The 2013 NFL All-Best-Contracts Team: Offense

Via Google spreadsheets, salary databases at Spotrac.com, and player performance grades at Pro Football Focus, the 2013 NFL All-Best-Contracts Team is here at last! Well, the offense is at least. There are All Pros, and Pro Bowlers (and Pro Bowl snubs), but this list reveals which pros have really earned their salary–and then some–this season.

Finally, an evaluation of players that might not rank Peyton Manning number one without a second thought! For while surely he was the most valuable player in the league this season, did he produce the most of any player per the value his team spent on him? (SPOILER: He did not.)

There are some important points to understand before looking at the list. This process is not perfect. Precisely how much a team values a player is difficult to quantify, and the reasons a team might value a player difficult to discern. Even the player performance measures calculated by PFF have their issues.

If a team pays a player a certain amount, they must value him at that amount or more. Easy right? Not exactly. Most NFL contracts are over a period of years, with varying amounts in each year. There are signing bonuses, roster bonuses, statistical incentives, award incentives, base salaries, etc. These things affect a player’s yearly hit on his team’s salary cap, and consequently general managers may manipulate them (particularly base salaries) year-by-year to maintain cap balance. (Or not. Rest in peace Al Davis.) Likely, or at least usually, general managers do not expect a player’s year-to-year contributions to fluctuate as wildly as his cap hits. A player’s average salary is not a perfect measure, but is the best gauge of how much a team values a player in a given year.

What do teams value in players? Talent, sure, but likely other traits as well. A fan-favorite who increases jersey and ticket sales, perhaps even the team’s profile in the media, adds much value to a team. Such players may not always be the best performers on the field. A player’s relationship with his coaches, teammates, and other members in the organization may also impact his value. Is it ridiculous to think that the Arizona Cardinals value Larry Fitzgerald’s professionalism, and that he has never complained about his truly abysmal quarterbacks since Kurt Warner left town? And remember how even when Terrell Owens was still one of the best wide receivers in the league, a lot of teams were not willing to pay him on account of his team chemistry problems?

As quantifying such traits is quite difficult, here contract quality relates a player’s pay only to his performance. If the difference between the two is vast, it may indicate errors by a general manager, or it may indicate that a player adds or subtracts value in other ways. Comparing players at the same position relatively controls for other factors (wide receivers are more popular than linemen), but it is not perfect.

Mapping a player’s performance to a numerical output consistently across the league is difficult, but the experts at Pro Football Focus do a very good job. They have multiple analysts grade every player on every snap of every game, from a variety of camera angles. They go beyond the uninteresting conventional statistics. Did a wide receiver make a difficult catch in double coverage and break a tackle before scoring, or merely benefit from a blown coverage? Did a linebacker fight through two blockers to make a play in the backfield, or have the way cleared for him by his defensive lineman? PFF knows the answers to such questions. Though their numbers do not take into account the strength of the competition, they measure quite precisely what each player actually accomplished on every snap. NFL fans, media analysts, and the teams themselves use PFF. See here for more about PFF’s player performance grades.

Yet another can of worms is players who do not play much, due to injury, being a substitute, or whatever. Also some players have performance opportunities in the postseason while others do not. To keep the analysis on level ground, players must have played at least 25 percent of their teams’ regular season snaps, and the playoffs (as well as the preseason) do not figure into the calculations.

Given all that (and a pinch of salt), one may determine a player’s contract quality by measuring the number of standard deviations his performance is above/below the average at his position (measured by PFF), and subtract the number of standard deviations his average annual salary is above/below the average at his position (obtained via Spotrac.com). That is:

CQ = (performance SDs +/- positional average) – (salary SDs +/- positional average)

And now, ESPM1 presents to you:

The 2013 NFL All-Best-Contracts Team: Offense

Position Name Team Contract Quality
QB Russell Wilson SEA 2.52
WR Alshon Jeffery CHI 2.25
WR Jordy Nelson GB 2.24
RB Eddie Lacy GB 2.25
RB Giovani Bernard CIN 2.02
TE Jimmy Graham NO 2.85
FB Anthony Sherman KC 3.02
C Jason Kelce PHI 2.66
G Larry Warford DET 2.33
G Travelle Wharton CAR 2.04
T Zach Strief NO 1.79
T Cordy Glenn BUF 1.79

And, for some additional context, here are the league averages for performance grade and average annual salary, by position:

Position Average Grade Averge Salary
QB 2.05 $7,069,816
WR 4.01 $3,198,411
RB 4.54 $3,013,863
TE -1.25 $2,417,386
FB 2.03 $982,645
C 1.66 $2,763,763
G -1.66 $2,487,022
T 4.77 $3,477,375

And for the truly devoted, here are the performance grade and annual salary breakdowns for all twelve players:

Position Name Team Grade Rank (of) Average Salary Rank (of)
QB Russell Wilson SEA 24.1 4 (42) $749,176 36 (42)
WR Alshon Jeffery CHI 18.7 8 (110) $1,112,028 61 (110)
WR Jordy Nelson GB 24.7 2 (110) $3,497,250 35 (110)
RB Eddie Lacy GB 18.5 3 (55) $848,103 34 (55)
RB Giovani Bernard CIN 17.8 5 (55) $1,313,466 29 (55)
TE Jimmy Graham NO 13.4 1 (64) $613,785 50 (64)
FB Anthony Sherman KC 17.4 1 (25) $561,725 12 (25)
C Jason Kelce PHI 18.9 1 (35) $534,358 35 (35)
G Larry Warford DET 22.8 4 (80) $768,750 60 (80)
G Travelle Wharton CAR 20.5 5 (80) $1,100,000 47 (80)
T Zach Strief NO 26.5 7 (74) $1,916,667 39 (74)
T Cordy Glenn BUF 23 13 (74) $1,216,295 47 (74)

And that is the offense of the 2013 NFL All-Best-Contract Team. Check back (next week, most likely) for the defense!


  1. Economics and Sports Management, a recurring feature on Crossroads dealing with, well, the economic management of sports and sports teams. 
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