The dynamics of a successful NFL team appear to be changing amid the success of franchises that have been aggressive in the off-season. In the past, teams would build through the NFL Draft to gradually acquire the talent needed to assemble a well-rounded team. Big free agent signings were often a signal of intent, but were usually saved for teams looking to appease their fanbase after a poor season.
Building a team through free agency was never a recipe for success. In the 2000s, teams would attempt to acquire their quarterback with a high pick in the NFL Draft and hope to put a solid team around him. Either they landed the top-tier talent through the draft and succeeded, or struggled and repeated the cycle again, hoping for better results next time. However, there has been a change in philosophy in recent seasons as clubs around the NFL have become aggressive in their approach to the off-season using both their financial and draft capital.
There appears to be a split in the NFL between teams that are prepared to go hard and fast in one off-season and those that still prefer the slow build in the hope of competing season after season. We’ll now look at recent examples of where teams have succeeded and failed with different ideas at the top.
Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams triumphed in the 2021 season to win the Super Bowl after trading multiple first-round picks to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford anchored their run to the crown and was named Super Bowl MVP for orchestrating a fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals. The Rams’ gamble paid off, securing their first Vince Lombardi Trophy for 22 years.
Los Angeles failed to capitalize on their success in the 2022 season as a host of injuries, including one to Stafford, resulted in a meek defense of their crown. Sean McVay and his team are now faced with the consequences of a rebuild. McVay had to have a long think about his future on the touchline, but eventually recommitted for the 2023 season.
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It might be a while before the Rams can compete once again for the crown, even with Stafford in place. That is the challenge for all teams that are willing to push their chips into the middle of the table and go all-in.
Los Angeles were rewarded with their Super Bowl, but the victory was fleeting and, unlike other teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs and, in the past, the New England Patriots, there is no lasting Super Bowl window. Given the amount of draft capital that the Rams have spent on Stafford, along with Jalen Ramsey and others, it might be a period of time before Los Angeles return to the title game.
The Eagles have channeled some of the Rams’ aggression into a charge towards the Super Bowl. Philadelphia reached Super Bowl LVII and are the leading contenders in the betting odds to win the crown ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Nick Sirianni has performed extremely well in his role since replacing Doug Pederson, who himself guided the Eagles to victory in Super Bowl LII. The franchise have blended the two approaches, using aggression to land key parts of their offense and defense, while also relying on the NFL Draft to stock up core parts of the team.
The Eagles made one of the most notable moves of the 2022 off-season by acquiring AJ Brown in a trade deal with the Tennessee Titans. Brown was one of the standout wide receivers during his time in Tennessee, and has certainly delivered on his potential after being handed a lucrative contract. The move to acquire Brown paired him with Devonta Smith, who was extremely encouraging in his rookie season.
Between Smith and Brown, they provided the perfect complement for Jalen Hurts. Philadelphia drafted Hurts in the second round of the 2020 Draft, and few believed that he had the tools to become an NFL starter after being ousted at Alabama by Tua Tagovailoa.
However, Hurts has been a revelation in Sirianni’s offense and has been the driving factor behind their run for the Super Bowl. He has been supported by a dominant offensive line that has been constructed in the NFL Draft over a number of years, with picks ranging from first round Lane Johnson to seventh-rounder Jordan Mailata.
The Eagles seem to have found the right blend for success in the near and long-term future as Hurts, Smith and Brown will be a core part of their team for a number of years.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are a team that appears to be set for the long haul. They’re unlikely to move from their mantra of the slow build because Patrick Mahomes’ presence makes them one of the leading contenders for the Super Bowl every season. The Chiefs and Mahomes have not been at their best this year, but have still reached the Super Bowl, displaying the nous to deliver victories under pressure – and never more so than during their win over the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game.
Kansas City are not going to blow resources chasing a top-tier wideout; in fact, they do the opposite, as in the 2022 off-season they traded Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins for a first-rounder and a slew of other selections . They used those picks to acquire cornerback Trent McDuffie, who was a key player in their victory over the Bengals.
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Using the cap space freed up by Hill, the Chiefs drafted their next wideout in Skyy Moore, whose punt return set up the game-winning drive for Harrison Butker, along with Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Juju Smith-Schuster.
Mahomes and outstanding Travis Kelce have made the got-to-have it plays when required, but the team has not suffered from the absence of Hill and could even be better in the future with the addition of a number of defenders. It’s the model that the New England Patriots used to great effect during their dynasty and it could well spark a second in Kansas City.