The stars and scrubs approach, at least when it came to spending and salary cap charges, was not a good strategy in 2013. Over The Cap posted the salary cap charge totals for the Top 3, Top 4, and Top 5 players on each team. The top heavy teams were largely absent from the last month of football.
Of the ten teams who had the most 2013 cap money devoted to the five highest paid players on the roster, only one made the postseason, and finished with a winning record. That was the New Orleans Saints at #8. The top seven teams all missed the postseason: Pittsburgh, Dallas, Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and St. Louis. (Both New York teams rounded out the Top 10).
Most were not horrible. They made up the middle class of the NFL this season, for the most part big name teams with big name quarterbacks occupying the 7 and 8 win plateau. The group collectively won 47.5% of the games. They had good players, but also plenty of holes, whether due to injuries and depth or mere age and decline.
If only one of the top ten teams in salary made the playoffs, that means half of the remaining teams–those a little more balanced in their approach–did. That includes both Super Bowl teams as Seattle is at #12 and Denver is at #14. (That’s right, Denver with Peyton Manning vs. Seattle having Russell Wilson and his rookie 3rd round deal are basically equal in what they pay the top five players).
It’s also interesting to note, as it is no coincidence, that the bottom ten teams by this measure all had opening day quarterbacks in 2013 who were drafted in the last three years, when the rookie wage scale was instituted. The lowest ranked team to have a veteran quarterback was Houston, and they will soon have to pay J.J. Watt, the 11th overall pick in that 2011 draft.
This is something to keep in mind this offseason, as this is the first year that members of that first post-lockout draft class can re-negotiate and extend their contracts. Cam Newton’s agents are no doubt already in contact with Carolina. Colin Kaepernick is now able to negotiate a raise. Even someone like Andy Dalton will be getting a raise soon, as he was a tremendous value. Even setting aside quarterbacks and Watt, the following players have come cheap relative to their performance level, and will be looking to get a bigger bonus: Patrick Peterson, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Von Miller, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, Tyron Smith, Robert Quinn, Cameron Jordan, Nate Solder, Justin Houston, and Richard Sherman.
This list could look very different this time next year, as plenty of stars will no longer wanting to be working on the cheap, and teams will have to figure out how to pay them without getting too out of balance.