The make-up of Super Bowl teams can look vastly different from year to year. Sometimes it’s a Hall of Fame bound quarterback carrying the team, sometimes it’s an out-of-this-world defensive effort, and sometimes its great coaching. Sometimes it’s a combination of all three of those at the right time.
We’re less than a week removed from the Eagles Super Bowl win and analysts are all trying to pin-point the specific thing that made Philadelphia successful, and advocate for others to adopt it. This happens every year after the Super Bowl; 31 other teams and their fans ask, “what do they have that my team doesn’t, and how quickly can I get it?”
We could spend hours analyzing the differences between each team and what made them uniquely poised to compete and emerge victorious on the NFL’s grandest stage. However, despite the differences, Super Bowl participants in the modern NFL share one common trait, without exception.
While this is specifically focused on Super Bowl teams, truly, any team in the NFL that makes a significant playoff run has this factor present.
What is it?
I wrote about this in relation to Denver back in 2016 and climb back onto my soap box once every few months. So here we go.
With Denver potentially looking to commit a large percentage of their cap to a quarterback, and the Super Bowl still fresh on our minds, now seems like an especially relevant time to re-visit the conversation.
In today’s NFL, under the current CBA, where rookie deals are affordable for 4-5 years, teams that maximize value out of their roster, getting players to outplay their contracts, are the ones you’ll see in January.
Looking at the past seven super bowl winners proves this out as each Super Bowl winning team received significant contributions from players who produced well above their price tag.
2012: Joe Flacco led Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl at a massive discount at $8 million, being in the final year of his deal (which he parlayed into an expensive new contract the next year). His #1 receiver that year, Torrey Smith, was on a rookie contract that payed him $770k.
2013: Seattle got discount quarterback play, with Russell Wilson on his rookie deal. But it wasn’t just cheap quarterback production that propelled Seattle. Cornerback, Richard Sherman, who recorded eight interceptions that year, earned First Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, played for $600k.
Seattle’s 3 biggest stars, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson had a combined cap hit of $4 million.
2014: New England Patriots Super Bowl star, Malcolm Butler made $420k the year they won, and Brady’s two favorite weapons (Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski) combined for a cap hit of a little over $8 million, which equaled less than half of the highest paid receiver’s (Mike Wallace) salary that year.
2015: The Denver Broncos had a high priced receiver in Demaryius Thomas, and a top paid quarterback in Peyton Manning, but enjoyed a historic defense mostly on cheap contracts. Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson gave top 15 production at their position for a combined cap hit of less than $3 million. Malik’s $1.5 million cap hit was about 10% of what he would eventually make with Jacksonville.
Brandon Marshall, on a RFA tender, and Danny Trevathan combined for a $2 million cap hit. Von Miller was inexpensive due to a 5th year option, and Bradley Roby was still on a rookie deal.
It wasn’t just rookie deals, though. Emmanuel Sanders made just under $6 million while still on the bargain deal he signed in free agency, and Darian Stewart had a cap hit of $1.75 million.
It's absolutely insane the value Denver got out of their defense the year they won the Super Bowl. pic.twitter.com/NPuagBpt2s— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) February 9, 2018
2016: New England was at it again in 2016 with Tom Brady’s 18th ranked quarterback salary of $13.7 million. Malcolm Butler made $600k. Julian Edelman made peanuts for a top receiver at $4.4 million, and Super Bowl hero, James White, had a $700k cap hit.
2017: This year with the Eagles, look no further than Carson Wentz, who was considered an MVP candidate before going down with injury. Wentz’ cap hit of $6 million, from his rookie deal, was 28th in the league last year. Nick Foles stepping up was even more value as he carried a $1.6 million cap hit.
That alone is enough value, but they also had guys like Brandon Graham who produced as one of the top pass rushers in the league for the 22nd ranked cap hit at the position. Additionally, the combined cap hit of their running back rotation (LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, and Corey Clement) totaled less than $2 million in cap hit.
So what does this all mean for Denver? As I said a few days ago, this doesn’t preclude them from paying a large salary to a quarterback. What it does highlight is the fact that they must get unpaid production from the roster somehow, regardless of what route they go at quarterback.
This upcoming draft would be a great place to start.