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Bill Polian: 'Moneyball does not work in the NFL'

By Tim Graham

Russ Brandon announced Tuesday the Buffalo Bills will create "a very robust football analytics operation."

The practice of using advanced statistics to evaluate personnel is known commonly as "Moneyball," after the best-selling book and popular motion picture about Oakland A's innovator Billy Beane.

Moneyball principles have grown in popularity in all sports, not just baseball.

Yet there's one successful NFL executive who dismisses analytics out of hand.

"As a practical tool, Moneyball does not work in the NFL," Bill Polian told Buffalo Business First contributing editor Tim O'Shei, "because there are very few undervalued players and no middle class because of our salary cap."

Polian assembled the Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls and finally won a title as president of the Indianapolis Colts. He spent the past year as an ESPN commentator but could be on the verge of returning to the NFL.

Polian called the NFL's salary cap "the great leveler ... It's designed to rob the rich."

"There is no middle class in football because the minimum salaries are so high," Polian said, "and because of the salary cap, a player will reach a point where you can’t keep him. They go. They're going to get big money elsewhere.

"Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw's genius is that they designed a system that has led to all the prosperity we have now. Truly, on any given Sunday and in any given year, anybody can win.

"Now, you can't win for long, which is why nobody will ever go to four straight Super Bowls again. The system is designed to take good teams and rob them of players. That’s the way it is."

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |