Part I: The cost of killing the quarterback

In the modern NFL, much of the big money is invested in the passing game; quarterbacks and their blindside bodyguards at tackle command the largest paychecks. On the other side of the ball, those premiums flow into the pockets of the cover corners and pass rushers who combat the aerial game.

Great cover corners don't necessarily get paid to show up on the stat sheet, but great pass rushers do. While there's a lot more to the game than just sacks — pass rushers may generate pressures and hurries, collapse the pocket, occupy blockers, play the run, and drop into coverage, depending on the nature of the defense — those guys make the big bucks for planting the passer on his back.

Just how much will teams pay for this service? I charted the sacks and salaries of the primary pass rushers for all 32 teams (4-3 defensive ends, 3-4 outside linebackers, some 3-4 ends, and a few notable pass-rushing tackles). Believe it or not, looking around the league, it turns out that half a million per sack isn't a bad deal.

The data includes all sacks and salaries for the sampled players since the 2001 season, up through week 12 of the 2006 season. In calculating compensation, I included all money paid over that span, including base salaries, signing and option bonuses, non-standard workout bonuses, roster and reporting bonuses, and met incentives. I separated those players who played at least half of the studied span under their rookie contracts; those figures say more about the value of draft slots than about the market value of pass rushers. In a few cases, especially with some of the rookie players discussed later, I had to estimate some of the bonus payments.

To be clear, it's not exactly fair to say that these guys make this money "per sack." Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila hasn't been paid almost $20 million for just 62 snaps; he's been paid that amount to attempt to sack the quarterback many hundreds of times and succeed in only a very small percentage of those attempts. Aaron Smith also gets paid to control his gaps in the running game; Joey Porter also gets paid to drop into coverage; Mike Vrabel also gets paid to catch touchdowns in the Super Bowl; and Bryant Young is also paid to make the guys around him in San Francisco look like they aren't completely inept.

Position

Player

Sacks

Compensation

Cost Per Sack

Years Counted

Years in Rookie Contract Counted

LB/DE

Thomas, Adalius

36.5

$7,278,000

$199,397

6

2

DE

Little, Leonard

65.5

$18,012,000

$274,992

6

1

DE

Gbaja-Biamila, Kabeer

62

$19,548,000

$315,290

6

2

DE

Rucker, Mike

45.5

$16,545,000

$363,626

6

1

DE

Holliday, Vonnie

29.5

$11,009,200

$373,193

6

2

LB/DE

Ellis, Greg

43

$16,292,715

$378,900

6

0

DE

Spicer, Paul

15.5

$5,979,000

$385,742

6

2

LB

Porter, Joey

45

$17,939,000

$398,644

6

1

DE

Berry, Bertrand

46.5

$18,568,000

$399,312

6

0

DE

Spires, Greg

24

$9,637,006

$401,542

6

0

LB

Colvin, Rosevelt

39.5

$16,516,000

$418,127

6

1

LB

Lang, Kenard

32.5

$14,469,617

$445,219

6

1

DE

Okeafor, Chike

34.5

$16,602,000

$481,217

6

1

DE

Hicks, Eric

26.5

$12,910,000

$487,170

6

0

DE

Rice, Simeon

69.5

$34,505,000

$496,475

6

0

DE

Kerney, Patrick

53

$27,623,000

$521,189

6

1

DE

Taylor, Jason

70.5

$36,812,500

$522,163

6

0

LB

Vrabel, Mike

30.5

$17,275,000

$566,393

6

0

DE

Daniels, Phillip

29

$16,515,000

$569,483

6

0

LB/DE

McGinest, Willie

37.5

$22,477,000

$599,387

6

0

DE

Strahan, Michael

63.5

$43,298,000

$681,858

6

0

DE

Smith, Aaron

28

$20,889,000

$746,036

6

1

DE/DT

Pryce, Trevor

37

$28,011,000

$757,054

6

1

DE

Wistrom, Grant

32.5

$25,161,000

$774,185

6

0

DE

DeVries, Jared

8

$6,462,000

$807,750

6

1

DT

Reagor, Montae

14

$11,419,000

$815,643

6

2

DE

Carter, Kevin

33.5

$30,500,000

$910,448

6

0

DE

Wiley, Marcellus

25

$23,326,923

$933,077

6

0

DT

Sapp, Warren

32

$30,350,000

$948,438

6

0

LB

Wong, Kailee

18

$19,990,000

$1,110,556

6

0

DT/DE

Young, Bryant

25

$37,727,000

$1,509,080

6

0

Totals

1153

$633,646,961

 

Average

$549,802

 

Standard Deviation

$280,887

The chart betrays few obvious patterns. It doesn't appear that linebackers or ends command different money relative to sack production. It doesn't appear that the most prolific or well-known sackers command any more or less money relative to sack production. It does seem that tackles generate fewer sacks per dollar, but that should come as no surprise.

Continue to Part II ...


Steel City Insider Top Stories