Football is a game of inches. But because inches are too tedious, we measure it in yards.
The best teams don’t always have the most yards from scrimmage, but they pay less for those yards. (Though the best teams of each season do also typically have 15% more scrimmage yards than the losing teams).
The top five NFL teams from each of the last three years (2017-2019) paid an average of $5,539 per yard, while the bottom five teams in the same timeframe paid an average of $6,239 per yard (11% more per yard). Remove 2 outliers (which I’ll do in this analysis), and that becomes 18% more per yard. (This only includes regular season for comparison purposes.)
Maybe your GM believes defense wins championships and invests in keeping the opponents from scoring more yards. Maybe your GM believes a superman QB or a strong o-line can create scoring opportunities without necessarily having the greatest offensive weapons. Maybe your GM believes in a high-powered offense that dominate shootouts.
Takes like “rushing yards win games” don’t work because teams that get up early or keep the score close run the ball more. And passing yards alone don’t work because of desperation throwing or garbage time. But scrimmage yards tell the stories of winners and losers, regardless of field position or defense or other factors.
No matter the approach, looking at how much a GM pays skill positions (excluding QB) - WR, RB, TE - on a per-yard basis reveals if they’re earning their keep. Highly paid skill positions with high production (in which case, the heavy investment in this area pays off) will have a similar per-yard cost as lower paid skill players with more moderate yardage (in which case, the GM has more money to pump into the defense or other areas).
There are two outliers:
2018 Chicago Bears who somehow spent $8,423 per yard, made the top five, then double doinked their way out of the first round of the playoffs against Wild Card Eagles.
2017 Cleveland Browns who spent only $12.6 million total across WR, RB and TE, buying yards at the remarkably frugal rate of $2,647/yard. Instead, they spent over 20% on their O-line to protect… Keizer? Hogan? Kessler? Oof, guess it didn’t help what’s been called “the worst quarterback play of the decade.”
If you remove these two from the analysis of the past 3 years (28 teams evaluated - the best and worst of each year), the worst teams in the NFL spent 7% more on skill positions yet yielded 13% fewer yards. The worst teams effectively spent 18% more per yard than the best teams.
Half-way through the 2020 NFL season, analyzing how much Howie Roseman pays our skill positions per yard reveals we are grossly overpaying for the level of production we’re getting. The results should worry Eagles fans.