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NFL Teams Spend WTF on Scouting?

$10 million? $20 million? $30 million? Yeah, I used to think that, too.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings scout in the picture is actually only 29 years old. The daily grind of NFL scouts makes the training of ancient Spartans seem like a Mommy and Me class. As children, while their classmates are busy playing grab ass and farting around with the ABC's, scouts are breaking down hip fluidity in the film room and sleeping in hyperbaric chambers to prepare themselves for 23 1/2 hour work days when they become of age.

With the NFL salary cap at $155 million for players, you'd think an investment of 10% would be reasonable to go towards scouting, making it $15.5 million. A plethora of product-based corporations in the Forbes 500 spends anywhere from 15%-25% on Research and Development (R&D). If NFL teams followed this structure with their products (the players), they'd be spending anywhere from $23.25 million (low end) to $38.75 million (high end). Would it surprise you if I told you NFL teams routinely spend no more than $3 million dollars a year on scouting? Olivier Vernon will make more money in 3 games next year for the New York Giants than the team will spend during the entire year on the scouting department. I think it's very likely that Chris Grier AND Mike Tannenbaum each earn roughly the same amount of money as the Dolphins will spend on the entire scouting department for a year. I just find that…weird.

For me, the question became, "What's with the Ramen noodles approach, when it would seem any delicacy could be afforded?" It seems counterintuitive to me for organizations to put such lofty expectations on the success of draft classes from year-to-year and invest so little in the procurement and evaluation department, specifically in the gathering and processing of information. This former scout has a very persuasive and insightful article on the inner workings of the scouting system and the bureaucratic/organizational issues that can sometimes arise, as well as some potential solutions to the chinks in the armor. I'm not saying that there needs to be more cooks in the kitchen when it comes to making decisions, but surely there are ways to improve the scouting system for NFL teams to squeeze every last drop out of the scouting and drafting process in gathering and processing information.

The flip side of this is that NFL teams would understandably be tight-lipped about their "outside the box" mechanisms in the scouting realm. In a copycat league, it's important to keep certain aspects of business as private as possible. In specific scouting terms, analytics is the most modern and most-known-about of such enterprises, but there's very little known about NFL teams' strategies of supplementing traditional drafting tactics - and analytics is not scouting-specific, it is applied to a wide array of decision-making. I've heard rumblings of virtual reality being used as training devices, but everything I've seen has applied to players already in the league. I'm more interested in the ways to sift through the gems and the busts before a player starts playing on Sundays.

I'll admit that I'm also mildly concerned about "group think", which is more prevalent than ever with the proliferation and popularity of the draft, replacing the work of scouts. I wonder just how much "group think" influences individual decision makers during the draft - they'd never admit it publicly, but I think it'd be dismissive to say that the desire to conform isn't there on some level, as image-conscious as NFL teams are these days.

All I know is $3 million on scouting still seems cheap to me, especially considering money spent on scouting is not tied to the salary cap. It's also possible that additional scouting expenditures actually save the organization money. What if spending an additional $3 million a year could save you $6 million dollars in busted players who cost the team money and opportunity? The more I read on former scouts, the more I read about the wealth of information out there, and the lack of manpower and resources to reach it all. A little more spending could go a long way, whether it be private investigators, former coaches to gather information, an IT firm, better real-time collaboration software, more scouts, better technology, what-have-you. I find it unnecessarily frugal for NFL teams to spend 2% of its "revenue" on R&D (and that's a generous underestimation because this figure is based on the player salary cap when in actuality NFL teams have much more money than just the money allotted to the salary cap.)

Hey NFL, maybe your drink wouldn't be so weak if you'd tip the bartender better. As much as I think luck has a lot to do with drafting a bust in the NFL, I also can't rule out the possibility of NFL teams being cheap and it coming back to bite them on occasion.

Am I overlooking something here or are you confused by this, too? Help a brother out!