The Dallas Cowboys are really good at running the football.
In 2014, DeMarco Murray, with a Star on his helmet, produced more yards than anyone in the NFL. 2015 saw Darren McFadden, sporting the blue and silver, earn more yards than all but three NFL running backs. This season, Ezekiel Elliott is also likely to have a high yardage total toting the rock for America's Team.
What's the common denominator in this three year period?
The Cowboys began the road to building the NFL's best Offensive Line in 2011 when they drafted Tyron Smith in the first round. Two years later, it was Travis Frederick whose name was called, and a year after that it was
Johnny Football Zack Martin that joined the Space Cowboys. That's the constant we're looking for, right?
Flip your calendar back to the 2015 NFL Draft.
Not even one week after its completion, Jerry Jones pulled off one of the greatest heists in NFL History by signing the then Undrafted Free Agent, La'el Collins. Unfortunately for La'el, circumstances leading up to the Draft caused him to never hear his name called, but the Dallas Cowboys came running and asked him to help do some.
It was at that moment, unbeknownst to all of us, that the idea for Price Per Yard was born.
Price Per Yard: What Is It?
Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the rookies who are drafted in the NFL are subject to a rookie wage scale. Prior to this agreement in 2011, rookies could make whatever their agents agreed to. Savvy veterans were getting pennies on the dollar next to kids who had never played a down before.
Rookies are paid a fraction (albeit still a significant amount of money) of what the top players at their respective positions are paid. These rookie deals are for four years, but first round selections are eligible for a fifth year option (which must be picked up prior to entering the player's fourth season).
Say that you hit on an elite quarterback in the first round. That means you get high-quality production out of him for four, likely five, seasons at a great rate. The idea is obviously to get the best players that you can, and if you do, it gives you financial freedom to do other things.
The Cowboys have had their elite offensive linemen on rookie deals (Tyron Smith signed an 8-year extension in 2014), DeMarco Murray on the final year of his rookie deal in 2014, and Darren McFadden at a cheap rate in 2015. In that time they've also been one of the best rushing units in the National Football League.
I wanted to determine how much the Cowboys are paying per yard in the run game. That's where the name Price Per Yard comes from.
It's not a complicated name, and in fact it's been used before. That link calculates Price Per Yard for individual running back performance; however, this is an evaluation on the whole run game (every Running Back plus the Offensive Linemen).
It just makes sense to call mashed up apples apple sauce, right?
Price Per Yard: The Calculation
Determining how much an NFL team pays per yard sounds relatively simple, right? Well the lack of sleep I've had over the last few weeks would disagree.
Obviously, first we needed to figure out how much a team is paying. I want to give an enormous shout out to Mike - @CowboysNation's Content Manager - for talking this project out with me and pointing me in the right direction, even when I missed it the first time.
Who does a team pay to run the ball? It's so much more than their starting running back. Every single running back on a team's payroll is factored into this metric. Why? The reason that those players are paid, even though they're bench or role players, is to run the football and produce yards. Simple.
Additionally, and somewhat obviously at this point, a team's offensive line is factored into Price Per Yard. Why? The linemen are also paid to block, right? Of course, and part of the reason that team's pay their offensive lines is to lead the way for the running backs they pay.
Run Game Spending = Running Back Spending + Offensive Line Spending
That's what we're looking at here. The Run Game Spending.
There was one more little trick, though.
Players like Tyron Smith are signed to massive deals and their contracts become wells that their respective teams dip into to save salary cap space. So for instance, Tyron Smith is the best left tackle in football, but his cap hits are relatively low some seasons. This suggests that the average cost per season of a player's total contract should be the number considered, but players don't always (and usually don't) fulfill their whole contracts.
It is for this reason that the "spending" calculated is drawn from these players' salary cap hits for that season. That's the most objective way of handling this. In that particular season, that is how much that player was paid to do their job, which was produce rushing yards.
Once we know how much the team spent on the run game, we just divide it by the team's total rushing yards, right?
Teams like the Carolina Panthers and their rush yard totals are inflated by mobile quarterbacks such as Cam Newton. It's for this reason that every yard that has gone into this was earned ONLY by the running backs on these teams' payrolls for that particular season.
So if in 2013 Team A paid Running Backs X, Y, and Z... only their yardage totals are factored into it. Their quarterback, fullback, wide receivers, and whoever else, are not.
Those people were not paid exclusively to run the football.
All contract information was pulled from Spotrac.com and all yardage counts were sourced from Pro-Football-Reference.com. My infinite thanks go out to them for doing the work they do that allows me to cultivate this fun project.
Price Per Yard: The 2013 Season
The important thing to remember about Price Per Yard is that there is no indisputable winner. It is up to you, the educated reader, to draw the best conclusion and one you like the most. Think of this like a candy store where you're picking your favorite flavor...
2013 NFC Price Per Yard
** Click the image to zoom in.
I know, I know. That's a lot of colors! Hold my hand and let me walk you through this.
First of all, I know that the St. Louis (now L.A.) Rams don't have any data (Spoiler: The Browns don't either). Spotrac didn't have their cap numbers available but hey, it's the Rams. Oh well.
If you looked at Price Per Yard simply as a number... you would think that the Lions were the best and that the Seahawks were among the worst in the NFC. This is where you have to think a little.
If you invest $100k into something, you expect $100k in return, right? If you invest $100k and only get a $50k production you're doing bad, but if you're getting a $200k production you're dominating. That part is simple. Look at Price Yer Yard the same way.
For example, the Lions are paying the least amount per yard in the NFC, AND they're 4th in the conference in rushing. So they're paying significantly less than 11 teams and still outperforming them. Inversely the Seahawks may be paying the most per yard, but they're 5th in rushing. The Seahawks are paying a lot, but getting a lot in return.
The data also suggests that the Giants are terrible at this.
They're investing a serious amount of money (more than anyone in the conference) and have the third fewest yards produced. They're yielding a terrible return on their investment.
Another observation that can be drawn is that the Panthers struggle with this, but for a different reason. While they have the lowest total yardage count in the conference, this doesn't include Cam Newton's yardage. But for that matter, if Cam is going to help your run game significantly... why pay a hefty price to your run game? Carolina actually pays the fourth most to its running backs, and they're not performing to that level of investment.
The Panthers have far and away the lowest rushing attempts, which would be like buying a Ferrari and driving it a few times a year.
2013 AFC Price Per Yard
I told you the Browns weren't cool enough to join the party! In reality their data simply wasn't available, so we'll have to move on without them.
Immediately, the Tennessee Titans jump out to us. They're paying $30,285.99 per yard (most in the NFL) and only have 1,372 yards to show for it (making them 9th in the AFC). Inversely, the Patriots are paying $12,571.16 per yard and have the most rushing yards in the NFL (in terms of people we're accounting yards for, remember?).
Perspective is really necessary when analyzing the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers. If you look at PPY as simply a number in a vacuum then you'd assume that they're among the best since theirs is quite low. While they didn't pay a whole lot for three feet of ground, they also didn't accumulate that much.
This was a point that I kept circling back to throughout PPY. So what if a team is paying a low amount per yard? What does that even prove?
I talked this idea out with my Dad and realized that a base value was necessary. PPY continued to evolve!
Price Per Yard: Determining A Base Value
While my initial purpose in this experiment was simply to determine how much a team was paying per yard, that information doesn't tell us much, not unless it's applied contextually.
If I told you that the average customer pays $800 for a TV, that wouldn't mean anything. What brand of TV was it? What are the dimensions on it? Is it HD? 4K? There are so many factors involved here.
What we are truly looking for is what is a team's Return On Investment? If they're investing a lot of money, they should be seeing a lot of yards in return. If they're not devoting so much, they're likely not to be getting something significant back. If they're being frugal but still yielding great results, right on! If a team is devoting a lot and seeing little return, well... yikes.
It must be remembered that the objective of each of these 32 NFL teams (or the rushing games in this case) is to gain yards. The purpose is not simply to pay the least amount of money per yard. Obviously you want to gain a ton of yards while paying the least amount possible.
In determining a base value, I kept that consideration as a priority above all else, so what did I do? I averaged the Top 10 Team Rushing Yards. Remember that these are the yards produced only by the running backs on these teams.
Why the Top 10? If you're in the Top 10, then you're considered among the best.
Additionally, I averaged the respective PPYs of the Top 10 Teams whose Rushing Yards I averaged. Why? If we're determining the average of the Top 10 rushing yardages, we need to determine the average price paid for that type of performance.
The average rushing yardage of teams in the Top 10 was 1,800.10. The average price per yard those teams paid for that performance was $14,489.76. What we needed to do now was compare and contrast each team against this number to see what their percentage was against these base values.
Price Per Yard: Applying The Base Value
Again, you'll have to excuse the Rams and Browns. They don't want to be a part of this sweet shindig I'm throwing. The math might be too complicated for them, who knows.
The "% Diff From RY BV" is just that. The percentage difference from the Rushing Yards Base Value. For example, the New Orleans Saints had 23.39% less yards than the Rushing Yards Base Value (1,800.10).
The "% Diff From PPY BV" is self-explanatory as well. It is the percentage difference from the Price Per Yard Base Value. For example, the Indianapolis Colts paid 57.68% more per yard than the Price Per Yard Base Value ($14,489.76).
The institution of base values help us to determine some points to which we were already making our way downtown (shoutout to Vanessa Carlton). The Lions paid 28.66% less than the BV and only had 6.12% less yards than the BV. That's an incredible bargain.
We talked about the Steelers and how their PPY could be misleading, and the BV proves that. While, yes, they are paying 20.18% less than the BV per yard, they're also gaining 30% less yards than the BV. So Pittsburgh is paying far less, but unlike Detroit they are getting a much more inferior product.
Look at the Eagles. They're paying 8.68% more than the BV per yard, but they're out-gaining all but one team in terms of yardage. Their investment is higher, but the return that they're getting is matching it.
In my own estimation, the New England Patriots are the best at this in terms of the 2013 season. They're paying 13.24% less per yard against the BV, but outperforming the entire NFL in terms of yardage.
Price Per Yard: The 2013 Dallas Cowboys
You come to Inside The Star for Dallas Cowboys content, and I'm sorry to disappoint you, but in 2013 America's Team didn't dominate this arena (Spoiler Alert: They will soon).
The Cowboys paid 3.63% more per yard than the BV, and to be honest that's not so bad. Where they struggled is their yardage output, producing almost 20% less than the BV. This means that the Cowboys were paying more than the average and getting significantly less out of it.
That's no bueno.
You have to remember that 2013 was Travis Frederick's rookie year, so Zack Martin had not yet arrived. I've charted the 2014 and 2015 seasons (you'll have to come back for the continuation of Price Per Yard, by the way) and can promise you that the Cowboys become one of the more dominating teams in the entire NFL when it comes to this metric.
What Does Being Good At This Mean For A Team?
This discovery is really important because it revolves around the money devoted to a team and its ensuing production.
Consider the New England Patriots, for example. Due to the fact that they are getting an insane return on investment in the run game, they can devote some of that money elsewhere... places where they might need a bigger investment to get a bigger return.
I can't emphasize enough that there is no correct answer here. Conclusions must be drawn and preferences can be taken.
Look at the 2013 Vikings. They're paying 43.94% more than the BV, but they're only getting 4.73% yards less. If that's the style of game you want to play, then play it. It's up to these teams and how they want to handle their finances.
The underlying theme in all of this is that you want to get, at the very least, an equal return on your investment. That's not just true in the running game of football, that's Finance 101. The more bang you can get for your buck, the better.
Price Per Yard is something that I had an enormous amount of fun researching and charting. This data encompasses only the 2013 season, and there is so much more for us to digest.
As a result, this is the first installment in a four part series. Next Monday (July 11, 2016), I will debut how PPY correlates with the 2014 season, the following Monday will be 2015, and the following Monday all three years are combined to see the trends that teams have developed over a three-year period.
If you have any comments or questions about Price Per Yard, the philosophy behind it, the formula that went into it, or just simply want to talk and/or debate it... you can comment below, email me at RJ@RJOchoaShow.com, or Tweet to me at @rjochoa.
Tony Romo Documentary in the Works
If you've missed seeing Tony Romo on the field, an upcoming documentary may be the cure. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback is reportedly the subject of a film chronicling his football career going all the way back to high school.
"Now or Never" will tell Romo's incredible story, going from undrafted to one of the top passers in the history of the Cowboys' storied franchise. It's being produced by a Texas-based company run by Christian Hanna (no known relation to James).
According to an article from MyRacineCounty.com, Romo's hometown newspaper, the tale of Tony's football career will be told going back to his days at Burlington High School in Wisconsin. It will follow him to Eastern Illinois University, the same QB hotbed that more recently produced Jimmy Garoppolo.
But what most of us will want to relive is Tony's amazing NFL career, which stands out among the most unexpected rises to stardom of any player in league history.
Romo, who was an undrafted free agent signed by the Cowboys in 2003, didn't play in a game for three seasons. He rose the QB depth chart through practice and preseason play, eventually becoming the backup and earning the respect of then-coach Bill Parcells.
In Week 7 of 2006, Parcells pulled struggling starter Drew Bledsoe at halftime and went with his intriguing young prospect. Tony's first pass in the NFL was one to forget; an interception.
About a decade later, Romo would retire as the Cowboys' all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He currently ranks fourth all-time in NFL history for passer rating.
Tony's career never saw the playoff and Super Bowl success of predecessors Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, but he remains a beloved figure in team history. The controversial end to his football career, losing his job to rookie phenom Dak Prescott in 2016, created a major rift among Cowboys fans.
While no longer playing, Romo remains one of the hottest names in football. His charisma and football acumen have him in a featured role with CBS Broadcasting.
From obscurity to "anointing oil" to one of the most discussed names in sports, Tony Romo's story is fascinating. This documentary crew picked a great subject, and we look forward to enjoying their work and revisiting the Romo Era once the film is released.
Prescott VS Wentz Rivalry is Just Beginning
No one expected Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott to become such an interesting rivalry, but that's precisely what the 2016's second and 135th draft picks have turnt out to be since the day they entered the NFL. The two came into the NFC East with very different expectations. Dak wasn't even supposed to be a starter, but circumstance is what helped this rivalry emerge.
Prescott seemed to lead the race after their rookie seasons were over, having led the Dallas Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the #1 seed in the NFC, but Carson Wentz made a huge statement in 2017. Before he went down injured playing versus the LA Rams last December, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback was playing astonishingly well.
Leading the MVP race before tearing his ACL, Carson Wentz had thrown for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns through 13 games. Had he not gone down, it's more likely than not he would've been named the MVP instead of Tom Brady.
Despite having won the passing yards race, Dak Prescott's 2017 was rougher than his rival's. His interceptions count went from 4 in 2016 to 13 last season. He threw for only 22 touchdowns, falling eight short of the 30 TDs mark. His completion percentage also went down, from over 67% to almost 63%.
As we all know, it wasn't a good year for the Dallas Cowboys. Suspensions, injuries and poor play led them to a disappointing 9-7 season that didn't feel like a winning season at all, even though that's how it will go down in the books.
To make things worse, the Eagles went into January with QB Nick Foles starting, and overcoming adversity and doubters, won their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Although it was Foles and not Wentz the one who played Philadelphia's postseason, the former second overall pick is one of the main reasons for the team's success.
His sophomore year was way better than Dak's.
But as impressive as Wentz's year was, the rivalry between the two signal-callers is just beginning. There is still a lot of history to write in this duel of two young and hard-working players. Two leader of men in one of the most intense rivalries in the NFL.
Through two years of football, here's how their numbers look like:
Wentz: 29 games, 1,047 attempts, 644 completions (61.5%), 7,078 yards, 49 TDs, 2 rushing TDs
Prescott: 32 games, 949 attempts, 619 completions (65.2%), 6,991 yards, 45 TDs, 12 rushing TDs
There's not a ton of difference between their numbers, but in the NFL, it's about more than stats. Prescott had the better 2016, Wentz the better 2017.
Dak and Carson have really only played two match-ups in their two years playing in the league. Sitting at an even 1-1 record, 2018 will feature two great games between both of their teams. The defending Super Bowl Champions against the underestimated Dallas Cowboys.
The sport is about winning games and championships, but rivalries like this one make the NFL even more special. Even with Wentz being the MVP front-runner for most of last season, Dak Prescott still has a lot of time to turn things around.
If both turn out to be as successful and important as their franchise wish them to be, then this rivalry will be around for a lot of years.
If Reinstated, Is Randy Gregory A Lock for Cowboys 53-Man Roster?
The Dallas Cowboys will enter training camp in Oxnard with arguably their deepest and most talented defensive line in years. Cowboys Nation continues to hope for the best possible news on suspended Defensive End Randy Gregory, to potentially take this defensive front to the next level. Should Gregory be reinstated, the Cowboys would have another option at right defensive end. This is a position they've bolstered with the signing of Kony Ealy and drafting of Dorance Armstrong, both moves coming behind would-be starter Tyrone Crawford.
This logjam at DE begs the question, amidst optimism for Gregory's situation, is the 2015 second round pick even a lock to make this roster?
Who Does Randy Gregory Need to Outplay?
Going through some form of the Cowboys depth chart at Gregory's position above does little to sort out how Gregory can justify a starting position. Having true starters on the defensive line is not DC Rod Marinelli's way, meaning a possible rotation of Crawford, Gregory, and Armstrong could coexist.
Even with insufficient depth at defensive tackle, the Cowboys seem committed to keeping Crawford on the edge. As he's done with each position change within the Cowboys defense, Crawford is slowly developing into a respectable right end that's great against the run.
This sounds like just the type of player to compliment a speedy rusher like Gregory, but Randy won't be alone in this role should he return to the team. Along with FA addition Kony Ealy, the Cowboys will look to bring Charles Tapper back from an offseason concussion, and also have second-year rusher Taco Charlton in need of a true position.
It's fair to say that Gregory has been anything but reliable since the Cowboys took a gamble on him, but turning his life around to see out this reinstatement would go a long way in beating out the often-injured Tapper.
Given Ealy's ability to play both on the edge and inside, at his best if receiving limited snaps, I believe that Gregory will only have to surpass Tapper in reaching a favorable spot on the Cowboys depth chart at DE.
Comparing Randy Gregory and Dorance Armstrong
Of course, making the roster and making an impact on defense are two vastly different realities for Gregory in 2018. Another player that could stunt his opportunities to hunt down quarterbacks is rookie fourth round pick Dorance Armstrong.
The Cowboys would love to see Armstrong begin his career with a strong showing in Oxnard, owning all of the traits needed to be an effective right end at the next level.
Lacking the true cornering speed that Gregory has flashed in short spurts, Armstrong did produce a ten sack season for Kansas in 2016. This production matches the traits that kept Armstrong a priority for the Cowboys at the draft, despite only seeing him get home 1.5 times in 2017.
Rewind to last year's draft, and the Cowboys spent their first round pick on a defensive end they looked to make a right end, all while knowing his ideal spot is at LDE. This makes the difference between drafting Charlton and Armstrong an important one, as the Cowboys are clearly searching for high-value options to complete their pass rush.
Again, assuming Tapper becomes the odd man out in the Cowboys carrying Gregory, Ealy, and Armstrong as right ends, the work is cut out for Gregory to regain the trust of his coaches and bring what only he can to this defense.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
It goes without saying that Randy Gregory will carry plenty of attention with him if present in Oxnard. This is a player capable of transforming a young Cowboys defense into one of the league's most feared.
While the Cowboys would do well to quickly sort out who plays the 3T-DT position alongside DeMarcus Lawrence, and the 1T inside for that matter too, sticking Gregory on the opposite edge could be the easiest decision they make to see immediate improvements in their pass rush.
Should Ealy or Armstrong have more to say about this lineup for the Cowboys defensive line, the depth of this unit will live up to the hype.
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