Tip of the cap to Field Gulls for posting a story on this earlier. The friendly folks of Football Outsiders have put together an interesting table detailing 2008 salary cap efficiency around the NFL. As they describe it, they're comparing a club's 2008 accounting to their success on the field. it's something you often see in all sports (e.g. wins per dollar and that sort of thing). The upside to the NFL is everybody is starting from the same slate of dollars for the most part.
The formula they use in rating teams consists of 50 percent wins, 25 percent team salary, and 25 percent cap space rolled over. They look at cap space rolled over because if a team just lets unused space sit there, they lose it. Although it didn't involve rolling over, the cap is of note to the 49ers lately because of the Joe Staley contract extension. The 49ers inked him to a deal that bumps his 2009 cap figure up to $11.6 million, even though he won't make even close to that amount this year. Rather, the team is taking the hit early. Even if guys like Florio are gonna go on and on about how Staley will eventually be unhappy, for now things are fine.
Anyways, looking back at last year,the 49ers 2009 salary was just over $104 million. With 7 wins, that comes out to $14.91 million per win. They rolled $14.89 million in 2008 cap space over to 2009, which was third most in the league. This has given them a 2009 adjusted cap of $142,888,353. and a 2008 efficiency rating of 6.45, good for 13th in the league. Their adjusted cap for 2009 was third highest in the league behind Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.
As the FO folks point out, having all that money obviously doesn't guarantee success. If you spend it like a drunken fool, or are just plain unlucky, it won't matter how much space you've got. They do specifically mention the 49ers:
Like the Bucs and the Giants, the Niners have positioned themselves well by rolling over in excess of $10 million; the Niners are now just hoping the product on the field becomes a winner under Head Coach Mike Singletary. However, if that isn't the case, the Niners will not (assuming there is a cap in 2010) be handicapped by the cap and will have enough of a war chest to acquire some pieces to potentially make them a winner.
The key to that last sentence is "potential," because as mentioned earlier, efficient and prudent salary cap management does not ensure a winning product, if your talent evaluation and selection is poor. However, salary cap conservation does go a long way towards sustainable winning. A team can buy a one-year run to the Super Bowl, but the examples of the Eagles and Patriots show you that sustained excellence in the salary cap era comes from outstanding salary cap planning and execution, coupled with solid talent evaluation and little bit of luck.
On the one hand, you can say the 49ers should maybe take a few more risks, given the money out there. On the other hand, they seem to have formulated some kind of strategy this offseason and stuck with it. Sign some veterans, but nothing too crazy, and then use the big space to start locking up your young players. Given the space sitting there (and I could certainly be wrong), I'd imagine there is at least one more contract extension coming this summer.