When defining championship level football, you must begin in the trenches (Offensive Line). This is why I put together an NFL offensive line spend analysis using positional (offensive line salary as a whole) salary cap information and combined it with key offensive line measures (stats), such as directional rushing success to measure the top performing area of the offensive line, overall experience, sacks and QB hits. The goal of this analysis is to identify the NFL’s top statistical offensive line(s) and how much each team spends on their offensive line and how all of these factors correlate to each organization win/loss success.
The below diagram is a summary of all 32 NFL teams offensive line spend filtered by total wins, > than ten wins, 7-9 wins and 6 or fewer wins. I decided that using a team's win-loss total to find a correlation for success or failure would be the best way to try to identify future success. The Diagram is a breakdown of 2018 offensive line team spend and stats. We can use this as a way to measure potential 2019 team success by identifying team spend this off season. For example; a team that pays 15% of their total available cap space could potentially win between 7 or 11 games or more based on our analysis. Other factors to include outside of this measure that will have an effect during the 2019 season will be injuries, coaching, who each team has at QB and RB will all be critical factors, but the foundation begins up front in the trenches.
Let’s take a look at three teams that have varying rates of success and identify a few variables as to why they have such differing variants.
The Patriots are the outlier with an offensive line spend of 10% in 2018 which is well below the 15% of all teams who had 10 or more wins. Key factors as to why the Patriots spent 5% less than the league average of teams with 10 or more wins include rookie contracts, better scouting of players () they can sign to lower paying initial contracts (), and coaching.
Let’s Evaluate; Right Tackle Marcus Cannon (8th year and 30 yrs old) was the Patriots highest paid lineman in 2018 and was arguably the centerpiece of their 2018 offensive line. Cannon, (drafted in the 5th round) by the Patriots in 2011 has started 54 of 100 games. His side (Right Tackle) of the offensive line had a total of 8 negative plays, and the Patriots ran power to his side 65 times, with power ran to his side 67 times. When compared to the league averages on the right side the Patriots were below the power right average of 72 (67) but ranked above average in terms of negative plays given up on the right side, average 14, Patriots (8).
What about the Patriots left Tackle Trenton Brown? Brown was paid 1.9 million in 2018 and has since moved on in free agency to the Raiders where he will be paid 58 Million over four years. Brown was part of the Patriots strong left side that accounted for only 12 negative yds plays which are lower than the 13.21 average among all teams with ten wins or more in 2018 and 49 run 1st downs which is also higher than the average of 43 among teams with ten wins or more. The right side of Patriots line also had an above average 77 pwr run plays (pwr run plays average left side among teams ten wins or more 69). The left side of the Patriots line exceeded expectations in 2018, paving the way for Trent Brown to become a top 2019 free agent. The Patriots did not resign Brown for 2019, and that is not a big surprise considering their offensive line spend was in the six wins or less range and is, therefore, the primary reason the Patriots are the outlier among all other NFL teams when it comes to offensive line spend vs overall performance.
Let’s examine the Rams 2018 offensive line spend. The Rams spent 12 million more than the Patriots in 2018 and also made it to the Super Bowl where they faced New England. The Rams offensive line had nearly two times the experience of the Patriots 508 career starts v. 258 for the Patriots. The Rams earned themselves two more regular season wins than the Patriots in 2018 and had the NFL’s 3rd best rush offense with Todd Gurley in the backfield. The Patriots, on the other hand, had the NFL’s 5th best rush offense and were led by a committee of backs before rookie Sony Michel began his ascension after being injured throughout the regular season. The Rams spent 24 million for their LT (Andrew Whitworth), and RT (Rob Havenstein) and both players earned their salaries in 2018. The rams Ranked just below, or well above average among teams with 10 or more wins in every category from left, middle, and the right of their offensive line, but so did the Patriots whose OL spend was significantly less than the Rams.
What does this mean? It means that the Super Bowl Champion spent less for virtually the same results and the Super Bowl Runner up. It also proves that there are outliers in this type of analysis that are not comparable to the norm.
The Cardinals are the ground zero example.
In closing, we can conclude that the Arizona Cardinals OL Spend and performance compared to the two Super Bowl teams from 2018 shows a direct correlation. The Cardinals spent 2.6 million on their 2018 offensive line, and this resulted in 3 wins (worst in NFL), 26th in sacks given up (52), and 29th in the league in QB hits (109). The Cardinals had the worst rush offense in the NFL in 2018 and to make matters worse; they had more OL experience than the Patriots (320 career starts to 258).
The Cardinals in 2018 were at the bottom of offensive line spend and according to our analysis it did, in fact, negatively affect every offensive category. We can conclude the opposite about the Rams who paid significantly more than the Cardinals in offensive line spend and made it to the Super Bowl while being at or near the top of every offensive statistical category.