The Building Process for a Champion


The Building Process for a Champion


So how long does it take to build a team to make a playoff and Super Bowl run? 

The first question is what constitutes the beginning of the building process?  This is kind of difficult to answer because there are 53 players and 22 starters (offense and defense) on a roster.  So many positions change from year to year it is hard to say which players started the rebuilding.  Many would say the Quarterback, but that is not always the case.  If you add the quarterback early it means that your team could be ready earlier due to a developed QB, but not always.  Sometimes the quarterback is the last piece like with the Steelers.  Really by definition the rebuilding process starts when the last building process ended.  Usually you can point to a few key players, veterans, that were dumped, and the coaching staff usually was a part of the end of the cycle as well.  Though some teams never give themselves a chance to rebuild and start over.  Those teams never officially rebuild their team and as a result they kind of limp on getting older and older with little new blood in the talent pool.  Shanahan’s Broncos who really never rebuilt their team from the 1998 Super Bowl Season, are one of the best examples of this.  The win now mentality works when you have John Elway, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning on your team.  However, when you have Jake Plummer surrounded by aging veterans it doesn’t always pan out.  Free Agency is more expensive and risky than the draft.  The first rounders are always risky, but after that you get a lot more bang for your buck.

There are three phases to building a championship team and you start over.

  1. The Rebuilding Phase – Four years
  2. The addition Phase – One to Four years
  3. The Championship Run – Four to Six years
  4. Start over

Details after the Break..


In looking at the recent Super Bowl teams to it is official; they don’t grow over night.  Usually there are coaches that start the rebuilding process like a starting pitcher, and then the reliever comes in and finishes it off.  Sometime you can keep a great player like John Elway through more than one rebuilding process. I think he went through 10.


The Free Agency Model

The Broncos had become increasingly older at many positions following 1998.  Shanahan kept saying we are only one or two players away.  Really you generally have to be awful for a year, or two, in order to add high enough draft picks to build a core that can play for the next five years together.  Playing together has a lot to do with winning as well.  Free Agents that pan out have a tendency to be add-ons not the core of the building process.  Brett Favre to Minnesota and Kurt Warner to Arizona are prime examples of teams that were in the rebuilding process and brought in a veteran to take them over the top.  What happens when you use the rebuilding with free agency as the primary model is that you have players that generally are past their prime and very expensive.  This leads to a short window of winning.  This is the inst-a-team.  Look at the last couple of teams to win the Super Bowl; Colts, Patriots, Steelers, and Saints.  Each of those teams had to go through a building process before they became the dominant force.  Really they only added the free agents as a part of the process, not the primary process.  They built their teams through painfully bad years, across multiple coaches, and the draft.   Shanahan is trying to build a team in Washington right now using this same model.  We’ll see if it works.


The Draft Model

While none of the teams that have won a Super Bowl in the last decade have had zero free agents the majority of the roster was built through the draft.  The Colts only had 3 Defensive Tackles who were free agents on their 22 man starting championship roster in 2006.  The rest of the starters were drafted.  The same number of free agents were on the Championship Steelers: three.  The Patriots had eight free agents the first year, but the 2004 championship team only had four free agent starters.  This is why the direction of the Broncos is looking more promising.  With McDaniels there is a building through the draft.

The Examples

Taking a look at the top teams of the decade with the most wins are the Colts, Patriots, and Steelers.

The Colts

The Colts have been built for a long time.  The rebuilding began in 1998 when the team was so bad they had the first pick of the draft and took everyone’s favorite TV cell phone spokesperson with a laser rocket arm.  Though that process made them a playoff team the next phase made them a Super Bowl Contender.  Team owners grow impatient, and after around four years a coach often has built a team ready for the next coach to lead them to victory.


2006 Championship Team Roster


QB – Peyton Manning 98’ draft

RB – Joeseph Addai 06’ draft

RB – Dominic Rhodes 01’ draft

WR – Marvin Harrison 96’ draft

WR – Reggie Wayne 01’ draft

TE – Dallas Clark 03’ draft

LT --Tarik Glenn 97’ draft

LG -- Dylan Gandy 05’ draft

C -- Jeff Saturday 97’ draft

RG -- Jake Scott 04’ draft

RT -- Ryan Diem 01’ draft


LDE Robert Mathis 03’ draft

LDT Anthony McFarland 06’ FA

LDT Montae Reagor 03’ FA

RDT Raheem Brock 02’ FA

RDE Dwight Freeney 02’ draft

LLB Gilbert Gardenr 04’ draft

LLB Rob Morris 00’ draft

OLB Gary Brackett 03’ draft

OLB Cato June 03’ draft

LCB Nick Harper 01’ draft

RCB Jason David 04’ draft

SS Antoine Bethea 06’ draft

FS Marlin Jackson 05’ draft



First Starter Drafted 1996 – WR Marvin Harrison

Last Starter Drafted 2006 – RB Joeseph Addai, SS Antoine Bethea


Offense -- 96 (1) 97 (2) 98 (1) 99 (0) 00 (0) 01 (3) 02 (0) 03 (1) 04 (1) 05 (1) 06 (1)

Defense -- 96 (0) 97 (0) 98 (0) 99 (0) 00 (1) 01 (1) 02 (2) 03 (4) 04 (2) 05 (1) 06 (1)


Building Phases Highlight


Carry Over from previous building process

1996 – Drafted Marvin Harrison

1997 – (3-13) Drafted: OT Tarik Gleen, C Jeff Satruday; Dump: QB Jim Harbaugh, Coach Lindy Infante


Rebuilding Core

1998 – (4-12) Drafted, Peyton Manning Hired Jim Mora

1999 – (10-6) Drafted: Edgerrin James

2000 – (10-6) Drafted: Rob Morris LB

2001 – (6-10) Drafted: Reggie Wayne Dump Jim Mora


Championship Run Phase I

2002 – (9-7)  Drafted: DE Dwight Freeney, Hired Tony Dungy

2003 – (11-5) Drafted: TE Dallas Clark, DE Robert Mathis

2004 – (12-4) Drafted: S Bob Sanders

2005 – Drafted Marlin Jackson

Championship Run Phase II

2006 – SBW

2007 --

2008 --

2009 --



You could argue that it took the 10 years to build starting with WR Marvin Harrison.  The rebuilding process however started after that with the hiring of Jim Mora and the drafting of Peyton Manning.  There are two clear phases in the building of the championship team, however, the foundation of the offense was built between 96 and 03.  Once that was in place the majority of the defense was built from 00 to 04.  The early phase team had a dominant offense that Bronco fans remember well, but the team was not complete until the defense was in place.  Really it took four years from when Manning was drafted to become the team that was ready to compete for deep playoff runs.  That team kept going for the next six years that included two Super Bowl appearances.  Prior to the 2002 season the Colts were on off from 1998 to 2001.  So there were almost two teams.  The team that had Edgerrin James and was all offense and the team that finally won a championship and got back to the Super Bowl a second time.  The one constant of course is Manning.  If the Colts lost Manning to free agency prior to 2006 they would have likely been blown up and had to start over.



The Patriots

This building process was a bit different than other dynasties.  They started with linebackers.  They picked up six starters in their first championship.  Then they rebuilt into a better and more dominating team over the next three years.



2001 Championship Team                                          


QB -- Tom Brady 00’ draft

RB – Antowain Smith 01’ FA

RB – Marc Edwards 01’ FA

WR – Troy Brown 03’ draft

WR – David Patten 01’ FA

TE – Rod Rutledge 98’ draft

LT – Matt Light 01’ draft

LG – Mike Compton 01’ FA

C – Damien Woody 99’ draft

RG -- Joe Andruzzi 00’ FA

RT – Greg Randall 01’ draft


LDE Bobby Hamilton 00’ FA

NT Brandon Mitchell 97’ draft

NT Anthony Pleasant 01’ FA

RDE Richard Seymore 01’ draft

LOLB Willie McGinnest 94’ draft

LILB Ted Johnson 95’ draft

RILB Teddy Bruschi 96’ draft

ROLB Mike Vrabel 97’ draft

LCB Ty Law 95’ draft

RCB Ottis Smith 00’ FA

SS Lawyer Milloy 96’ draft

FS Tebucky Jones 99’ draft



Offense –  94(0) 95 (0) 96 (0) 97 (0) 98(1) 99(1) 00(2) 01(6)  

Defense -- 94(1) 95 (2) 96 (2) 97(2) 98(0) 99(1) 00(2) 01(1)


2004 Championship Team


QB – Tom Brady 00’ draft

RB – Corey Dillon 04’ FA

WR – Deion Branch 02’ draft

WR – David Givens 02’ draft

WR – David Patten 01’ FA

TE – Daniel Graham 02’ draft

LT – Matt Light 01’ draft

LG – Steve Neal 02’ draft

C – Dan Koppen 03’ draft

RG -- Joe Andruzzi 00’ FA

RT – Tom Ashworth 02’ draft


LDE Ty Warren 03’ draft

NT Vince Wolfork 04’ draft

LOLB Richard Seymore 01’ draft

LOLB Willie McGinnest 94’ draft

LiLB Ted Johnson 95’ draft

RILB Teddy Bruschi 96’ draft

ROLB Mike Vrabel 97’ draft

LCB Ty Law 95’ draft

RCB Asante Samuel 03’ Draft

SS Rodney Harrison 03’ FA

FS Eugene Wilson 03’ draft




Offense –  94(0) 95 (0) 96 (0) 97 (0) 98 (0) 99 (0) 00 (1) 01 (2) 02 (5) 03 (1) 04 (1)

Defense -- 94(1) 95 (2) 96 (1) 97 (1) 98 (0) 99 (0) 00 (0) 01 (1) 02 (0) 03 (4) 04 (2)


First Starter Drafted 1994 – OLB Willie McGinnest

Last Starter Drafted 2004 – NT Vince Wilfork


Bill Parcels Era / Building Phase

1994 – (10-6) Drafted OLB Willie McGinnest

1995 – (6-10) Drafted CB Ty Law, ILB Ted Johnson

1996 – (11-5) SBL Drafted Drafted ILB Teddy Brushci, SS Lawyer Milloy


Pete Caroll Era

1997 (10-6) Drafted OLB Mike Vrabel

1998 (9-7) No significant additions

1999 (8-8) Drafted Kevin Faulk


Adding Phase and Super Bowl Runs

2000 – (5-11) Hired Belichick, Drafted QB Tom Brady

2001 – (11-5) SBW Drafted DE Richard Seymore, LT Todd Light

2002 – (9-7) Drafted TE Daniel Graham, WR Dieon Branch, DE Jarvis Green

2003 – (14-2) SBW Drafted CB Asante Samuel, Signed FS Rodney Harrison

2004 – (14-2) SBW Drafted Vince Wilfork TE Ben Watson, Signed Corry Dillon

2005 – (16-6) No significant additions

2006 – (12-4) Signed Junior Seau

2007 – (16-0) SBL Signed WR Randy Moss, WR Wes Welker, WR Donte Stallworth, LB Adalius Thomas


With all of the praise that Tom Brady receives it is the linebacking core and the defense that is the constant of the Super Bowl teams for the patriots.  A good portion of that team was really built by Bill Parcels during his Super Bowl run with the Pats.  The entire linbacking corps except for Vrabel was put into place by Parcels.  When Belichick took over in 2000 he was lucky enough to draft Tom Brady who would replace Drew Bledsoe the next year and make their Super Bowl run.  Really Belichick built the Patriots while he won his first Super Bowl and he did on the back of linebackers that other people drafted.  The defensive line and the offensive weapons for Brady for the next three Super Bowl runs were brought in by the Belichick era, but first Super Bowl team was actually built by Parcells and Brady was the final piece.



The Steelers

The Steelers never really started over with a coach.  Cower really built a team that went to a super bowl and then built another team that went back and won it.  Really the rebuilding of the eventual championship team started in 1998 with Hines Ward, Alan Faneca, and Deshea Townsend.  He wouldn’t have his quarterback until the year before he won it.  The thing about the Steelers is that under Cower they always seemed to be a contender every other year.



2005 Champions

QB – Ben Roethlisberger 04’ draft

RB – Willie Parker 04’ draft

RB – Jerome Bettis 96’ FA

WR – Antwaan Randle El 02’draft

WR – Hines Ward 98’ draft

TE – Heath Miller 05’ draft

LT – Marvel Smith 00’ draft

LG – Alan Faneca 98’ draft

C – Jeff Hartings 03’ draft

RG – Kendall Simmons 02’ draft

RT – Max Starks 04’ draft


LDE Aaron Smith 99’ draft

NT Casey Hampton 01’ draft

RDE Kimo von Oelhoffen 00’ FA

LOLB Clark Haggans 00’ draft

LiLB James Farrior 02’ FA

RILB Larry Foot 02’ draft

ROLB Joey Porter 99’ draft

LCB Ike Taylor 03’ draft

RCB Deshea Townsend 98’ draft

SS Troy Polamalu 03’ draft

FS Chris Hope 02’ draft



Offense –  96(1) 97(0) 98(2) 99(0) 00(1) 01(0) 02(2) 03(1) 04(3) 05(1)

Defense -- 96(0) 97(0) 98(1) 99(2) 00(2) 01(1) 02(3) 03(4) 04(0) 05(0)




So where are the Broncos?


Denver was in a very different position in 2009 before it decided to fire Mike Shanahan.  For the first time in Shanahan’s career he was able to build a young offensive core.  That process that takes about four drafts was coming to fruition.  Starting in 2006 and drafting Cutler, Sheffler, Marshall, Dumervile, and Kuper.  The next pieces were Ryan Harris in 2007 and a talent 2008 class with Clady, Royal, and Hillis.  Denver really needed to get better talent on Defense from the 2009 class, but a very potent offense was in place.  Who knows what Shanahan could have done in the next four years?  With Shanahan being fired that process started almost completely over we will never know.


Currently the Broncos are halfway in the rebuilding portion of the building process.  With the new regime drafting several new starters with veterans to be stopgaps Denver is looking at another two years before becoming a real threat to dominate the AFC West, and compete for a championship.  They are building similar to the Colts when Manning came in.  There are a few holdovers from the previous regime such as the two tackles (Clady and Harris), Bailey, and DJ Williams, but that is about it.  I don’t know if Champ will even be around when Denver becomes that good again.  You could say that Eddie Royal is a holdover, but he doesn’t seem to be a guy that McDaniels will get production out of and could be gone as early as 2011.


Denver has reloaded several positions with two drafts for a good core to develop.


Offense QB, WR, RB, G, C,

Defense FS, SS, CB


In the next two years Denver will likely address the front seven of the defense with a few skill positions. At that point if Denver drafts a NT, DE, MLB, and OLB, every position will have been changed other than offensive tackle. If that isn’t a rebuilding I don’t know what is.  Once the newly drafted players have some experience the Broncos will be a force in the AFC for years to come.  Will McDaniels be around to see the fruits of his rebuilding, or will the hand picked team be handed over to another coach who will go on to win?  Is McDaniels playing the same role in the building process with Tim Tebow as Jim Mora when he drafted Peyton Manning? It’s tough to say.  The process looks to be four years to draft the core, and then four years to compete for the playoffs while adding the final pieces.  Sometimes there is a lull in between because of a coach who doesn’t know what they are doing like Pete Carroll comes in for a coach who started the process.  So by this estimation Denver should be in the playoffs regularly around 2012, and competing for a championship around 2016.  Of course Bowlen could decide to make a change and start all over.  I really hope he reads this.






This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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