I pointed out that KC ranked last in payroll spending over the last 4 seasons and had spent $119 million less than the average team, and $69 million less than the 30th place Bengals, meaning that 29 of the other 31 teams were closer to the average than we were to 30th place. I also compared their spending to our division rivals. I received many replies, some defending Clark Hunt and one that asked me to show a correlation between spending and winning.
This intrigued me, so I decided to do some research to find the relationship between spending and winning. The results after the jump!
First, some background and methodology. Prior to 2008, the NFL chose to opt out of the CBA. Since that time, there has been unprecedented freedom in payroll spending in the NFL. (and it continues this year) This also dovetails nicely with the first season Clark Hunt was fully in charge during the prior off season. The gap between the top spending Cowboys and the bottom spending Chiefs was $215 million. From 2013 to 2016, the first 4 years with the full cap and floor of the new CBA, the most that gap could be is about $48 million.
After calculating the 4 year payroll totals, I broke the 32 NFL teams down into 3 groups: The top 8 spending teams (25%), the bottom 8 spending teams (25%), and a control group of the 16 teams (50%) closest to the middle. I shall refer to these as the top, middle and bottom.
A quick look at the grouping of the teams showed that spending was not a guarantee of individual success. The top group includes the hapless Redskins, the Raiders, and the top spending mediocre Cowboys. The middle group has both very successful and very unsuccessful teams. This years AFC champion Pats, last years Super Bowl champion (and this years best regular season record) Packers, and the Ravens, the only team to make the playoffs all 4 years. It also includes the three teams with the worst regular season records. (Rams, Browns, Lions) The bottom group includes the Falcons, who made the playoffs 3 of the 4 years, and the Cardinals, who have a conference championship. However, as groups, the correlation between spending and winning is VERY strong.
As groups, the middle spent the average $442 million per team. The top spent an average of $499 million or $57 million above average, the bottom spent an average of $385 million, or $57 million below average. (Still well above the Chiefs $323 million)
The first thing I did was look at regular season success.
Top: 8.81 wins per season, a .551 winning percentage
Middle: 8.04 wins per season, a .502 winning percentage
Bottom: 7.11 wins per season, a .444 winning percentage
I then looked at the distribution of highly successful or unsuccessful seasons. More than half of all NFL team seasons end up with somewhere between 6-10 wins. 22.66% of seasons finish with 11 wins or more, 22.66% of seasons finish with 5 or less wins. The chances of having one of these "good" and "bad" season across the groups correlates strongly as well.
Top: 31.25% good, 15.63% bad
Middle: 25% good, 18.75% bad
Bottom: 9.38% good, 37.5% bad
A team's playoff chances correlates as well, but not as strongly as you might think. A look at the percentage of seasons ending in playoff appearances.
Top: 13 in 32 total seasons-40.63%
Middle: 25 in 64 total seasons-39.06%
Bottom: 10 in 32 total seasons-31.25%
However, once a team gets to the playoffs, what happens afterwards has a strong correlation. I used the "Carl Peterson method" of wins + byes to see how many the average team in each group had.
Top (8 teams): 24 (3.0 per team)
Middle (16 teams): 29 (1.81 per team)
Bottom (8 teams): 7 (0.88 per team)
I then decided I was giving too much credit for byes, and decided to look at the actual record of the teams after they made the playoffs.
Top: 19-10, a .655 winning percentage
Middle: 20-24, a .455 winning percentage
Bottom: 5-10, a .333 winning percentage
Conference championships and Super Bowl wins:
Top: 4 Conference, 3 Super Bowls
Middle: 3 Conference, 1 Super Bowl
Bottom: 1 Conference, 0 Super Bowls
There have been 44 post season games the last 4 years, and 29 of them featured opponents from different financial groups. (Top vs. Middle or Bottom, Middle vs. Bottom) The higher financial group went 20-9 (.690 winning percentage) in those games.
After seeing these numbers, I think that there is no doubt that higher payroll spending increases your chances of success in the NFL in this era. With no salary floor as well as leeway on the salary cap in 2012, how the Chiefs choose to approach their spending this year will definitely be something for us all to watch. Will they continue to take advantage and spend as little as possible, or will they increase their spending this year to get to (or at least much closer to) the 2013 salary floor? (which they were about $35 million below in 2011) If they truly wanted to make a serious run this year, they could increase their payroll close to $50 million this year and only have to stay even in 2013 to make the cap. Will Clark step up, or will he be content with lining his pockets while he still has the chance?