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4 reasons the NFL can’t have an NBA-style super team

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Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz explains why you just can’t make a super team in pro football (though you can try).

Detroit Lions v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It’s officially NBA super team building time, a new summer tradition. When the money is flying in early July in the NBA, everyone compares it to other sports, including the NFL. But the money isn’t comparable and neither is the team building process.

Super teams don’t work in the NFL.

To me, a super team is when a group of players join a franchise to win championships together, with that team already having a draft pick, or multiple draft picks on the roster. The earliest example of a NBA super team I can remember is the 2003 Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers had Kobe and Shaq already, and added an aging Gary Payton and Karl Malone in a quest to win one last championship in their dynasty. Spoiler alert — they didn’t win a championship. Next up was the Boston Celtics, followed by the Miami Heat and so on.

There are two recent NFL super teams that come to mind. The “dream team” in Philadelphia where the Eagles signed free agents Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Ronald Brown, Donald Lee, and Steve Smith. And don’t forget Vince Young, who coined the term “dream team.”

Guess how that turned out? That team didn’t win and was quickly dismantled.

The Broncos with Peyton Manning is the other NFL example that comes to mind. They were able to acquire Manning, Emmanual Sanders, Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and T.J. Ward, to go along with Von Miller and the rest of that defense. Just adding big free agent parts to an already solid core equaled two Super Bowl appearances and one title.

So why don’t super teams happen more often in the NFL compared to the NBA?

There are four main reasons I see.

Salary caps

The NFL has a hard cap; the NBA has a yarmulke, a soft cap. The NBA allows team to pay a luxury tax if their payroll goes over a threshold. The NFL has no such things. If you want to add pieces in the NFL, they must fit under the cap and that often means convincing older players to take less.

There’s a numbers issue

If we look at NBA super teams, they have at least three of five starters who are elite, first and second team All-NBA, and even possible future Hall of Famers. That’s 60 percent of a starting lineup for a league that values individual play more than the NFL. In the NFL, that would equal 13 players on an All-Pro team. The Rams last season had seven players (in eight spots) on the first- or second-team All-Pro roster.

Contracts

The NBA has set guaranteed (key word here) contracts for max and super max deals, depending on your longevity in the league and the decision to stay at home or leave. So, unlike the NFL, there isn’t shopping around for the best deals once you decide to leave your current team. There are times players can take less or decide on fewer years than the max, but the contract structure is set. In the NFL, when players hit free agency for the first time, they are looking to pocket the most guaranteed money.

For the routinely good teams in the NFL, it’s hard to find the cap space to accommodate multiple monster contracts, especially if the quarterback is on his second contract. Adding a few pieces to finish up a championship roster or form a super team isn’t as possible.

Age is a factor here too. When NBA players sign max deals in the NBA to form super teams, they are often in the prime of their careers and see the full value of those monster contracts. In the NFL, contracts are often based on past performance, with a clear hope of future success. But in the NFL, players are usually released before the end of their deals. So when you put together players who are the same age at the same time, it leads to declining play throughout the team.

Game strategies are different

Duh, I know. In the NBA, you can isolate LeBron with 30 seconds left and let him go to work. The Patriots can try to isolate Tom Brady in a two-minute drive, but there are more variables outside of his control to make that work. So building around one or two player additions, or even seven, in the NFL isn’t practical.


Even with those things, that doesn’t stop NFL franchise from trying to create super teams. We have seen the 2016 and 2017 Eagles and now the 2017 and 2018 Rams use free agency and trades to add valuable elite players to their roster. Both teams have young, talented rookie quarterbacks under low-cost contracts for at least this season and next, so they can afford to build around them. Once they sign that second contract, those options go away. The best super team strategy in the NFL is drafting and developing a quarterback, then adding pieces slowly around him for success.