Football Freakonomics: The First Annual Dough Bowl Awards

The following is a cross-post from our Football Freakonomics project at NFL.com. Check out the interactive graphic and, at the end of this post, the video.

Aaron Rodgers. (Photo: Elvis Kennedy)

Are you the kind of person who loves to hunt for undervalued stocks that are ready to pop? Or maybe you cruise tag sales and flea markets hoping to find an old stamp collection or oil painting that’s worth millions?

If so, you may like our latest Football Freakonomics episode. It’s called “Dough Bowl.” It is our tribute to the NFL’s best bargains, the players who lit it up this year for far fewer dollars than their counterparts. (We had a lot of help on this one, since it isn’t always easy to get good salary and cap-hit data. Big shout-outs to Scott Kacsmar and to Spotrac.com founder Michael Ginnitti; also: a big hat tip to the Ravens’ Domonique Foxworth for suggesting the idea.)

We put together an entire offensive and defensive roster of Dough Bowl stars:

Position

Player

Team

Base

Cap Hit

Season

Pro Bowl?

QB

Aaron Rodgers

GB

$7,250,000

$10,400,000

7th

Yes

RB

Arian Foster

HOU

$525,000

$525,000

3rd

Yes

RB

LeSean McCoy

PHI

$480,000

$822,500

3rd

Yes

WR

Victor Cruz

NYG

$405,000

$405,000

2nd

No

WR

Mike Wallace

PIT

$525,000

$708,333

3rd

Yes

TE

Rob Gronkowski

NE

$405,000

$853,120

2nd

Yes

LT

Jared Veldheer

OAK

$405,000

$628,750

2nd

No

LG

Evan Mathis

PHI

$685,000

$575,000

7th

No

C

Brian De La Puente

NO

N/A

$575,000

2nd

No

RG

Chad Rinehart

BUF

$600,000

$600,000

4th

No

RT

Andre Smith

CIN

$490,000

$490,000

3rd

No

DT

Geno Atkins

CIN

$405,000

$523,112

2nd

No

DT

Ahtyba Rubin

CLE

$600,000

$623,100

4th

No

DE

Calais Campbell

ARZ

$555,000

$855,000

4th

No

DE

J.J. Watt

HOU

$375,000

N/A

1st

No

OLB

Cameron Wake

MIA

$480,000

$730,000

3rd

No

OLB

Rob Ninkovich

NE

$650,000

$766,666

6th

No

MLB

NaVorro Bowman

SF

$580,500

$756,062

2nd

No

CB

Lardarius Webb

BAL

$480,000

$656,500

3rd

No

CB

Brandon Flowers

KC

$555,000

$592,750

4th

No

S

Earl Thomas

SEA

$625,000

$725,000

2nd

Yes

S

Jairus Byrd

BUF

$480,000

$935,000

3rd

No

K

Alex Henery

PHI

$375,000

$480,045

1st

No

P

Zoltan Mesko

NE

$405,000

$459,995

2nd

No

RET

Antonio Brown

PIT

$405,000

$429,358

2nd

Yes

I am sure you will object to some of our choices, and I’m sure you won’t be shy in voicing your objections. The toughest choice, and likely the most controversial, was Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. How could a guy who’s paid $7,250,000 in base salary, with a $10,400,000 cap hit, be a bargain? (Note: he’s also the only guy on our roster to even exceed $1 million in base salary.) Here’s Kacsmar’s explanation:

“It would be hard to argue another quarterback had a better regular season than Rodgers. With the likes of Brees, Brady and Eli all having a higher salary, Rodgers clearly had better value than anyone ahead of him. When you compare him to players that cost about half as much such as a Tim Tebow or Tony Romo, Rodgers does have numbers that says his season was at least twice as good.”

The runner-up at QB was a player whose salary was more in line with the other Dough Bowlers: Andy Dalton of the Bengals, with a $375,000 base salary and a cap number of $948,036. His numbers weren’t in Rodgers’s league but they’re pretty good: 9 wins and 20 touchdown passes. (In the end, neither Rodgers nor Dalton won a playoff game.)

There’s one name missing from the roster above – the man we elected our MVB, or Most Valuable Bargain. I don’t want to give it away here – the video and interactive graphic are worth spending time with – but see if you can guess him by process of elimination. A couple of further hints: our MVB gained 2,068 yards from scrimmage for just $600,000 in base pay, and fans of a certain AFC North team — not, alas, my team, will approve our choice.

Some of our Dough Bowlers are about to strike it rich with new contracts. But some are locked in to cheap contracts and will to repeat this year’s performance to get the big payday. Furthermore, this off-season promises to be one of the most chaotic in history: more than 600 players will have their contracts expire before free agency starts on March 13.

After a recent Pro Bowl that was a bit, um, lacking in intensity, there is talk of eliminating that game. But can we hereby agree to never, ever get rid of the Dough Bowl?

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  1. RGJ says:

    Jason Pierre-Paul on the Giants really carried their D, and Hakeem Nicks had over 1000 yds, both under 500k in salary.

    I don’t getcha on Rodgers. With that Green Bay offensive talent it is hard to miss. His backup Matt Flynn played on New Years Day and threw for 6 (six) TDs.

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  2. kamal lamsal says:

    fred jackson

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  3. Quinton says:

    Why isn’t your MVP on the team?

    Also, pierre-paul? His cap hit is somewhat large (2.6 million) but certainly given your justification for Rodgers a similar case could be made for Pierre-paul.

    Why doesn’t J.J Watt have a cap hit? Base salary counts against the cap and he received a signing bonus which is prorated over the length of the contract.

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  4. Bill says:

    Wes Welker of the Patriots merits at least honorable mention at WR. His averaging over 100 catches per season and returning punts is pretty good value for his modest salary.

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  5. RGJ says:

    I think it would be interesting to go by positions and calculate the production per dollar, rushing yds, TDs, etc .

    I think Darren Sproles was in the 3 mil ballpark, but I think he led the league in total yards — rushing, receiving, punt and kickoff returns. Interesting value — one roster spot for all that.

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    • Claire says:

      Agreed. I think it would also be interesting to list the above players who are up for a new contract this year; it seems that players perform better when their contracts are almost up.

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  6. Steve Nations says:

    In Michael Jordan’s prime, when he was winning championships and MVP’s with the Bulls, his salary was around $30M per year. And lots and lost of very knowledgeable sports types called him the most under-paid player in the NBA. That’s a little different, because they were assessing his overall value to the NBA.

    But it helps make the point that Aaron Rodgers was a terrific bargain at only $10M of cap hit.

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  7. Ralph says:

    There is one mistake in your report. Geno Atkins of the Bengals did play in the Pro-Bowl this season. Still, a very good value.

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