The Tale of the Tape series will analyze a key game in a given week based on each team's starters' guaranteed salaries.
Given the non-guaranteed nature of NFL contracts, the guaranteed money metric has been used as the quantitative measure in this analysis because it shows the club's commitment to the player from a compensation standpoint.
The intent of this analysis is to provide a look at the financial commitment to a team's starters and to shed some light into how the teams were constructed (for example, draft-oriented approach versus a veteran free agent approach).
The Saints and Steelers, the past to Super Bowl Champions will meet on Sunday evening. The first installment of this analysis will show how each of these teams have been constructed.
The table below will show both how their starters were acquired and how they're currently being compensated.
Definitions: U/NYJ = unrestricted free agent who last played for Jets; 03/1 = first-round draft pick in 2003; T/Dal = Acquired via trade from Cowboys; SF09 = 2009 street free agent, a free agent who became so via early termination of their previous contract; CF08 = 2008 college free agent
The Steelers are a home-grown team. Nineteen of the 22 offensive and defensive starters were acquired via the draft or college free agency. In comparison, the Saints have relied more on externally acquired players. Just 12 of their offensive and defensive starters are "home grown."
When Reggie Bush is healthy, you can argue that he's a co-starter with Pierre Thomas. By adding Bush's $26.3 million guarantee to the above analysis and subtracting fullback Heath Evans' $900,000 guarantee, the Saints' total starter guarantee increases to $180.5 million and the Saints' offensive unit guarantee becomes $97.4 million.
Short of the fact that Sam Bradford has more guaranteed money than Peyton Manning on their current contracts, the best argument for Top 10 rookie compensation reform is that the Steelers' defensive unit totals $66.2 million in guarantees. The Lions' Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have guarantees that total $70 million.
Left tackle can be a very costly position from a guarantee perspective, with elite blind-side protectors commanding guarantees in the neighborhood of $30 million. While neither of these teams have elite left tackles, Jermon Bushrod and Max Starks, both clubs are getting great value at this critical position.
For the Steelers, left tackle isn't the only position in which they've received tremendous value. Elite defenders LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, and Troy Polamalu total for $25.5 million in guarantees -- it's clear that the Steelers have done a great job in negotiating player contracts. It will be interesting to see how the Steelers resolve the Woodley contract situation. He's on the final year of his rookie contract, and the elite pass-rusher market puts his value in the neighborhood of $40 million guaranteed.
While the Steelers defense's player guarantees are fairly consistent, the Saints' defensive guarantees have a wider disparity. Top 10-pick Sedrick Ellis' $19.5 million guarantee is offset by fellow defensive tackle Remi Ayodele's $0 guaranteed. The same can be said for middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma's $17 million guaranteed versus Jo-Lonn Dunbar's $0 guaranteed.
The NFL is truly a quarterback-driven league. Accordingly, legitimate franchise quarterbacks deservingly command top dollar. However, the Steelers and Saints prove that elite teams can be built with a prudent, yet relatively conservative fiscal philosophy. Outstanding scouting and coaching in conjunction with this philosophy and a franchise quarterback go a long way toward building a winner in today's NFL.