The NBA is currently in a free agent frenzy like we haven’t seen. Teams are either stacking up with all-stars or blowing up their current operations to rebuild for the future. This, of course, is because of the Golden State Warriors easily dispatching the Cleveland Cavaliers in 5 games in the NBA Finals last month. The most impressive thing about the Warriors needing only five games was that they were up against an All-Star trio led by arguably the G.O.A.T. at the height of his powers who averaged a triple double in the series. These recent events have people thinking: Could the NFL develop a superteam or small group of superteams like the NBA?
Let’s examine some on-field logistics. Outside of the quarterback position, it’s much harder for one player to dominate an NFL game like an NBA player can. Over twice as many players are on the NFL playing field as there are on the NBA court. Plus, the NFL players only play one way. Playing only half the time against a wider array of players is a much harder task to dominate than playing both ways in a 5 on 5 game. If LeBron or Jordan were only allowed to play offense, they could still influence a game, but not like they have with their defensive maneuvers added in.
What earns the title of a superteam? Having an unheard amount of all-pro caliber players on your roster does. The Warriors easily have four of the top 20 players in the NBA. In the last NFL Top 100 rankings, the Cowboys had 3 players voted in the top 20, and that was a stretch (Prescott will fall back to Earth in 2017, take it to the bank.) Going back to the previous paragraph, four of the top 20 players in the league on an NBA roster are going to dominate a game far more than an NFL roster with four of the top 20. If an NFL team were to have the same effect like the Warriors currently have, it would need at least 7 or 8 of the top 20 overall players in the league.
So, could any team in the NFL somehow load up with nearly half of the top 20 players in the league? In the current environment, this is 100% impossible. NBA superteams form because the big names sacrifice dollars to play with better talent. Kevin Durant just re-signed with Golden State for a much lower amount than he could have demanded and easily made. Why could he do this? Because NBA contracts are guaranteed. Combine that with the chances of a career-altering injury being much lower than the NFL and players are comfortable settling for $53 million instead of $65 million. Endorsements, investments, and not pulling an Antoine Walker can more than take care of that gap.
In the NFL, only the best of the best are guaranteed the kind of money that even a mid-tier NBA player can make now. When the NFL big cats get their cut, there isn’t enough cap space left to bring in other top-tier talent that’s willing to settle for a significant pay cut when they may have to settle for money they will never see if they get hurt or take up too much cap space. Teams like the Packers have managed to balance the fine line of guaranteed pay and a hometown discount to keep some of their better talent. But as this past offseason proved, that practice only goes so far, as they lost several established players in free agency.
In 2011, Vince Young claimed the addition of several notable free agents along with himself turned the Philadelphia Eagles into a “Dream Team.” The Eagles finished 8-8 that year and missed the playoffs. Unless the NFL players union can swing a deal with the owners that’s remotely similar to something that the NBA and MLB players enjoy, there will never be anything close to a NFL superteam. And even then, there are so many more moving parts, injuries, and changes that a team that somehow acquired a ridiculous amount of talent would never last that long anyway.
The closest to a superteam we’ll ever see are the Patriots, who happen to have the best QB and head coach of the past 30 years. Even then, they are a team that almost always wins by strategy and execution instead of pure talent. Those who appreciate the current parity of the NFL will not need to worry anytime soon, if ever. Ultimately, isn’t this what makes the NFL the biggest sport in America? Each regular season game matters. There is no coasting like in every other major professional sport. Football will always have this advantage, and should be mindful of it.
________________John Piotrowski is a UW-Eau Claire alum, spending most of his life in western WI. He makes the trek east to Lambeau whenever possible. Follow him on twitter at @piosGBP.