Can the Browns, Jets and Lions Spend Their Way to Contention?

Cameron Smith

They say money can't buy you love, but it can buy you a hell of an edge rusher. Just ask the Lions.

As the initial headline-making deals of NFL free agency officially lock in, the radically re-constituted rosters of a number of teams are beginning to take shape. The addition of Trey Flowers and Danny Amendola in Detroit helps the Lions on both sides of the ball. The Jets added Le'Veon Bell and C.J. Moseley. The Ravens now feature Earl Thomas III in the defensive backfield and Mark Ingram behind quarterback Lamar Jackson.

All of these moves were made with boatload of guaranteed money. They bring with them the potential for significant improvement, but nothing close to a promise.

So, how often does a significant expenditure and upgrade on paper generate a major improvement on the field? Here's one terrific graphical way to look at it:

It's hard to draw any kind of a conclusive pattern from the charts you see above, though they do present some intriguing case studies in how the teams that could break through need not be the headline makers from the opening days of free agency. And we're not just talking about the typically stingy Patriots here.

For every 2018 Chicago Bears team, where a major offseason splurge sparked a massive turnaround on the field, there's a 2016 Dallas Cowboys story. That year, Dem Boyz spent just a shade over $50 million, but made a quantum leap forward because of the emergence of Ezekiel Elliot and Dak Prescott. Ditto the 2015 Carolina Panthers, albeit with breakthroughs at far lower profile positions. The Los Angeles Chargers spent their second lowest total in seven years in the 2018 offseason ... and then put together their best season during that stretch.

Then there are the teams built on consistency. In addition to the Patriots, the Broncos and Seahawks fostered success earlier in the decade by developing from within rather than spending outside the organization. In fact, the Broncos' biggest net spend offseason came in 2016, when they attempted to shore up their team after a Super Bowl victory only to miss the playoffs the subsequent season.

None of these trends are absolute, but them emphasize an important reality: Scheme, tactics and intelligent design matter as much as raw talent. No matter how expensively a team of promising players is put together, it's how they are coached to play, as reflected by our Intelligence Index, that determines whether changes now in the offseason bear victories in the fall.