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Formula For Success, Part I

March 23, 2010

Good afternoon readers. This past Fall, The Chief and The Commodore wrote a research paper entitled Formula For Success: A Look at How “The Big Three” Impact the Fortunes of an NFL Franchise. In this paper, we examine the quarterback, left tackle, and pass-rushing defensive end positions (also known as “The Big Three”) of the past ten Super Bowl champions. By evaluating these players’ statistics and salary cap figures, we were able to arrive at a formula for how to build a Super Bowl champion.

We are both extremely proud of this work, and we thought it would be a good idea to share bits and pieces of it with you throughout the next five-or-so weeks. Today, we will be bringing you Part 1 of the “Formula for Success” series, which you can expect to be updated every Thursday.

Enjoy.

Introduction

The 1993 collective bargaining agreement struck between the National Football League Player’s Association (NFLPA) and franchise owners dawned the beginning of modern-day free agency in the NFL. While thought of as a landmark victory for the NFLPA, free agency arrived with the proverbial price tag. NFL owners argued that the inception of Plan A Free Agency in 1993 necessitated restraints being placed on team payrolls (NFLPA). Consequently, in return for agreeing to new rules that would govern NFL free agency, the league’s owners were granted a salary cap each team would then be forced to abide by. This salary cap, adjusted on a yearly basis by the league, roughly equated team payrolls to 60% of total revenues (NFLPA). The owner’s argued that these controls placed on team payrolls benefitted owners and players alike, as well as the league as a whole. Simply put, it was theorized that salary restrictions were in the best interest of maintaining league-wide competitive balance, continued fan support, and increased league-wide revenues. Alas, the moniker “Any Given Sunday” was born.

With this agreement came the “age of parity” in the NFL as the salary cap made player turnover, especially that of expensive veteran players, a common offseason practice. Year in and year out franchise General Managers worked to construct a viable 53-man roster that combined “core” players with capable backups in an elusive trek towards Super Bowl glory. With the advent of the salary cap in 1994, however, this task became even more difficult. A new emphasis of importance was cast on the annual NFL Draft as a means to fill needs and build team depth over the long-term. Highly priced stopgap free agents somewhat became a thing of the past, as wild free agent spending often times resulted in salary cap hell for many NFL clubs.

This rapidly changing league landscape gave rise to various schools of thought regarding the most effective way to build a Super Bowl winner. While the significance of the draft has unequivocally risen to the forefront of these differing outlooks, these new models of team building have also turned their focus to the game-changing (and potential franchise-changing) impact of three critical positions – quarterback, left offensive tackle, and defensive end.

This paper will attempt to analyze why these three positions have risen to such prominence in the modern-day NFL by assessing their tangible contributions to the last nine Super Bowl winners through the lens of the offensive and defensive production of their respective teams. Additionally, we will explore the implications of each respective player’s “Cap Value” in an attempt to uncover a pragmatic “formula” for assembling a Super Bowl champion. Finally, we will compare and contrast our findings to that of the two NFL franchises to which we owe are allegiances – the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins – in hopes of discovering what has plagued these once proud franchises since the start of this decade.

“The Big Three”:

The NFL has seen a paradigm shift in offensive philosophy due to modern-day rule changes predicated on protecting quarterbacks and producing more offense. Offensive game plans centered around running attacks that pounded the ball on opposing defenses have largely become a philosophy of the past. Today, record-setting quick-strike offenses like the 1999 – 2001 St. Louis Rams “Greatest show on turf,” the 2007 New England Patriots, and the 2009 New Orleans Saints have become the NFL’s standard by which the rest of the league measures itself. As a result, new emphasis has been placed on the ability of teams to pass the ball on offense and disrupt the passing attack on defense. Not surprisingly, the three positions most directly tied to the success of these objectives (quarterback, left offensive tackle, pass-rushing defensive end) have grown to be the most highly valued and coveted positions in the NFL.

While football is often recognized as “the ultimate team sport,” The Big Three’s profound impact on the outcome of games can be recognized and felt on a play-by-play basis. A quarterback that completes a 60-yard touchdown pass considerably shifts the tide and momentum of a game in his team’s favor. On the other end of the spectrum, a pass-rushing defensive end that comes around the edge unblocked and sacks a quarterback can influence the game in a similar manner. Of course, the position at the forefront of both of these game-changing plays is the left offensive tackle. This player earns his living by protecting his quarterback’s vulnerable blind-slide against the opposing team’s best pass rusher on a weekly basis.

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