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Salary Texture Keeps Packers Competitive

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Salary Texture Keeps Packers Competitive

When was the last time you, as a Packers fan, though “man wouldn’t be nice if the Packers had the money to keep x player?”  I’ll let you think about that for a moment.  Personally, I think the last time I thought that was when Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle were let go all the way back in 2005, which was the first year of the Ted Thompson era.

Since then, pretty much every player the Packers have wanted to keep they have.  This team features a remarkable amount of talent and I don’t think many fans appreciate how difficult it is to have the highest paid player in the league, the highest paid outside linebacker in the league, one of the highest paid wide receiver duos in the league, and one of the highest paid guard combos in the league all while keeping a healthy cap number with little to no dead money. 

Just how is it possible that the Packers can afford Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson all on top 10 deals and still go out every year and resign their own talent to premium contracts?  You take a look at the Seattle Seahawks, who just gave Russell Wilson a ton of money but they have Kam Chancellor, Micheal Bennett, Russell Okung, Bobby Wagner and potentially Bruce Irvin all clamoring for money.  Simply put the Seahawks will be a very different and likely worse team in the next two years because it will be impossible to pay everyone (not to mention they picked up Jimmy Graham’s contract this offseason as well).   How is it possible that the Packers can remain fiscally sound even with such a frontloaded salary cap while other teams like the Saints, Lions and Cowboys have to resort to salary cap slight of hand in order to stay afloat.

One possible answer comes from Over the Cap’s current series looking at the texture of a team’s salary cap.  By texture, Over the Cap is refering the composition of a team’s salary cap as opposed to individual contracts and the Packers are quite surprising in how they spend their money.  Over the Cap’s “marginal value implied” metric is nice since it accounts for the discrepancy of positional salaries before measuring value; in other words, even if the Packers are paying Aaron Rodgers more, Ndamukong Suh’s contract is realistically more expensive since Rodger’s makes less compared to his peers than Suh does.

Salary Rank League Rank
Top 2nd
2nd-5th 7th
6th-10th 1st
11th-15th 24th
16th-20th 23rd
Top 20 2nd

Most likely this is a result of Ted Thompson’s draft and develop philosophy.  Since Thompson saves money by having rookies on incredibly low contracts, he’s able to spend a premium on a bigger number of players than the average team.  He compounds this by expecting his younger players to play significant roles, thus allowing Thompson to ignore signing “solid/ok players”.  The only downside of this of course is when Thompson guesses wrong and a young player doesn’t live up to his expectations things go south quickly, such as the case with MD Jennings/Jerron McMillian or the Graham Harrell/BJ Coleman experiments. 

Team salaries, on average, should look like a bell curve; teams will have a very small number of players making incredibly high salaries (i.e. superstars), a small number of players making incredibly low salaries (UDRFA) and then the majority of players should be making an average salary.  The Packers on the other hand follow a well or inverse bell curve, meaning there are a lot of players on incredibly high salaries and a lot of players on incredibly low salaries, but not many players on an average salary. As you can see above, the Packers are an incredibly front-loaded team, ranking 2nd overall in terms of top 20 spending and when broken down you can see that the Packers have one of the highest top 10 figures in the NFL as well, especially ranking 1st in yearly average from 6 to 10.  Looking at the raw salary cap, you can see that the Packers have a clear delineation between their premium guys, who make from $22 million to $5 million average, followed by gap and then another group of 2nd tier guys all making about $1-2 million or are on their rookie contracts (outside of Mike Neal who makes $4 million average).  Simply put, the Packers do not have a group of “solid/ok  players” like the majority of other teams, which would typically compose the 11th to 20th salaries on a roster

In conclusion, Thompson’s draft and develop philosophy is not only the most efficient way of procuring talent in the NFL but it is also the reason why he’s been able to retain every core player that he’s wanted.   While how the ball bounces can be fickle, some team like the Packers are consistently winners and that’s not due to how the team produces on the field, it’s due to how the team produces off the field. 

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (16) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Chad Toporski's picture

I also think a culture has been established among the players that the team is more important than the individuals. This doesn't mean players won't get paid, but Thompson has also demonstrated that he's not afraid to let walk those players demanding more than their worth. (See: Jennings, Greg) The Packers value their players, just not beyond what's best for the franchise. I think/hope the players also understand what you have outlined above: young talent will always be on the way in. Either keep your game up to par, or you'll be on the way out.

croatpackfan's picture

That is the idea of whole system! And I like it. If you contribute a lot, you got paid a lot. If you are so so, accept offered or there is another guy in the row waiting for chance to earn lot!

hobbes's picture

I think team culture goes a long way (especially the always winning part), but players are trying to maximize their value and I have no problem if they try to make as much money as possible or take a deal from another team that is better. I do find it interesting that with Cobb and Nelson rising, the Packers still offered Jennings $8 million a year (perhaps it was incentive based on had a lot of contract check points); perhaps this is 50-50 hindsight but Jennings definitely was falling into the "ok/good but not great" category and it's probably lucky that Jennings didn't sign the offer.

MarkinMadison's picture

I wonder if the approach stays the same as #12's window starts to close? Example (and I could be wrong on some particulars, but just play along). Let's say he is 35. The Packers have just signed Bakh, X and Y to big deals in the last couple of years. The Packers are close, but they know they have a couple of holes to fill. They also know that the careers of Matthews and B are coming to a close. This is it. Does TT blow the bank to take a strong shot at another Super Bowl before he rides off into the sunset, leaving the rebuilding job to the next guy? Or does he stay disciplined?

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

IDK what TT will do when AR is 35. My own guess is that it depends on whether he thinks he has drafted or thinks he will be able to draft a quality QB. I imagine that other factors might be present, especially if it turns out that he has had some great drafts between now and then, or if he has not.

croatpackfan's picture

I vote he stay disciplined! If today is Aaron's 35th birthday, they still have few years to develop Brett... We do not know what information about young players Packers have (high school and college). I bet they already have 10 year plan from this moment!

hobbes's picture

I think it really depends on what sort of deal Rodgers signs after he's 35 (which I think is when his current contract expires). If he asks to be the highest paid quarterback again, then Thompson will likely have to continue course. If he decides to take a Tom Brady discount (unlikely as team friendly since Brady's not even the highest earner in his household), then Thompson will have more freedom to sign other players. Realistically, I think Thompson is going to be Thompson and he's going to stick with what he's had success with, window or not.

real some guy's picture

Ted Thompson gets way too much credit among packer fans and the NFL at large. Making conclusions about how successful draft and develop is by using Ted and the Packers with Rodgers as an example is consequentialist logic. Its just silly.

Sure, draft and develop works great when you have back to back hall of fame quarterbacks. Not as well when you don't.

Plenty of teams have done a good job drafting and have built solid teams but lack a great quarterback to make them real super bowl contenders.

Take Aaron Rodgers off this team and put in a decent quarterback (say Andy Dalton). They're a 9-7/10-6 year after year and no one talks about McCarthy or Thompson

New England has been dominant for over a decade by acquiring veterans on the cheap to build around Brady. It has worked very well for them.

Hit on a great quarterback and you can be successful several ways.

zeke's picture

You could make the same argument about the Patriots. Replace Brady with Andrew Dalton and they are 9-7 or 10-6 year after year and no one talks about them either, no? (Except for the cheating, I mean). What's the problem with giving Thompson credit for drafting 12 and McCarthy developing him? If it were that easy, every team would do it.

NewNikeShoes's picture

to add on to what zeke said, it was only because of TT and McCarthy that A-Rod is nearly as good as he is.

the superbowl is a team effort, and a lackluster team will never win it. the fact that the packers have this reign of continued success while both being very well under the cap as well as drafting great players is a testament to how good TT is.

mccarthy makes arod better, and arod makes mccarthy better. mccarthy is both overrated and underrated at the same time: he gets too much credit for a-rod, but he does not get the credit he deserves for making that sword called our o.

take out lynch, and u get a 9-7 team. take out julio jones and the falcons go 5-11. its a team game, and great players make those around them better, and vice versa.

New England is a hack, but BB is the man keeping the team together, not Brady. Patriots went 11-5 without him, remember?

RCPackerFan's picture

'Ted Thompson gets way too much credit among packer fans and the NFL at large. Making conclusions about how successful draft and develop is by using Ted and the Packers with Rodgers as an example is consequentialist logic. Its just silly.'

Packers drafted Rodgers, developed him into the player he is. How is this silly? They drafted and developed him. Along with other players.

The draft and develop works for them because they drafted the core of their team and developed them into the players they are today.

'Hit on a great quarterback and you can be successful several ways.'

This is true. You just have to hit on a QB. Packers did so by drafting him. That is really the only way your going to hit on a QB is to draft him. Thompson drafted Rodgers when they still had their Hall of Fame QB playing. Thompson drafted him when 23 other teams passed on him.

Thompson deserves a lot of our respect and credit for the team he has built.

hobbes's picture

On the flip side you have no idea what Thompson would be doing if he didn't have Aaron Rodgers. A quarterback defines a team and it will make a coaching staff and front office's career; take away Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Brett Favre, and you probably wouldn't hear about Polian, Belichick or Wolf. Thompson is no different, he made his bet on Rodgers and beat the house and that's why he gets the credit that he does.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Nice article, Thomas. It is difficult to use words to explain the concept or to get a feel for the difference between GB and nearly all other teams. When one reads the overthecap article, it does all 32 teams, using pie charts, and one who compares GB to the other 31 teams gets not just an intellectual but also a visceral reaction. In a previous thread I recommended actually going to the link so that just by scrolling down the 32 pie charts the viewer can get the visceral reaction. This is an excellent exemplar of the brilliance of TT.

hobbes's picture

It's an interesting take on the usual spreadsheet look of salaries since it does capture more of the context of the salary cap and how each team optimizes their efficiency. Obviously paying one guy $150+ million is stupid while paying 53 guys the same is also stupid even though the cap charges, guaranteed money, incentives and what not could all be the same.

cpheph1's picture

Thomas, great blog on the Packers & the salary cap! Optimum cap effectiveness is the key as you pointed out & they have been effective at managing the cap since the Ron Wolf days.

Ted could follow Wolf into the HOF...maybe.

Anyway, great blog post Thomas!

hobbes's picture

That's an interesting question. Was Wolf inducted based on building a competitive team or because he saved a crappy franchise (back then)? If it's based on building a competitive team, getting a star quarterback and winning a Super Bowl then I think Thompson has matched Wolf and has a shot. If it's because Wolf took over one of the worst franchises in the 80's, made Lambeau field a financially viable stadium again, and basically cemented the Packers in Green Bay then Thompson can't compete since he came after all that.

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