Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Estimated salary differences for NFL positions

I always thought it was conventional wisdom in football that quarterbacks were paid much, much more than the players on the offensive line who protect him. At least that was what I inferred from "The Blind Side." The book talks about how left tackles used to be underrewarded until recently, when the NFL suddenly realized that it's the second most important position on the team.

But, according to the
Massey/Thaler study of the NFL draft, the salary differential isn't that huge. Actually, the study doesn't give any detail on actual free-agent salaries by position, but they do give estimated salaries, based on their regression. Since they used dummy variables for each position, the differences between positions should be reasonably reliable. I'd expect the actual numbers to be not too far off either.

Here's their chart for estimated salary (base plus bonus) by position, for 1996-2002, for hypothetical sixth-year players who made the Pro Bowl all of their first five years. Players in their sixth year should all be earning free market salaries. (All salaries are in 2002 dollars.)

DB $6,192,617
DL $7,103,115
LB $6,117,273
OL $5,985,725
QB $9,208,248
RB $6,071,787
TE $5,781,453
WR $6,779,927

The best offensive linemen project to make almost two-thirds as much as the best quarterbacks. I would have thought the difference would be bigger than that. In terms of fame, all the members of the offensive line combined get probably 10% the media mentions that the quarterback does.

There's also a chart that breaks out the more recent years 2000-2002; in that time frame, the offensive linemen now earn only 54% as much as the quarterbacks. "The Blind Side" story would make you think the gap would be moving lower, rather than higher.

Those numbers are somewhat unrealistic, because they assume the player made the Pro Bowl all of his first five years in the NFL. Here's the same chart, from the same study, but for (again hypothetical) 6th-year players who started 8 or more games each of their first five years but never made the Pro Bowl:

DB $3,105,027
DL $3,447,937
LB $3,044,277
OL $2,815,147
QB $4,525,227
RB $3,000,045
TE $2,870,848
WR $3,367,574

The OL/QB ratio here is about the same – 62%, versus 65% for the Pro Bowl chart.

By the way, is there an obvious reason why defensive linemen make more money than offensive linemen?

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At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 2:06:00 PM, Blogger Via Chicago said...

"By the way, is there an obvious reason why defensive linemen make more money than offensive linemen?"

In a word, sacks.

It is much harder to value an O lineman's value because it is much harder to quantify their individual contributions. It is easier to assign a dollar value to a D lineman's contributions because you can look his individual stats. I would suspect that if you looked at the salaries of free agent DTs and DEs you could quantify exactly how much a team will pay per sack.

At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 2:18:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Very possible. Like the save in baseball, having a number, any number, associated with a group of players might make the better ones more valued.

Could that be all there is, though?

And don't teams analyze every player on every play? If they do, then they know which O linemen are *preventing* sacks. Shouldn't that information cause teams to bid up their price?

Of course, the players themselves may not have the data, and may settle for less than "true" value. But, still, teams, with the required knowledge, are competing for him ...

But even with all that, I still wouldn't be surprised if Kevin's theory is completely correct.

At Thursday, December 14, 2006 9:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Players' Association publishes a wealth of salary information at Click on Resources, then Research Documents. Here are the average salaries by position for starters in 2005 (in millions of dollars):

QB 5.15
RB 3.27
OT 3.17
WR 2.97
CB 2.75
DE 2.54
MLB 2.30
DT 2.06
OG 1.94
OLB 1.81
TE 1.79
C 1.65
FS 1.39
SS 1.27
K 1.23
FB 0.84
P 0.69

The average starting offensive line makes more than the average starting defensive line only because there are five positions instead of four. On a per-player basis, it's about even.

At Thursday, December 14, 2006 11:05:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Jim A: Thanks! Didn't know that data existed, much obliged.

Given the actual salary data, that makes me wonder a bit about the original study. First, Massey/Thaler group all the linemen together (even though the tackle makes twice as much as the center); and, second, their regression estimates a 22% difference that isn't really there.

The NFLPA data is from 2005, and the study is from 1996-2002, so that might be part of the answer there. If the increase in the LT salary is drastic and recent, that would explain the gap being closed, and the Massey/Thaler numbers might be just fine.

At Tuesday, December 18, 2007 8:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That would also be misleading because some linemen block isolated on the edge of the formation more than having help on either shoulder at positions like guard and center.

Thus the priority on paying tackles.

Plus, their numbers can be covered by helping with extra blockers to their side.

It's not like you would not do that anyways, if needed, because of the QB's health being such a priority.

It's just that there are ways to arguably tweak those numbers.

Value added/subtracted impact assessments. There should be several grades for a tackle, one for each offensive set and its corresponding passing depth they try and establish. One for certain types of runs inside or out, short yardage or otherwise, against certain fronts, etc.

Arguably there up to ten categories at the least, even more.

Rating for blocking efficiency within a grouping, each formation under that grouping, the defensive front faced, the various formations in that grouping and the actual set of the play call as it applies to the underlying scheme of the offense...

The base sets could even combine the style/play call schematics in terms of the technique needed to make it work.

Blocking high on the wide runs and passes, drive blocking in short yardage underneath the defender, leading out screens and sweeps or other wide runs and plays.

So trap blocking could get its own designation in the numbers and boost guard pay in terms of technique for the run, but the value added would still reflect the tackle's isolation calls on the pass to greater degrees.

Effectively the GM and player personnel would have to work with the position coach and quality control in tracking this number.

At Thursday, April 23, 2009 10:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Longevity is probably a factor. Offensive linemen, I assume, have longer careers because they take less severe hits and because they don't need speed as much, many more can keep playing into their 30s.


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