Data obtained by ProFootballTalk shows that 13 teams are above last year’s cap number of $127 million with the Redskins leading the way at $178.2 million.
But does spending more on salaries lead to more wins in the NFL?
Let’s take a look at team payrolls from the last three seasons and compare those to how many games each team won…
Using payroll figures from USA Today’s salary database, we can see that there is almost no correlation between how much a team spends on money and how many games that team wins* (several outliers have been labelled; R-squared = 0.05). Of course, with a salary cap and a salary floor (75% of the cap), so payrolls are somewhat clustered. But with a range of $40-50 million in payrolls each season, there would still be some correlation.
If the salary cap is the explanation, we would expect to see a stronger correlation this season, and that is just not the case.
Of the top 5 teams in terms of payroll (Redskins, Cowboys, Saints, Vikings, Seahawks) only one, the Saints, has a winning record. And at the other end of the spectrum, the three teams with the smallest payrolls (Jaguars, Chiefs, Bucs), all are .500 or better.
The salary cap may have created parity in the NFL. But there appears to be little reason to try and outspend the competition in the cap era.
*If there was a strong relationship between spending and winning, we would see the dots form something more like a straight line and less randomness. Also, the NFL salary cap changes each year, so a dollar in 2007 (cap = $109M) is not the same as a dollar in 2008 ($116M) or 2009 ($127M). If we adjust the payrolls based on the different salary cap figures, the data is not much different. In fact, the R-squared value actually goes down a notch (0.04).
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