Is Spending Mega Bucks in NFL Free Agency Actually a Winning Strategy?

Jeremy SickelContributor IIIMarch 24, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:   Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after the Ravens won 34-31 against the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The deconstruction of the Baltimore Ravens actually began towards the end of the 2012 regular season when future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis announced that this year would be his last.

The emotional boost should be looked at as an integral propellant for their unlikely Super Bowl run, but the short-term outlook of the Ravens puts into question this team's ability to build off last season's success.

With many players set to become free agents this offseason—including the retirements of Lewis and center Matt Birk—it was apparent that Baltimore would have had a much different look on the field in advance of the 2013 season. But just one month from the NFL draft, no one suspected the Ravens' cupboard would be so bare.

Other than locking up Joe Flacco—making the quarterback the highest paid player in league history (via ESPN)—the Ravens have done little to retain the core of players that were the likely force behind their run (Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Cary Williams and Bernard Pollard to name a few).

Baltimore even dealt wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers, the team they defeated in Super Bowl XLVII.

While it is obvious the Ravens would have failed to bring back everyone, this offseason will put pressure on general manager Ozzie Newsome to deliver much like he has done his entire career in the front office.

Known primarily for his proclivity to locate young talent in the draft, Newsome has done a fine job of keeping Baltimore's nucleus together over the years. It just so happened that this offseason resulted in the perfect storm of the contrary.

The Ravens aren't void of talent, however, as Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Lardarius Webb will form a very good base to build on. But Baltimore will clearly have to spend resourcefully to keep its winning resume intact, as the team currently has just $7.2 million of cap space (via the Baltimore Sun).

With the NFL implementing a salary floor beginning this season, it is that particular creativity that could begin to separate the winning organizations from the ones that can't quite get over the hump year in and year out in this league.

The floor doesn't apply to one season; rather, it pertains to a four-year period beginning in 2013.

Teams will need to spend 89 percent of the total salary cap over that period, though it should still prevent organizations from under- or overspending in an attempt to keep the league competitively balanced every season.

The question is whether Baltimore's supposed head start on its rebuilding process can shorten the assumed regression that will take place this season. The relatively clean slate should allow Newsome to work closely with the new way of keeping the books.

While organizational spending should be more equal moving forward, discrepancies were evident over the last five seasons from 2008-12. A study done by Ryan Sleeper of gives us a look at just how much teams spent per win over this period.

A quick look at the numbers indicates there will always be exceptions to the rule.

The Denver Broncos had the 10th lowest salary in 2012 and won 13 games, while the Detroit Lions spent the most money and were only able to muster up four victories.

In 2010, the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 31st and 32nd in salary, respectively, but both teams won 10 games. And 2008 saw the Indianapolis Colts spend the fourth lowest in salary, but their 12 victories had them ranked first in cost per win.

Of the last five Super Bowl winners, however, the New York Giants in 2011 had the lowest ranked salary (12th) the year they won. The Ravens ranked 10th in salary this past season.

While the outliers are evident, it is obvious that spending more money has yielded a more consistently winning strategy. But with the salary-cap floor coming into play, the divergent results will become more of the norm as teams will need to be more inventive in the way they field their roster.

The emphasis moving forward will not be placed on how much money is being spent, but on how it is actually being spent.

The Ravens seem committed to building a team around a franchise quarterback at all costs, as are the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and several other teams in the NFL.

Building a roster from the inside out will naturally force teams to spend smarter in free agency, oftentimes resulting in not being able to retain their own players.

Should Baltimore not take too big of a step back in 2013, expect more organizations to follow suit in subsequent years.


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