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The NFL 13.1 Percent Salary Cap Bugaboo - Is it true?

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The NFL 13.1 Percent Salary Cap Bugaboo - Is it true?

Aaron Rodgers' extension probably means that he will earn more than 13.1 percent of the cap in the future.  Many people have suggested that it is nearly impossible to win a super bowl if a team's QB is making more than 13.1 percent of the salary cap because that leaves insufficient cap space available for the rest of the players. Is it reasonable to suppose that this will prove to be true?  
 
It is true that no team has ever paid more than 13.1% to one player and won a super bowl.  The players with the highest percentage of the salary cap who have won a super bowl are as follows: Steve Young (13.08 percent - 1994), Peyton Manning (12.21 percent - 2015), Tom Brady (11.82 percent - 2014), Eli Manning (11.75 percent- 2011), and Brett Favre (10.2 percent - 1996). 
 
One might note that the Patriots were paying Bledsoe 12.3 percent of the cap in 2001 when they won the super bowl, but he got hurt after just 2 games and a young Tom Brady (0.47 percent of the cap) came in and started the rest of the season and playoffs. The Bledsoe/Brady duo would be in 2nd place at 12.78 percent of the cap as the highest earners for a super bowl winning team at the quarterback position.  It is hard to remember, but Bledsoe signed his $103 million dollar contract just days after Favre signed his $100 million dollar deal.
 
NFL teams for practically all of the cap era simply have very rarely paid quarterbacks more than 13.1 percent of the cap in any season, and thus there has been precious little opportunity for quarterbacks to break Young's record.  I reviewed the cap charges for many of the famous quarterbacks who have played in the NFL since 1994. Peyton Manning is the outlier: prior to the 2013 season, other than Peyton Manning, I found only 3 seasons where a quarterback earned more than 13.1 percent of the cap: Aikman in 1997, Favre in 2001, and Brady in 2006. 
 
So while it is true that no one has won a super bowl while earning more than 13.1 percent, but Favre only earned more than 13.1 percent once in 19 seasons, Brady just once in 17 seasons, and the list goes on.  Peyton Manning has earned more than 13.1 percent eight times in his eighteen-year career. He is the poster boy for the bugaboo. Here is a graph of selected quarterbacks and how often they earned more than 13.1 percent of the cap.
 
 
 
 
These quarterbacks account for 198 seasons with only 29 having cap hits in excess of 13.1%, and only 9 times out of 135 seasons prior to 2013.
 
There have been 24 super bowls since the cap first existed in 1994.  Scanning the list of winning quarterbacks, one sees a lot of elite to very good quarterbacks on the list.  Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Flacco, Foles, and perhaps Eli Manning might be considered to be quarterbacks that do not belong in the elite or very good category.  I suppose that Peyton Manning in 2015 was no longer a good quarterback. Here is a list of all the super bowl winning quarterbacks since 1994 with the percentage of the cap they used, their passer rating in the super bowl and passer rating in the regular season.
 
 
The league started paying quarterbacks differently by 2013.  I would suggest that this is a function of multiple rule changes that favored the offense, particularly quarterbacks.  In the 1990s, the league changed the rules to favor offensive linemen, limiting what defenders and in particular pass-rushers could do, and changing the rules regarding offensive holding.  The league also made numerous changes regarding what DBs could do to receivers, both in terms of disrupting routes and hitting defenseless receivers.
 
The result is that quarterbacks started to be more important to offenses.  Consequently, quarterbacks could produce more surplus value to a team, and the better the quarterback, the more surplus.  That led to higher salaries for quarterbacks, but even mediocre quarterbacks arguably started to produce more surplus value.  That, and hope that mediocre quarterbacks might develop into really good or elite ones led to an explosion in the pay of less than elite quarterbacks.
 
Several times a team at least appeared in the super bowl despite paying a player in excess of the bugaboo amount.  In 2016, Atlanta with Ryan at quarterback got to the big game despite paying Ryan 15.44 percent of the cap. Absent the furious comeback staged by NE, the 13.1 percent bugaboo would already have been broken. 
 
In 2015, Carolina paid Charles Johnson, a DE, 13.78 percent of the cap. In 2013, Denver paid Manning 13.15 percent, which beats Young’s record. In 2009, Indianapolis got to the super bowl despite paying Peyton Manning a staggering 17.2 percent of the cap.  There may be other players who at least appeared in a super bowl while earning more than 13.1 percent of the cap who I did not run across due to limitations in the various databases.
 
At some point, the amount of the surplus (if one can quantify it) will be weighed against the cap hit more closely.  I think it is unlikely that Young’s record will be broken within the next few years. Despite all the headlines, I suspect that teams will pay only a handful of players more than 13.1 percent, and probably all of them will be quarterbacks. 
 
For 2018, only Brees, Ryan, Cousins, Stafford, Carr, and Garappolo have cap hits above 13.1 percent, and the latter two quarterbacks’ cap hits actually decrease in after 2018. To break the record, one of six teams (seven teams if Rodgers extends) would have to win the super bowl. 
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (19) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

ricky's picture

How do you win a SB? Make the playoffs and get hot. Besides, records and rules are made to be broken. After all, the Patriots had almost no statistical chance of winning that SB against the Falcons. Forget the stats, they're for losers.

Turophile's picture

13.1% is only the benchmark until a SB is won above that percentage. Then THAT is the new benchmark. A self-fulfilling prophecy that adjusts whenever it doesn't fit.

Bearmeat's picture

The issue is the defense. If you're going to win in the playoffs, you're going to beat either an elite defense or an elite QB. Sometimes both.

If your top 7 players are sucking up too much of the cap (I can't remember the % - Reynoldo would though), it does make it harder to win it all. That doesn't mean it can't happen. Stats don't exist in a vacuum, and rules are made to be broken.

The plain fact is that the Packers are not a good team without Aaron Rodgers. Pay him what he wants, or we're not even having the discussion about playoffs.

Since '61's picture

With cap increases every season a players % of salary cap will change from season to season. Plus are we discussing guaranteed money or total compensation?

I think we know that Rodgers is capable of winning the SB whether his salary is 5% of 15 % of the salary cap.

If we look at the 2014 Pats the combined salaries of Brady and Revis were probably over 20% of NEs cap maybe even 25% for just 2 players. Yet they won, or at least were given the Super Bowl that year. You can correlate any stat to any other stat to make a point.

I guess if the Packers don't win the SB this season or next season we're going to blame it on Rodger's salary rather than on Capers or TTs draft picks or signing the wrong FAs. This topic is just another media induced myth to create more click bait.
Thanks, Since '61

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Things change, but sometimes the more they do, the more they stay the same, Since '61. As an older guy, I try to adjust. In 1995, the SB average was 9.23% for the top paid player and 16.05% for the top 2. Top 3 was 22%. Top 5 was 32.11. Top 10 was 49.83%. [All numbers from Zach Moore at OTC - I am just quoting.]

Guess what? Though what the top player earns as a % of the cap has drifted higher, and what the top 3 earn as a % of the cap has changed over time, the percentage of the cap earned by the top 10 highest paid players on super bowl teams hasn't changed much.

BTW, Brady and Revis made 16.23% of the cap in 2014. Revis signed for a cap hit of $7M. That's why some of us thought TT was asleep at the switch. We rolled $7.8M of cap space into 2015, so there was enough cap $. Shields and Revis could have been left on islands as CBs, they were that good, and Capers could have dialed up those exotic blitzes. Tramon (who I really do like) had one year left on his contract, and his cap #, $9.5M - $2.3M dead money hit would have meant $7.2M in cap savings, enough to pay Revis outright. Pretty sure we knew 2014 was Tramon's last year in GB. Instead, we kept Tramon and got a 4th round comp pick in 2016 (at least it turned into Blake Martinez). Revis signed for $16M after leaving NE - that would have been an easy 3rd round comp pick.

I think Jordan Matthews is every inch the slot WR that Cobb is. Being $8M cheaper is just a nice side benefit. I don't hate Cobb: I expect him to be a somewhat above NFL average slot receiver. I just thought Gute was asleep at the switch. When we pay AR, we are going to have to take advantage of EVERY opportunity to upgrade our personnel or even stay even personnel-wise if it means large cap savings.

Sigh.

worztik's picture

Who said that there wouldn’t be math???

Oppy's picture

Good gracious it's nice to have someone analyze the numbers instead of just concluding "Because this has never happened, it's some sort of cosmic rule."

Good work Reynoldo.

I would be interested to see if there is a stronger correlation between the highest paid player (cap percentage-wise) on SB winning teams, or the age of the punter on SB winning teams. My guess is, it's closer to a toss up than one might figure.

WKUPackFan's picture

Agree totally, and second the praise for James. Well done.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I'm just glad the Packers highest paid player is Aaron Rodgers and not Matt Stafford, Joe Flacco or any of the other guys I see on the list.

4thand10's picture

Or Cousins...

Johnblood27's picture

If Rodgers could win the supet bowl by himself, he wouldn't be a 1 time SB champ, he'd have more.

He doesn't.

please everyone, please stop writing as long as the packers have ar they can win the sb.

every team has 53 players on roster, some have superstars at qb and other positions. AR hasnt won a sb since 2010 yet he has been in the playoffs every year but last year.

talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words, what have you done lately, dont sing it-bring it... etc...

HankScorpio's picture

Both things are true.

As long as Rodgers is the QB, the Packers have a chance.

And the other 52 players need to perform at a certain level as well.

Both ends have failed since they won it all. Sometimes both at once. Sometimes one or the other.

Qoojo's picture

Brandon Bostick

Lare's picture

The point isn't about the 13.1% number, it's about the quality of the team you can provide around any one higher paid player regardless the percentage.

Ted Thompson just didn't do very well at that the last several years, we'll see if Brian Gutekunst can.

Michael Hughes's picture

To be fair after drafting exclusively defence for 4 years (10 out of 12 picks on the first two days), we are basically asking rodgers to single handedly create a top offence so he can pretty much ask for whatever he wants.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Partly done, though I had a different angle. I got bogged down in data, so I wrote this article first (since this one deals with just the highest paid player, QB usually). I think I need to deal with smaller, more defined issues in my articles. I have been working on a cap allocation article and hope to submit it to Jersey Al in a few days.

Qoojo's picture

I think a better focus would be highest paid team member's percentage plus dead space money.

I would focus on how much is too much without putting a hard number like 13.1 out there. Then you are focusing on superbowl, but the article is really questioning whether a team is not as good once it pays a single player X% of salary cap. If that is true, then the historical team records might reflect that.

Qoojo's picture

13.1 is a funny number to quibble about when the highest is 13.08. So the question is pondering whether the packers can push the envelope by 0.02% of the salary cap and still win the super bowl.

Answer: Yes.

Next offseason topic!

croatpackfan's picture

The very good overview. Thank you TGR.

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