In hindsight, Super Bowl winners usually look pretty obvious. They tend to have peaking rosters filled with guys who shouldn’t have been on cheap contracts, along with a few major but costly short-term mercenaries. Like your classic ’80s teen movie, there’s one last party before everyone goes their separate ways.
In short, to win a championship, you have to go all in. Sometimes it isn’t even by choice, but whether it’s because of players on the verge of departing, a pending salary cap crunch, or a star entering his twilight, certain teams are forced to confront the reality that, for better or worse, this is their year. Now that the draft is over and most relevant free agents have been signed, we can start to see which teams are pushing all their chips toward Super Bowl LI.
Arizona’s roster could look very different a year from now: Chandler Jones, who came over in a trade with New England, is under contract only for 2016, while Calais Campbell and Tyrann Mathieu are also entering the last years of their deals. On the other side of the ball, wideouts Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald could hit the open market next offseason, and guard Evan Mathis signed a one-year deal. Even Arizona’s draft picks have a win-now flavor: Robert Nkemdiche should help make that front seven unstoppable right away, and center Evan Boehm may be expected to start from day one.
In what looked to be a wide-open NFC East, the Redskins established themselves as division favorites by signing Josh Norman two weeks ago. Thanks to the surprise addition of one of the league’s best defensive backs, no team, according to Spotrac, has spent more cap money for 2016. Going forward, Kirk Cousins’s eventual long-term deal will likely hamper their ability to retain other weapons like DeSean Jackson, who’s in the last year of his contract.
Kansas City Chiefs
While the Chiefs traded down in both the first and second rounds, there’s still plenty of urgency toward 2016. Stalwarts Dontari Poe and Eric Berry are going to be very expensive next offseason, so this will likely be the last year the defensive unit is together. On offense, the window is “whenever Jamaal Charles is healthy.”
With Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Tony Romo all under contract, the Cowboys’ core is likely to stay together for a few more years, but selecting Ezekiel Elliott was a splash decision to help with the very near term. Ignoring the pick’s many flaws, most first-round running backs, due to the short shelf life of the position, produce the most value while on their rookie deals.
This piece originally appeared in the May 2, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.