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Is Mike Brown a Spend Thrift?

Since following into his father's footsteps, Mike Brown has developed a reputation as being a spend thrift.  We fans have accused him of being Ebenezer Scrooge.  Not willing to part with the pretty penny to bring high profile free agents, favoring profit over winning.  Even to this day, our attitude toward this has barely waned despite some changes over the past decade that may show the opening of his checkbook.  This reputation is so steeped in history that the Bengals are often used by high profile free agents to posture for a higher paycheck from another team

All through the 90's Brown appeared not concerned about winning but turning a profit.  His tight fisted mentality helped turn a proud franchise into a laughing stock of the NFL, if not professional sports as a whole.  The only team able to supplant the Bengals as being the "'worst" was the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA during the same time period.  Being labeled "worst" didn't seem to faze Brown as he refused to acknowledge the lack of spending was the cause of the team's problem.  Each year he would stand in front of the media preaching how the team was just one or two players from being a winner.

There is a theory by many that a large payroll brings championships.  Spending money on countless high priced free agents will secure a winning season that will culminate in a championship.  But does this philosophy translate to the NFL?  And has Brown's spending habits changed in order to bring that elusive championship to our beloved team?

The information presented below is from the USA Today Salaries database which begins with the 2000 season.

Since Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003, there is a belief that he influenced Mike Brown's spending habits to become more of a player in free agency.  Since Lewis's arrival, the team has performed well on the field this past decade then during the 90's, considered the worst in franchise history.  Is it because of a different approach in spending?  At times this decade, the teams' salary was in territory that big market teams find themselves.  Below is a breakdown of the spending habits of Brown over the past decade.


Total Team Salary



54.1 Mil



81.9 Mil



57.8 Mil



85.4 Mil



68.8 Mil



74.8 Mil



113.0 Mil



98.5 Mil



109.7 Mil



93.8 Mil


The total teams' salary appeared near the top three times, but did not produce anything better than an 8-8 record for 2003 and 2006.  In 2001, despite having the league's fourth largest salary, they finished a dismal 4-12.  After the disappointing seasons, the team dramatically reduced total team salary.  In the team's two post season appearances this decade, the Bengals' total salary never cracked the top 20.  After a playoff season in 2005, the Bengals increased the total team salary.

Since 2000, only one Super Bowl winner had top salary in the league which was the Indianapolis Colts in 2006.  In stark contrast, the 2007 New York Giants team salary was the league's lowest for that season.  Of all Super Bowl winners this past decade, five teams had salaries in the top ten.  Three teams had salaries that did not get into the top 20, and two of those teams were the New England Patriots in 2001 and 2004.  The New Orleans Saints, this past season's Super Bowl champion, had a team salary that was fourth.

So what would an increase in the teams total salary show?  For one, it would dispel the rap of being cheap and it shows a willingness to win.  It is not a guarantee for a championship as some may think.  It might give them a chance at being successful and bring excitement to us fans about those prospects, but there are many variables that occur during the season that have an impact on that season's success.

The Bengals have shown at times they are willing to open their checkbook.  With this being a non-salary cap season, Brown and company may not be as willing.  It could be that the skill level of unrestricted free agents is considered low in comparison to past seasons, or it may be a feeling that free spending may not lead to success.  Should we demand and expect the Bengals spend more to bring us a winner? Or do we accept the idea that spending less may bring the success we desire?  With the current level of Bengals activity, I would expect spending less would be the order of the day with the belief it will bring success.