Visualizing Chicago Bears player and salary cap changes from 2013 to 2014

NFL Chicago Bears salary cap comparison for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

NFL Chicago Bears salary cap comparison for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Area is proportional to salary.

My other favorite NFL team is the local Chicago Bears.  There have been some big changes this year for the Bears, as the visualization here shows.  Player are represented by individual rectangles, with the area of each rectangle being proportional to the player’s salary for that year.  The players are grouped into player positions and colored similarly.  Then the positions are grouped into Defense, Offense and Special Teams which are shown as three stacks of position groups from left to right.  Dead money from departed players and injured reserve are shown towards the right side of each row, along with open salary cap space.  Finally, all of the above are collected in to two major rows for the 2013 (top) and 2014 (bottom) season.  Click on the image to see a full size version of the image with greater detail.

A few things jump out from looking at this visual.

  1. Julius Peppers was collecting a huge portion of the overall defensive spending in 2013.  Visually it appears to be around 20%.
  2. The dead money component (X-DEAD) jumped significantly in 2014.  This is due almost entirely to the $8,000,000 cap hit created with the departure of Peppers.
  3. 2014 signings of Lamar Houston and Jared Allen amount to less than what Peppers was making in 2013.  I think this could be a good tradeoff for the Bears as Peppers was a good but not dominating contributor last season.  The distribution of spending between DL, LB and DB is much more even in 2014.
  4. The Bears are spending much more on offense than defense this year.  In 2013 the spending between the two categories was more equal.  In 2013 the Bears offense was ranked much higher than their defense.  It will be interesting to see if the rankings diverge or converge with the new spending pattern this season.
  5. Spending on defense is down and spending on offense is up in 2014 for the Bears.


Overall impressions: the Chicago Tribune had an article in the Opening Week Sunday edition pointing out that three recent Superbowl champs made it there with an offense ranked 8th or higher and a defense ranked 21st or lower.  The Bears certainly look capable of repeating that formula this year.  Last year that only got them an 8-8 record though, so it is obviously no guarantee of success.  I am a bit concerned about the age of the players and potential weakness at LB and Safety, but if they can hold together with the upgraded defensive line then there is a good chance the overall defense could improve this year.  I haven’t done a schedule analysis yet, but the information here is telling me that 10-6 is a good possibility this year.

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    Why the Dallas Cowboys may be in trouble this year

    NFL Dallas Cowboys salary cap comparison for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

    NFL Dallas Cowboys salary cap comparison for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Area represents salary.

    Football season is finally here, and with it begins my annual hope and frustration with the Dallas Cowboys.  The Cowboys had a great run back in the 90′s, but the last time they won a playoff game was in 2009 vs the Eagles and it’s been close to 20 years since they went any deeper into the playoffs.  Which is not to say that it has not been entertaining following them over the recent years.  There have been many thrilling comebacks and heartbreaking last minute losses.  This year there have been some big changes in the defense, and the salary cap has played a larger role than in years past.  

    I created this visualization to provide a graphical overview of the differences.  You can click on the image to see the full size version.  The area of each player’s box is proportional to their salary.  Similarly, the players are grouped into positions, and then into Offense/Defense/Special Teams.  A few things jump out right away:

    1. Overall spending on defense (as defined by the left column in each year) is way down in 2014.  This is mainly due to the departure of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher from the lineup, and overall spending on the defensive line is down significantly this year, spread over a larger number of lesser known players.  Only time will tell if the new line is able to be effective, but it does seem that the Cowboys were not getting the production that they were previously accustomed to from Ware last year.
    2. Star linebacker Sean Lee does not show up on the Defense in the 2014 season, because he has been moved to the Injured Reserve category (X-IR).  This, combined with dead money space (X-DEAD) from the departure of Ware and Hatcher has created a huge dead money space for the Cowboys this year.  This is money that cannot be used to play active players and that counts against the salary cap.
    3. The 2014 offense looks very similar to the 2013 offense, as seen in the next column to the right of the defense column.  Miles Austin left for Cleveland so spending on receivers is down a bit, and spending on Tight Ends and Offensive Line is up a bit.
    4. The Cowboys still have a bit of free cap space to catch a player during the season.  Like Michael Sam who they seem to be in the process of signing.

    There’s my quick visual analysis of the changes for the Cowboys this season.  My prediction for them this year: it could be a thrilling offense to watch, but unless some of the unproven defensive linemen can step up in a big way the could be in big trouble trying to stop opponents.  As a lifelong Cowboys fan I would like to think they are a 11-5 division champion, but as a betting man I can’t give them much better than a 9-7 record with a possible wildcard spot. 

    [UPDATE: replaced visual with a better one having a horizontal layout and better color map]

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      The Bar Chart Clock

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        IBM Whitepaper: Using Visualization to Understand Big Data

        Using Visualization to Understand Big DataI recently wrote a whitepaper for IBM on ways in which visualization can be used to effectively understand big data.  Obviously, that’s a “big” topic.  For this whitepaper I focused more on the complexity of big data than on the sheer scale, and on the ways in which visualization can be used to capture complex facets of the data in a “Customer 360″ scenario where an organization may be looking to get a more complete picture of various aspects of their customers including time, social networks, key social influencers and customer relations.  It starts out with a simple stacked bar chart, and builds from there to increasingly complex visualization examples.  The whitepaper is available @

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          Interacting Inside the Visualization Box

          Hierarchical view of spending by city, state and region.

          Hierarchical view of spending by city, state and region.

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