Brady Podloski | March 29th, 2020
We’ve all heard the old adage “offense wins games, defense wins championships”. It’s been instilled in every player who played junior varsity and senior when coaches make you play both sides of the ball. I’m here to tell you that building a team around an elite defense does not work in the long-term when it comes to the cap situation, and to continue to build teams this way is asinine. I’m not saying the defense isn’t important, but to keep an elite defensive roster for more than one to two years is next to impossible.
Consider the 2014 Seattle Seahawks and 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars. The Seahawks defense was composed of the following players:
● Cliff Avril played at a high level in 2014 and remained on the roster until 2017.
● Michael Bennett played at a high level in 2014 and re-signed for $8 million dollars per year until he was traded in 2016 primarily due to cap.
● Bobby Wagner played at an elite level in 2014 and was considered one of the best linebackers in the NFL. Wagner re-signed for $40 million dollars over four years.
● Bruce Irvin played at an average level and would sign with the Oakland Raiders in 2016.
● K.J. Wright played at a high level and re-signed with Seattle for $27 million dollars over four years.
● Richard Sherman played at an elite level in 2014 and was considered by many to be one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Sherman re-signed with Seattle in 2015 for $56 million dollars over four years but would have to be cut in the 2018 offseason.
● Kam Chancellor played at an elite and re-signed in 2013 with Seattle for $28 million dollars over four years.
● Earl Thomas played at an elite level and was re-signed in 2014 for $40 million dollars over four years.
● Byron Maxwell was an above-average player for the 2014 year. Maxwell signed with the Eagles after the 2014 year and was replaced by Cary Williams the year after.
Yet after the 2014 season, the defensive players were paid in order to keep the elite talent together, leaving only $5 million dollars going into the 2015 offseason. In 2015, Seattle would lose in the Divisional Round to the Panthers. Then in 2016 would lose in the Divisional Round again. However, in 2016, the Seahawks needed the funds to sign their offensive superstar Russell Wilson who was owed $18.5 million in 2016. The Seahawks would end up trading Bennett and losing other pieces on the elite defense to keep Wilson, their franchise quarterback. In 2017, the Seahawks would miss the playoffs, and the elite defense would all but gone.
It’s a similar story in Jacksonville, as the 2017 Jaguars made it to the AFC Conference Championship with Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Barry Church, Yannick Ngakoue. These players would be the elite backbone of the team. However, the Jaguars were unable to manage the cap situation for the elite defense, and most of these elite defenders left, and all that remains is Myles Jack and Abry Jones. The Jaguars had one year of sustained success after ignoring the offense in various drafts.
The death of elite defenses is the cap, whereas elite offense can remain intact primarily as a result of the quarterback. Why is this? There are more positions that need to be paid on defense, and they typically have a higher cap. A team has to pay edge, defensive tackle, and cornerback big money, but elite defenses will have two of each. Jackson and Campbell were paid a combined $26 million dollars and then 33$ million dollars in 2017 and 2018. Sherman and Thomas were paid a combined average of $19.6 million dollars and $24.6 million dollars in 2015 and 2016.
It is challenging to maintain these elite defenses. But, when we consider offenses who have sustained success, one team is the Falcons. They’ve paid the quarterback in Matt Ryan, offensive linemen in Alex Mack and Jake Matthews, and wide receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons have an explosive offense year to year and were top ten offenses in touchdowns from 2016 to 2018. I will elaborate on the ability of teams to maintain the cap of an elite offense in another article, however, a question I want to address is what should teams do? NFL franchises should adopt the philosophy of an offensive driven team.
I believe teams need to start investing in more offensive players in the draft. They need to take more chances (even though the risks are higher), to have sustained success and an easier time managing the cap. Drafting the valuable offensive players – offensive tackle and wide receiver – are extremely difficult to hit on. Over the last 25 years, there have been 99 wide receivers taken in the first round, only 30 of them have made the Pro Bowl. Of the 84 offensive tackles taken in the first round, 32 have made the Pro Bowl. Really, all this means is that teams should attempt to make more picks on the offensive side of the ball. They should draft more offensive tackles and wide receivers, as they have to take more chances to find talented offensive players.
As well, teams need to try to find the franchise quarterback more often and build around him. More teams are realizing this, however, consider the Arizona Cardinals who drafted Josh Rosen 10th overall and then took Kyler Murray number one overall. One year after this decision by the Cardinals, it seems it was ultimately the better move to trade Rosen and go with Murray.
Yes, teams still need to address the defensive side of the ball, which can be done by taking chances on younger defenders who are in the later rounds, as well as cheaper free agent veterans. Teams should give large contracts to high-value positions such as edge and corner, not to linebackers. Linebackers are more replaceable and easier to draft in most rounds. In the past 25 years, 87 linebackers have been drafted in the first round, 37 of them have made the Pro Bowl in their career.
To conclude, for the 2020 NFL draft instead of building the dream defense, hope your team takes plenty of wide receivers and offensive linemen, and ultimately finds the franchise quarterbacks which can lead the team to numerous playoffs victories. If your team does have the bonafide franchise quarterback and dynamic offense, hope that the cap is managed correctly and that they take valuable positions.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images