New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a far-reaching influence across the league, most notably with his former staffers that have become general managers.
Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are co-general managers of the Atlanta Falcon, Jon Robinson is the general manager of the Tennessee Titans, Bob Quinn is the general manager of the Detroit Lions, Jason Licht is the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Ozzie Newsome is the general manager of the Baltimore Ravens.
It turns out that all of these teams construct their rosters in almost the same exact way.
Miguel of PatsCap.com noted that the Patriots have the most players in the league under contract with a cap hit of $1 million or greater. I was interested in how other teams built their rosters and went through every team in the league to determine the percentage of their team that have $1 million or greater cap hits, along with $2 million, $3 million, $4 million, and $5 million.
The Patriots are one of three teams, along with the Raiders and the Titans, with more than 50% of the roster under contract with cap hits of $1 million or greater. The Patriots invest more heavily in the $1-$2 million cap hit range than any other franchise in the league, with 24% of the team falling in the range. The Cowboys (22.5%) and the Buccaneers (21.1%) are the only other teams over 20%.
It turns out that the Patriots have a below-average percentage of players with between a $2 million and $4 million cap hit in 2016, with the 6th lowest rate in the league. The Lions, Jets, Seahawks, Dolphins, and Washington are the only teams with fewer players in the cap range, and all five rank in the top ten for teams relying the most on players with under $1 million in cap hits.
In other words, the only other teams that invest in the $2-4 million range like the Patriots are so top-heavy with their roster contracts that they have to supplement the rest of their roster with players making minimum money.
For those thinking the Patriots don't spend money, New England has the 7th highest rate of players with a $4 million or greater cap hit in 2016, behind just the Broncos, Raiders, Packers, Jaguars, Bengals, and Colts.
The Patriots actually feature the 4th highest rate of players with between a $1 million and $5 million 2016 cap hit, with roughly 37% of the roster in that range. A few familiar faces rank alongside the Patriots in this measurement.
The Falcons, led by Dimitroff and Pioli, have the greatest number of players in this range, followed closely by the Ravens and Ozzie Newsome. The Cowboys rank 3rd, but then the Patriots are followed immediately by the Titans and Robinson. The Buccaneers and Licht come in 7th.
Five of the seven teams with the greatest percentage of players with between a $1-5 million cap hit in 2016 are branches of the Belichick team building tree. These teams focus on fleshing out the depth necessary to survive the course of a sixteen game regular season and it's reflected in how the rosters are built- or they have a lot of cash on hand and are spending it because they have to hit minimum cash flow requirements.
The fact that more teams are using this strategy will make it more difficult for the Patriots to continue down this path. Players that would typically spark the interest of only the Patriots and the Ravens are now on the radar of five other teams around the league. Belichick will have to find ways to remain ahead of his competition, just like how he had to adapt after other teams started to use the 3-4 defense in the early 2000s.
There are already other ways to build rosters that fit into certain archetypes, so Belichick will likely find alternative ways of acquiring talent for reasonable prices (including a recent surge in interest in restricted free agents). We can see how the 2015 playoff teams and AFC East teams build their rosters.
Teams like the Packers, Bengals, Steelers, and Broncos invest heavily in players with over $2 million in cap hits, but a reduced number of those between $1-$2 million. The rest of the roster is supplemented by players with minimum value deals. These teams thrive when healthy, but when they lose a key starter like Jordy Nelson or Danny Trevathan, they are forced to insert a low quality replacement. There is generally enough talent on these roster to overcome a couple injuries.
Teams like the Seahawks, Texans, Jets, Bills, Dolphins, and Washington take a top-heavy approach with players earning over $4 million cap hits. Injuries will absolutely devastate this tier of teams. While teams like the Packers and Broncos can overcome an injury due to the depth at other positions, a key injury will end any chance these teams have at contending.
Teams like the Panthers, Cardinals, and Chiefs feature a below-average number of players with cap hits over $1 million. While this could mean they could rely heavily on players on rookie contracts, it also means these teams maximize the output from those on veteran minimum contracts. These teams will be strong for a couple years, but team builds of this nature aren't sustainable once players end their rookie contracts or outplay their veteran contracts and take more money elsewhere.
At this point, the Patriots are the only playoff team that invests heavily in players in the $1-2 million range and these are the transactions that allow New England to contend every January. New players like Terrance Knighton and Clay Harbor join last year's additions of Keshawn Martin and Dion Lewis in this category, alongside the likes of 2013 draft picks Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, and Duron Harmon.
But as more and more teams start to capitalize on the same market as the Patriots, Belichick is going to have to find another market inefficiency to dominate.