Spending well and smartly in the NFL isn’t just about being cap compliant, holding onto carry over cash for following years or being able to sign the right names for the right price. It’s also about getting on-field value for each dollar spent. The last thing teams want is to spend a lot of money on someone who doesn’t take the field very often, and they welcome more than anything cheap players who end up taking on the majority of the snaps on either offense or defense.
The former means that a player’s given off-field (a.k.a. salary) value is much higher than his on-field (a.k.a. playing time) value; the latter, meanwhile, means that teams are getting a per-snap bargain out of cheaper players who end up on the field and take on heavy workloads. And there were examples in both columns for the Cleveland Browns in their Week 1 loss to the New York Jets.
The formula to figure this out isn’t a complicated one. To figure out a player’s per-snap payout, one simply has to take the player’s 2015 cap hit and divide it by 17—for 17 weeks in a season—to determine his weekly cash value. Then, that gets divided by the snaps he played in a given week to figure out how much he cost the team on a per-snap basis. Higher snaps with lower cash payout is the goal. But a team also doesn’t want too much money sitting on the bench; that represents failure, money spent out to a player who isn’t able to earn it.
Based on snap-count data on both offense and defense provided by Pro Football Focus, it’s clear where the values did and did not lie for the Browns on Sunday. And, to the Browns’ credit, there were few wasted dollars-per-snap. While also a byproduct of the Browns not being a particularly spendy team—and the players who get the most cash also typically play the most snaps, such as left tackle Joe Thomas and cornerback Joe Haden—it is a sign they are spending money wisely, for the most part. Let’s start with the bad news.
High Price/Low Snap Count
Only three players really fit the bill for the Browns in this category for Week 1. They are rookie offensive tackle Cameron Erving, tight end Rob Housler and linebacker Barkevious Mingo. Let’s start with Erving. Erving did not beat out right guard John Greco for the starting job, which, as a 2015 first-round draft pick, hurts his value immediately in terms of what he’s set to be paid this year. And though the Browns often employed a six-man line on Sunday, primarily in the first half, that only resulted in Erving playing seven snaps.
With a $1,714,375 cap hit for 2015, that gives him a per-week payout of $100,846. But when that weekly payday is divided by seven, the Browns paid Erving $14,407 per snap on Sunday. Housler, meanwhile, played only six snaps. With a $1.76 million salary this year, that gives him a per-snap payday of $17,254 for Week 1. And Mingo, who should have had more playing time after Scott Solomon exited with an ankle injury, took the field for only 13 of Cleveland’s defensive snaps. With a salary cap hit of $4,458,273 this year, he ultimately earned $20,173 per snap on Sunday.
This doesn’t mean that the Browns should find ways for all three to see more playing time, just so they can get as much on-field value as they are giving them cash this year. But it does mean that the Browns need to be more careful when determining size of role played versus how much to pay players. In the cases of Mingo and Erving, the Browns’ hands are mostly tied—as first-round draft picks, their respective values are for the most part dictated by the NFL. The rookie wage scale does not take into account any expectations of playing time, whether right away or in the future, just immediate value based on what the league has deemed each pick each year to be worth. But in Housler’s case, every week he sees single-digit snaps is another sign that the Browns swung and missed when signing him in the spring.
Low Price/High Snap Count
Five Browns players distinguished themselves on Sunday as being affordable players who are getting a large degree of playing time. They are tight end Gary Barnidge, running back Isaiah Crowell, receiver Taylor Gabriel, receiver/returner Travis Benjamin and cornerback K'Waun Williams. Barnidge is currently serving as the top tight end on the Browns’ depth chart, Crowell is their No. 1 running back, Gabriel and Benjamin are integral parts of the passing offense (and Benjamin as a special-teams returner) and Williams is serving as the nickel cornerback.
In 2015, Barnidge is set to make a total of $1.2 million, or $70,588 per game. He played 58 snaps on Sunday, giving him a per-snap payday of just $1,127. Crowell makes even less in 2015, at $513,333 for the year, which averages out to $30,196 per game. Having played 35 snaps on Sunday, Crowell’s per-snap cost is just $863. Gabriel and Williams are each making $510,000 this year; Gabriel played 36 snaps on Sunday, for a per-snap cost of just $833, while Williams played 44 snaps, with a per-snap payout of $682. Benjamin, meanwhile, will earn $779,250 this year, or $45,838 per game. He played 45 snaps on Sunday, earning him $1,019 per-snap, not including the value he provides in the return game.
What makes this possible is that Crowell, Gabriel and Williams were undrafted finds by the Browns in 2014. Their prices are already low; it’s just icing on the cake that the trio are able to make significant on-field contributions by way of three-dozen snaps played per game. Benjamin, meanwhile, is on the final year of his four-year rookie deal and was a Round 4 draft pick in 2012, which already means he was not on track to earn a ton of money with his first contract. Barnidge, meanwhile, was a fifth-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2008 and a marginal member of their offense before landing in Cleveland on a cheap deal in 2013.
But the bottom line is that these five men were brought aboard to serve on the margins of Cleveland’s roster and, by merit of their respective talents, ending up taking on increasingly more important roles. And as their roles increase, but their salaries do not, the Browns get far greater per-snap value out of their contributions than higher-paid players like Erving, Housler and Mingo, who have higher expectations but haven’t yet managed to take the field in any significant way this season. There are many ways to measure value when it comes to how the Browns manages their salary cap and roster, and per-snap payouts are a good way to determine which Browns players are giving the team the most bang for their buck—and which are being paid good money to fizzle, not sizzle.
All contract and salary cap data via Spotrac.com unless otherwise noted.