To Build An NFL Dynasty, Look To The Golden Arches
Tom Brady of the New England Patriots is my favorite system quarterback. That’s right, Brady is a superstar built by a system. Furthermore, he plays for a championship team that was built by a system. And that team, in case you haven’t noticed, is a dynasty that has been a dominant force for more than a decade that was -- you guessed it -- built by a system.
The formula is well documented and pretty simple. In fact, businesses outside of sports do it all the time. When Ray Kroc started McDonald’s, no one would argue that he was making the best tasting hamburgers money could buy. But, he created a system for producing the same hamburger at any McDonald’s location, anywhere in the world. To this day, no matter who works the assembly line and processes your order, your hamburger always tastes the same. The system Kroc devised for his hamburgers opened the door for an endless line of new products. All he had to do was plug in the next new menu item into his system, year after year -- and that’s just what he did. His system created a multinational, billion-dollar dynasty that has dominated the fast food market for decades. And the McDonald’s way is exactly the way you build a championship NFL team -- and dare I say, a dynasty. That is, until you screw it up.
How does one screw up something so simple? Most teams manage to do so by staring at the brightest and biggest present under the tree -- the college superstar. The long line of teams who wanted to build their team around a superstar is the same line of teams who have had to move onto another superstar, and another. If they are lucky, they eventually realize that the superstars are not failing them, but rather they are failing the superstars. No system. No championships. No dynasty. Here are a few glaring examples:
Top Systems That Built Superstars
The Patriots – New England and head coach Bill Belichick developed Brady into the ultimate quarterback for their system. Proof that this is the way things happened can be seen by reviewing Brady’s college career, which was not dominating like his NFL career has become. Watch any Patriots game and it becomes apparent that within the team's system, he studies the opposition so much that he knows many of his opponents better than they know themselves. Chances are that anyone who had a system in place would have enjoyed similar success with Brady as their quarterback, but it wasn't until the Patriots that the NFL learned you can thrive with a sixth round quarterback if you have the right system around him.
The Patriots system has stood the test of time because it thrives on the “next man up” mentality. Never before has a system been so solid that the team can continually lose veteran stars and replace them with unknown players who step in almost seamlessly. The ultimate test was when Matt Cassel took over for an injured Brady and put up stellar numbers, including over 3,500 passing yards, 21 TDs with just 11 INTs and an 89.4 QB rating. Not bad considering he had attempted a combined 39 passes during his first three years in the league.
I will admit that it helps to combine the intelligence of Brady with his killer attitude. His calm demeanor changes once he takes the field, as he becomes a relentlessly driven beast of a quarterback that will rip out your heart on his way to the end zone. Perfect system led by a perfect leader.
Others on the list without going into great detail include:
San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers system built two Hall-of-Fame QBs in Joe Montana and his successor, Steve Young.
Green Bay Packers – As of 2014, Green Bay's system hasn’t produced a Hall of Fame inductee but as soon as he is eligible (2016), QB Brett Favre is in. As for his successor, it’s hard to see what would keep Aaron Rodgers from following suit.
A Perfect Example Of Star Gazing
Tennessee Titans and Vince Young – Young was truly dominant at the college level. I loved the guy. The Rose Bowl victory his Texas team handed Michigan was spectacular and showcased his tremendous talent. It was no surprise the Titans thought he was the guy to build around. But the system wasn’t ready, or maybe it was the wrong system. Regardless, what they got was five decent seasons, decent stats and a short career with only one playoff appearance.
The Next Great System In The NFL
So what team is about to rise to the top and show that their system is running on all cylinders and can plug-and-play the right talent to keep the wins coming for years to come?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Could it be? The Bucs certainly have been active in the offseason, picking up quality players left and right. And their new head coach, Lovie Smith, showed in Chicago that he definitely has a system. His system, however, is very defense heavy. Key to success in Tampa in Smith's system is steady quarterback play by a smart, conservative player who doesn’t take chances but doesn’t make mistakes either. That sounds a lot like the player we saw in QB Josh McCown in Chicago in 2013. Forget whatever he did prior to last season -- if he can continue his heady play in Florida, Smith might just have the quarterback to complete his system -- something he never had during his time with the Bears.
The Next Superstar Bust In The NFL
It’s probably more fun to watch and see which team is about to implode from their mistake of selecting a superstar and trying to build something around the aura he emits. So who leads the list of upcoming busts?
Cleveland Browns and Johnny Manziel – It’s clear from recent years and the lack of success that the Browns don’t have the system. Instead, they’re turning to the most recent shiny object coming out of college in Manziel. You don’t take a player like Manziel and ask him to play your system. He’s unconventional and unless your system consists of a high level of improvisation from the quarterback position, that can only mean one thing -- that you plan on building your offense around your superstar.
Ouch. It doesn’t look good for Browns fans.