2012 Cowboys Received Good Value From Player Contracts

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Pro Football Focus looked at which teams got the most bang-for-buck from their player contracts in 2012, and come up with surprising results for the Cowboys.

Over recent weeks, Pro Football Focus have been releasing a team-by-team analysis of Performance Based Value. The idea behind Performance Based Value is fairly straightforward: For each position, PFF look at the salary cap pool for all the players at the position who were active for at least one game in 2012. They then take a player’s 2012 PFF grade and playing time and calculate how much that player should have been paid out of the total available salary cap pool based on his 2012 performance.

What that analysis gives you is a comparison of a player's actual 2012 cap hit and what his cap hit should have been based solely on what a player did on the field in 2012. In essence, it shows you which players and which teams were over- or underpaid relative to their 2012 performance.

For the Cowboys, PFF identify Jason Hatcher as the most undervalued player:

Over the past few years Hatcher has been an asset to the Cowboys’ interior line, but in 2012 he stepped his game up to a new level. Someone who just looks at sacks for defensive linemen wouldn’t notice it, as he had five in both 2011 and 2012, but he more than doubled his amount of hurries from 14 to 29, and did the same with his run stops from 11 to 24. While he isn’t quiet in the same conversation with J.J. Watt and Muhammad Wilkerson, he is definitely in the next tier.

For Cowboys fans, this shouldn't come as a surprise, as Hatcher has been one of the best Cowboys linemen for the past two years. According to PFF, Hatcher had a cap hit of $2.1 million in 2012, but his Performance Based Value (PBV) was $8.9 million, giving Hatcher a value differential of $6.8 million. And even the new coaches appear to recognize what they have in Hatcher:

Here are the top five and bottom five players in terms of PBV:

Undervalued Overvalued
Player Value Differential Player Value Differential
Jason Hatcher +$6.8m Jay Ratliff* -$4.0m
Sean Lee* +$3.3m Doug Free -$3.3m
DeMarco Murray* +$3.1m Marcus Spears -$1.9m
Anthony Spencer* +$3.0m DeMarcus Ware* -$1.6m
Bruce Carter* +$2.8m Orlando Scandrick* -$1.6m

Of the undervalued players, Lee, Murray and Carter are all still playing under their rookie contracts, which goes to show the benefit of the new rookie wage scale - for the owners. The surprise here is Anthony Spencer, who shows up as undervalued despite playing under an $8.9 million franchise tag. PFF tax his 2012 performance at $11.9 million, meaning the 2012 version of Anthony Spencer was a bargain for the Cowboys, even with that fairly high price tag.

Note that the seven players marked with an asterisk (*) in the table above either missed significant playing time, or, in the case of DeMarcus Ware, played through significant injuries. This obviously impacts their Performance Based Value, as the PFF grades are cumulative. Example:

Sean Lee played only 331 snaps over five and a half games and accumulated a PFF grade of +12.1 over that span. That grade ranks him as the seventh-best linebacker in the league, despite missing a big chunk of the season. Assuming Lee had maintained his performance over a 16-game schedule, his grade would have come out at around +35, easily the best grade of all inside linebackers. And with such a grade, his PBV would have been significantly higher.

And this actually bodes quite well for almost all the players in the table above. With the exception of Marcus Spears (-3.3) and Doug Free (-10.1), all players had a positive grade from PFF and would have seen their PBV increase with more playing time.

In total, the Cowboys got a positive PBV of +$18.4 million, an indication that they got good value from their player contracts. Unfortunately, the Cowboys didn't get that value for long enough, as injuries limited the playing time of some of their key players. The key issue for the Cowboys was that they didn't get the same amount of value from the backups and injury replacements they brought in.

Overall though, the 2012 Cowboys were one of the better teams at getting value for their players. This may sound strange to Cowboys fans, as we've been conditioned to believe that the Cowboys notoriously overpay their players, that they are constantly in cap trouble because of this, and that they generally have no clue about acquiring and retaining talent. Not true, says PFF:

It might be a surprise the Cowboys ended up doing so well, getting the most for their money. They had a number of injuries which caused the team to not live up to expectations, but some of the injuries came to their young talent who aren’t making much to begin with. Outside of cornerback, where they’ve invested a lot of money, the Cowboys are actually doing a decent job of getting the most out of their players.

It's also worth noting that where the Cowboys have a PBV of $18.4 million, the other teams in the NFC East don't fare quite as well. The Redskins barely break even (+$60K) , the Giants are negative (-$4.3 million) in large part due to an overvalued defense and the Eagles bring up the rear (-$8.7 million) as they continue to pay the price for their Dream Team. In fact, with only the NFC West missing from PFF's analysis, the Cowboys rank as the fourth best team in the NFL in terms of PBV behind only the Patriots (+$33.0m), Broncos (+$30.4m) and Texans (+$26.0m). That's not the worst company to be in.

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