Patriots were 8th in total payroll

ESPN.com NFL Senior Writer John Clayton delivers his weekly mailbag on Monday, and he leads things off with a point that we're particularly passionate about when it comes to teams signing players to contracts: Big spending doesn't always produce big results.

As Clayton notes, the top seven NFL teams in terms of total payroll in 2012 all missed the playoffs.

"Spending might work in baseball, but it doesn't guarantee anything in football because of the salary cap," Clayton writes. "Going crazy in free agency ... doesn't translate into success."

This highlights the point that spending alone isn't the key. It's spending with a smart approach.

I reached out to Clayton to see where the Patriots ranked in total payroll for 2012, and it turns out they were eighth overall, at $138.3 million. So the Patriots spent the most, in terms of total payroll, of any playoff club this past season.

Furthermore, one aspect of the numbers jumped off the page: The Patriots were one of the NFL leaders in "dead" money, which is the fraction of their total payroll devoted to players who weren't part of the roster as projected (e.g. defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene; tight end Visanthe Shiancoe). The Patriots had $7.3 million in "dead money", according to Clayton's tabulations.

As we approach the start of free agency March 9, this will be something to keep in mind.

Former Patriots Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli once said something along the lines of, "Any team can win a Super Bowl in March, but the key is building a team to win it in late January and early February."

Thanks to Clayton for providing the financial numbers to reinforce that point.