Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Some Questions And Answers About The Salaries Of The Cowboys Receivers

TC Fleming checking in real quick. Most of my sports curiosity these days comes from the fact that I work the board on weekends at the Ticket. I find myself listening to many hours of Ticket Saturday programming some weekends, and that's a really long time to talk about sports in the multi-topiced, quick-moving format they use on those shows. It's tough for those anyone to talk that long and not say a number of things that make me say "There's no way that's true." And then because I'm the sort of jerk who doesn't let things go, I spend an hour or two putting together the research that shows that, in fact, that point they made is not true.

The point this week? The Cowboys are devoting too high a percentage of their resources to their top two receivers to offer any sort of substantial contract to Laurent Robinson. For me, this breaks down into two questions: Relative to the other members of the NFL, how much are the Cowboys really paying for their two starting receivers? And, is Laurent Robinson's contract too rich to make him a third wideout?

To attack both of these, I made a chart that took each team and listed the top three highest-paid receivers on their roster. Then I found the average at each position:

1st WR2nd WR3rd WR
 $7,289243  $2,757,954  $1,787,659 

Looking at the first question, we can see the average for the salary of a team's top two receivers is $10,047,197. The Cowboys pay a little more than that, shelling out $10,526,857 for the services of Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Looking at it a slightly different way, I'd like to show you where the Cowboys rank on a list of team's salaries of their top two receivers:

The Cowboys are precisely in the middle at 16. I think you can see that the average is weighed down a little by teams like the Rams and Dolphins that appear to not even be trying to field a professional receiver corps. Then again, maybe they're just trying to replicate the Steelers and Giants who have used strong drafting and development to pay very little for two of the better receiver groups around.

But I'm getting off track. The point is that the Cowboys spend an entirely normal amount on receivers. The Cowboys spend about a million more per year than is the average for the highest paid wideout on a team, and they pay Dez about $400k less than is average.

Ok, let's take a brief pause for a side inquiry, and then we'll get back to our primary subject. Is Miles worthy of being paid like he's an above-average number one option? It depends on how you look at it. There are 11 names ahead of him on the salary list for receivers. Of those 12, Austin has the lowest average for yards per season. Focusing in on that, one would be led to say he's not worth his money. He's got kind of a weird situation though. He entered as an undrafted free agent, so he took a little longer to develop/get his chance than most of the others on the list. But to look at it with more of a focus on upside, Miles has already had a season where he gained 1,320 yards. There are 6 of the 11 receivers paid more than him can't say that. Looking at only that aspect, you'd say he has quite the favorable deal. Combine the two perspectives and you have a hearty "maybe."

Getting back to the matter at hand, anyone who tells you the Cowboys focus too much of their funds on receivers has it wrong. They spend an entirely moderate amount. There are massively successful teams who spend considerably more on their receivers (the Patriots and Packers) and massively successful teams who spend considerably less (the aforementioned Steelers and Giants).

Now onto that second question, the one about whether or not any third receiver is worth the money Laurent Robinson got. Looking back at that chart, we can see third receivers are paid an average of about $1.8 million. That's about $5 million less than Robinson got. Laurent's contract would be the highest ever paid to a third receiver. After the (stupendously ill-advised) contracts the Redskins gave to Pierre Garçon and Josh Morgan, Santana Moss is now third on the Redskins at $5 million a year. Laurent sits at $6.5 million per. Third wide receivers just don't get enough opportunities to justify the sort of money Laurent proved capable of demanding.

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