Part A: How Much Money Is Spent?
I want to address some claims I see being made about Dallas' management of their roster, particularly the Salary Cap. It's often repeated that although we might not have as much cap space as other teams it doesn't matter because generous Jerry always spends up to the cap limit while many other teams have greedy little owners who pocket their cap space rather than spend it on the roster.
Some of that may have been true in the past but to maintain that stance nowadays is mostly a self serving myth. The 2011 CBA's raised cap floor and the cap rollover function have changed the game.
Things like cap rollover and dead money can make substantial differences to the team you can field. Let's take a look at the money spent on Active Players for the entire league in 2013 (using OverTheCap.com):
1st: $124.817M – Seahawks
2nd: $123.239M – Vikings
3rd: $120.977 – Broncos
4th: $120.063M – Bears
5th: $119.688M – Bengals
6th: $116.968M – 49ers
7th: $117.941M – Packers
8th: $116.445M – Saints
9th: $115.983M – Chiefs
10th: $115.937M – Texans
11th: $114.714M – Eagles
12th: $114.639M – Titans
13th: $113.986M – Giants
14th: $112.24M – Colts
15th: $111.854M – Steelers
16th: $111.849M – Buccaneers
17th: $108.753M – Rams
18th: $107.897M – Chargers
19th: $106.087M – Patriots
20th: $104.839M – Falcons
21st: $104.785M – Lions
22nd: $103.889 – Ravens
23rd: $101.667M – Cardinals
24th: $101.461M – Redskins
25th: $100.049M – Cowboys
26th: $99.037M – Jets
27th: $98.453M – Dolphins
28th: $96.647M – Bills
29th: $96.362M – Browns
30th: $94.118M – Panthers
31st: $84.218M – Jaguars
32nd: $65.772M – Raiders
The Cowboys ranked 25th in the money invested in its active roster in 2013. Why so low? We all know Jerry spends every available penny he can to field the best team. Why didn't he spend more? Because he couldn't, because of low rollover and high dead money. 24 other teams spent more money on their active players in 2013 than Dallas because they had a better combination of rollover and dead money.
I don't have the figures for 2012, but with Dallas wearing around $28M in dead money that year the results were almost definitely very similar to what we just saw for 2013.
In regards to 2014 it looks like that we will again be in the lower half of the league in regards to money spent on our active players because of low rollover and high dead money. That would probably be 3 years straight. 2014's number should be better than 2013's 25th ranking I think but by how much is unclear at this stage. The projecting that things will get better in future years (often done quite snidely amazingly enough) does not erase the realities of the wretched past or mediocre present.
How can self inflicted errors that force an organization to spend less than most of their competitors on their active roster be considered great management? How is that "cap wizardry"?
Part B: Does How Much You Spend Matter?
In Part A I addressed the "our cap is good, we spend as much or more than anyone" error. Clearly that claim is not always true. Having had these debates before I know exactly what's coming next. Having lost ground on the first proposition the fallback option seems to be attempting to change the debate to one of two claims. The first claim is "we did everything we wanted to do anyway" / "the cap hasn't stopped us from doing what we want". These are simply unknowable claims. We do not know what the team would do under different circumstances.
What's funny though, is people who at first acknowledge and promote as good that Jerry always spends up to the cap then often turn around and imply if we weren't so restricted and had more cap room that Jerry wouldn't use it. Yes, that's a contradiction folks. Obviously the most objective position is to say we don't know either way. Another very reasonable position is saying that if circumstances were different then the moves may have been different. If we want to put further speculation into it, with Dallas' history, it seems far more reasonable to conclude that if we had more resources it's likely we would have used a fair degree of them.
The second claim that often gets made is "spending more money doesn't guarantee success". Unlike the first claim, this one actually has some merit. It is absolutely true that spending money doesn't guarantee success on the field. For fun though, it should also be noted how this claim is also contradictory to the "our cap is good, we spend as much or more than anyone" claim but I digress...
Spending money doesn't guarantee success but does it influence it? What are the results of spending more money? These are interesting questions so let's take a look at the 2013 Active Roster cap figures I posted earlier, I'll break the league into quarters (groups of 8) based on active roster spending:
First Quarter Teams in Active Roster Spending:
Averaged 10.12 wins on the year. 6 of the 8 went to the Playoffs. 4 of those won their division. 3 went to the Championship Game. 2 of course were the Superbowl Victor and Runner-Up.
Second Quarter Teams in Active Roster Spending:
Averaged 7.5 wins on the year. 3 of the 8 went to the Playoffs. 2 of those won their division.
Third Quarter Teams in Active Roster Spending:
Averaged 7.5 wins on the year. 2 of the 8 went to the Playoffs. 1 of those won their division. 1 went to the Championship Game.
The Forth Quarter Teams in Active Roster Spending:
Averaged 6.75 wins on the year. 1 of the 8 went to the playoffs. That 1 also won their division.
Some interesting results there:
50% of the Playoff teams in the league came from the Top Quarter Active Salary Teams, including 3 of the 4 who made the Championship Game and both Superbowl teams. That's some very strong results.
75% of the Playoffs teams in the league came from the Top Half Active Salary Teams.
Only 2 teams below the Top Half actually won a playoff game.
No team from the Bottom Quarter won a playoff game.
83.4% of Playoff Winners were in the Top Half of Active Roster Spending.
The Bottom Quarter Active Salary Teams (the bracket the Cowboys are in) had only 1 Playoff Team (no wins) and averaged only 6.75 wins for the season. Even with the injuries the Cowboys actually outperformed their salary bracket. This gives further support to something I've been saying for several years: Jason Garrett is not the problem, the roster is the problem.
It will be very interesting to see what quarter Dallas is on the active spending list when early September gets here. As I said previous, Dallas' 2014 looks like it will improve on Dallas' 2013 ranking but by how much is unclear. Will it be enough to jump into the Top Half? How much of their extra cap rollover will other teams use? How much will Dallas' dead money figure grow from it's current poor position? What about Austin and Ware? We really won't have conclusive answers until the season starts.
Side note: I'm going to attach probably the longest poll in BTB's history. I'm doing this because so often in the polls I see I don't see the view that I really agree with. So I've tried to encompass a pretty broad range of selections. I do realize that I've probably got more poll options than readers but so be it :)