During the exciting run-up to free agency and the air-out-of-the-balloon aftermath of the NFL's annual high-priced rummage sale, it's been the opinion of this writer that championship teams are built, not bought.
Last week, NFL.com's Jason La Canfora published a five-year breakdown of actual dollars — not salary cap dollars — spent by all 32 teams. The numbers more or less back up my belief.
From 2004 through 2008, Jerry Jones' Dallas Cowboys spent $566.89 million, a figure that led the league by more than $14 million. Next was Paul Allen's Seattle Seahawks at $552.42 million and Daniel Snyder's Washington Redskins at $547.37 million.
Green Bay, on the other hand, was way down the list at 30th after spending $457.16 million over the last five seasons. That's almost $110 million less than Dallas — or $21.9 million less per season — a figure that backs up the belief that the Packers, with general manager Ted Thompson calling the shots, are frugal in its spending.
What has that spending delivered? Dallas hasn't won a playoff game since Super Bowl XXX. Seattle reached one Super Bowl and won one other playoff game. Washington won one wild-card game. Green Bay has an many playoff wins during those five years as Dallas and Washington combined.
Indianapolis ($532.77 million) ranked fourth in spending, though a distant $34 million behind first-place Dallas and $15 million less than third-place Washington. The Colts won Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season. While their spending appears to be a feather in the cap for the spend-money crowd, the Colts basically use the same formula as the Packers: Re-sign top players like Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney, fill holes with the draft and player development, and avoid high-stakes free agency.
Minnesota ($526.87 million), Houston ($522.23 million) and New Orleans ($518.49 million) rank fifth, sixth and seventh. What was bought with that money? The Vikings beat the Packers in the 2005 playoffs but lost in their only postseason appearance since. The Texans failed to post even one winning record. The Saints reached the playoffs once, losing the NFC title game at Chicago, but are a combined eight games below .500.
The NFL's model franchises because of their sustained success, Pittsburgh ($516.69 million) and New England ($513.31 million), rank eighth and 10th, respectively. The NFL's model of franchise stupidity, Oakland, spent only a few shekels less than the Patriots. With that money, the Steelers won two Super Bowls, the Patriots won one Super Bowl and the Raiders averaged four wins.
The other Super Bowl won during this five-year period was claimed by the New York Giants, who ranked 19th in spending at $497.63 million. Despite spending $69 million less than their division rivals in Dallas, the Giants have reached the playoffs in four consecutive seasons.
The bottom five? Tampa Bay ($449.00 million; 0-2 in playoffs) was 32nd, Kansas City ($451.58 million; 0-1 in playoffs) 31st, Green Bay (1-2 in playoffs) 30th, Tennessee ($465.29 million; 0-2 in playoffs) 29th and Jacksonville ($480.06 million; 1-2 in playoffs) 28th.
If you're looking for a tidy summary, it's this: It's not how much you spend but how you spend it. Pittsburgh spends its money on retaining its own players and is not a player in high-stakes free agency. The Patriots have been a player of late, but when they won the Super Bowl following the 2004 season, their only noteworthy addition was running back Corey Dillon, a supposed malcontent who the Bengals were happy to unload for only a second-round draft choice.
While four of the five Super Bowls during this period were won by teams who finished in the top 10 in spending, the Giants won a Super Bowl by finishing 19th; the Eagles (20th), Chargers (25th), Broncos (26th), Jaguars (28th), Titans (29th) and Packers (30th) all posted at least a pair of 10-plus-win seasons; and the Buccaneers (32nd) have three winning seasons.
The point is amplified when looking at the cost per victory. New England was No. 1 at $8.14 million per win, followed by Indianapolis ($8.44 million), San Diego ($8.99 million), Pittsburgh ($9.22 million), Denver ($10.37 million) and New York Giants ($10.58 million). Chicago ranked ninth ($11.01 million), Green Bay 10th ($11.15 million), Minnesota 18th ($12.85 million) and Detroit ($24.04 million) 31st.
Great players cost a lot of money but help win games. High-priced players — a byproduct of poorly run front offices with bad scouting departments — only cost a lot of money.
Winning at any cost: 2004-2008
Team / Wins / Money spent / Cost per win
1.) Patriots / 63 / 512.31M / 8.14M
2.) Colts / 63 / 532.77M / 8.44M
3.) Chargers / 54 / 485.46M / 8.99M
4.) Steelers / 56 / 516.69M / 9.22M
5.) Broncos / 47 / 485.40M / 10.37M
6.) Giants / 47 / 497.63M / 10.58M
7.) Jaguars / 45 / 480.06M / 10.66M
8. ) Eagles / 46 / 495.75M / 10.77M
9.) Bears / 45 / 495.57M / 11.01M
10.) Packers / 41 / 457.16M / 11.15M
11.) Panthers / 45 / 516.09M / 11.46M
12.) Ravens / 44 / 507.05M / 11.52M
13.) Titans / 40 / 465.28M / 11.63M
14.) Buccaneers / 38 / 449.00M / 11.81M
15.) Seahawks / 45 / 552.42M / 12.27M
16.) Falcons / 41 / 493.07M / 12.07M
17.) Cowboys / 46 / 566.89M / 12.32M
18.) Vikings / 41 / 526.87M / 12.85M
19.) Bengals / 38 / 491.05M / 12.92M
20.) Jets / 37 / 502.53M / 13.58M
21.) Bills / 35 / 483.71M / 13.82M
22.) Chiefs / 32 / 451.58M / 14.11M
23.) Saints / 36 / 518.49M / 14.40M
24.) Redskins / 38 / 547.37M / 14.40M
25.) Cardinals / 34 / 505.30M / 14.86M
26.) Dolphins / 31 / 500.56M / 16.14M
27.) Texans / 31 / 522.23M / 16.84M
28.) Browns / 28 / 506.43M / 18.08M
29.) Rams / 27 / 502.08M / 18.59M
30.) 49ers / 25 / 486. 40M / 19.45M
31.) Lions / 21 / 505.04M / 24.04M
32.) Raiders / 20 / 513.21M / 25.66M
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.