Are teams with highly-paid quarterbacks more likely to win games? Russell Wilson had the third lowest salary of any starting quarterback in the league (Mike Glennon of the Buccaneers and Nick Foles of the Eagles had the lowest salaries), and his team just won the Super Bowl in convincing fashion. Many other cheap QBs, such as Foles, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, and Cam Newton also made the playoffs. On the flip side, some highly paid quarterbacks such as Matthew Stafford, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Sam Bradford, and Ben Roethlisberger had disappointing season. You may also remember Jim Irsay taking some not-so-veiled shots at Peyton Manning by suggesting that paying a lot of money to a quarterback is not the best way to build a team.
People are naturally wondering if Jim Irsay is right. Is it worth it to throw a lot of money at the most important player on the field, or would that money be better used elsewhere? I decided to examine this problem by looking at the correlation of a QB’s salary and the team’s number of wins during the regular season. I ran a regression using data from the 2013 NFL season. I looked at the salary of the highest paid QB on the team, not necessarily the player who started the most games. (Even though Michael Vick only started six games for the Eagles in 2013, the Eagles’ decision to give him a big contract made an impact on what other players the team could sign.) Also note that I used a player’s cap hit, rather than his base salary, in my regression. I’m not going to pretend like I know the intricacies of the NFL salary cap, but a player’s cap hit seems like a more relevant piece of information if we’re trying to decide how a team can optimally allocate its money. All salary information is from Spotrac.com.
If you’re like me, you’re not going to like the answer to the question that I posed at the beginning of this post. The regression was statistically insignificant, which means that it doesn’t really matter whether you have a cheap or an expensive QB. The salary of the QB does not have a correlation with the success of the team. There are multiple ways to put together a successful team. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the Super Bowl pitted one of the cheapest quarterbacks against one of the most expensive quarterbacks.
For those of you who still want a little more info even though you know that it’s not statistically significant, a QB’s salary is positively correlated with the number of regular season games that his team wins. If Team A pays its QB $12 million more than Team B, Team A is expected to win one additional game. The R-squared is .023.