Sports dynasties are hard. There’s no real definition — just ask baseball fans about the San Francisco Giants from 2010-14 — and a definitive dynasty doesn’t come around in any sport, let alone football, in the salary cap era.
When you think of dynasties during the Super Bowl era, you think of five teams: the Lombardi Packers, the late ’70s Pittsburgh Steelers, the Joe Montana/Steve Young San Francisco 49ers, the Troy Aikman Dallas Cowboys and the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick New England Patriots.
That’s only five dynasties in 51 years (really, it’s a couple more than that though, because the Lombardi Packers were winning NFL Championships before there was such a thing as the Super Bowl), and all but one were before the salary cap era, so to say that it’s hard to build one is an understatement.
This list examines eight teams that could become dynasties. That means they either have a lot of relatively young talent, draft assets, a young star quarterback or are the New England Patriots. Of course, it’s impossible by nature that all of these teams become dynasties. In fact, it’s impossible that more than two of them become dynasties — and even that would take a lot.
In the salary cap-era NFL, it’s almost impossible to build a dynasty. There’s so much roster turnover from year to year that, on top of building a championship team, you have to maintain it despite replacing over half the roster every year. That’s what makes what the Patriots have done so incredible. These teams have a chance, which is more than most can say. Here they are.
New England Patriots
If you want to call two titles in three years part of the same dynasty that won three in four years from 2001-2004, then I won’t stop you. But here’s the thing: the Patriots aren’t exactly slowing down.
This is a team that won the Super Bowl and got better during the offseason, adding standout receiver Brandin Cooks, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and pass rusher Kony Ealy. It looks like Malcolm Butler will still be there this season (for now), which makes their secondary just absurd.
And did we mention that the greatest quarterback of all-time is under center? Until Tom Brady slows down, there’s no reason to believe he ever will. He’s talking about playing until age 45. It’s not just believable that he’ll pull a Roger Clemens and get paid a ton of money while being mediocre and doing things on his own terms, it’s believable that he’ll be an All-Pro. Bill Belichick keeps retooling the roster, churning through championship teams like butter. And when Brady finally does slow down, Jimmy Garoppolo is standing in the shadows to take his place.
There’s a case for skepticism around Garoppolo — and a possibility the Patriots eventually bite the bullet and trade him — but based on what we’ve seen, the guy can play. If you think this is already a dynasty, don’t assume it’s ending anytime soon.
The Cowboys tried to trade up for Paxton Lynch, then prayed for Connor Cook to fall to them. They hoped Tony Romo could stay healthy. None of that happened, yet they still fell into a franchise-changing quarterback in Dak Prescott.
After starting the season at quarterback by accident, Prescott put up 3,667 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also finished third in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric, DVOA.
With Prescott, 23, and running back Ezekiel Elliott, 21, the Cowboys are set to have one of the league’s best offenses for a very long time without accounting for wide receiver Dez Bryant or the league’s best offensive line (which, collectively, is very young as well).
Dallas was third in offensive efficiency last season and seemed downright scary at times. What happens when Prescott develops? What happens when Elliott refines his game a little more? What happens when right tackle in-waiting La’El Collins replaces the retired Doug Free — the weak link on the Cowboys’ line last season? This could turn into a historically good offense fast. And if defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can put things together with Elmer’s Glue for the second straight season, 2017 could be the start of a dynasty.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Speaking of offenses with terrifying potential, the Bucs gave quarterback Jameis Winston all the help he could desire this offseason. First, they signed receiver DeSean Jackson to a three-year, $35 million deal, landing the deep threat Vincent Jackson never was. Then, they drafted tight end O.J. Howard out of Alabama in the first round, a perpetual matchup problem who can run the seam all game long.
Putting those two aside Winston is a potential star who still has a long way to go, particularly when it comes to decision-making. With that said, both Mike Evans and Doug Martin also add explosive play-making ability on offense.
There are some ‘ifs’, namely Winston cutting down on his turnovers. However, there are others. Martin faces a three-game PED suspension to start the year and played just eight games last season due to health issues. Ali Marpet has to survive a move to center. Left tackle Donovan Smith has to survive, period. The same goes for guard J.R. Sweezy.
Defensively, the youth isn’t there, but the talent is. The unit came on at the end of last season, finishing fourth in weighted DVOA, and a Vernon Hargreaves step forward in his sophomore year would do a lot for their secondary. A lot has to go right, but the pieces are in place and that’s the most any team — especially one that was the worst in football just three years ago — can ask for.
The Browns won’t turn any heads this season. The Browns may not turn any heads in 2018. But five years from now, no team will be better-equipped to win a championship.
Cleveland’s strategy of tanking has netted them draft assets beyond your wildest dreams. Their draft this year was wonderful — they landed defensive end Myles Garrett, the best player on the board by all accounts, and tight end David Njoku late in the first. Safety (or maybe linebacker) Jabrill Peppers was a risk at No. 25 overall, but one the Browns could afford to take. They had three first rounders and Peppers’ upside is a rich man’s Deone Bucannon.
After another year of tanking, Cleveland can draft its franchise quarterback — likely USC’s Sam Darnold or UCLA’s Josh Rosen — and go from there. The unfortunate reality of the NFL is that tanking works and not enough teams are doing it. Cleveland has a treasure trove of picks and if it exercises the patience necessary to let it turn into a team, there will be no regret.
Kansas City Chiefs
Of all the teams on this list, the Chiefs are probably the least-likely to become a dynasty. They don’t have a star quarterback, star outside linebacker Justin Houston has dealt with injuries and top linebacker Derrick Johnson is 34 years old. It’s also tough to imagine Andy Reid getting through a single playoff game, let alone a dynasty’s worth. But there’s still a case, albeit weak.
The Chiefs have a capable quarterback in Alex Smith. They already have great talent on the roster and Reid isn’t as bad a head coach as he’s made out to be — it’s only time management that gives him fits. If Patrick Mahomes steps in for Smith in 2018 and becomes a star — a massive if — Kansas City could very easily contend for a Super Bowl.
There’s great talent on this offense. Tyreek Hill has off-field issues rivaling any player in (or out of) football, but he’s also an unbelievably dynamic player who turned an already great KC special teams unit (an obligatory mention that Dave Toub deserves a head coaching job goes here) into one that was downright scary. He’ll contribute as a returner and receiver for years to come. Travis Kelce is a poor man’s Rob Gronkowski. Spencer Ware has some kinks, but can get ran for nearly 1,000 yards in his first full year as a starter.
Defensively, the Chiefs were 14th in efficiency last season and Houston played only five games. If Terrance Mitchell can hold down the fort at corner opposite Marcus Peters, their secondary has a chance to be great. Sure, there will be more roster turnover by the time Mahomes is ready, but there is substantial talent. If Mahomes is the player the Chiefs want him to be, there’s a chance.
At this point, it’s simply a quarterback question for the Texans. Houston finished seventh in defensive efficiency despite J.J. Watt — the best defensive player of this generation — playing only three games and being generally ineffective.
Offensively, the weaponry is there. DeAndre Hopkins’ numbers will go back up if the Texans start throwing to him again — he lost 41 targets from 2015 to 2016 because Brock Osweiler decided throwing to his best receiver was bad strategy. Lamar Miller can be a perennial 1,000-yard rusher, though Houston would be smart to invest at the guard position. Meanwhile, they have a strong group of second-tier options in Will Fuller, Braxton Miller and Jaelen Strong.
Houston has done as good a job of building a roster around a quarterback that you could hope for, and it’s gotten them the AFC South crown two years in a row (not that the AFC South title means much these days). All that’s missing is a competent signal-caller and maybe DeShaun Watson is that person.
Watson doesn’t have to come in and be a superstar. If he is simply average, the Texans could win 12 games and get a first-round bye. If he is a star, they could win the Super Bowl. That’s not likely to happen, but hey, Houston won nine games last season with Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage under center. And its AFC South-filled schedule isn’t getting much tougher.
It’s tough to imagine Houston doing that with Bill O’Brien as head coach and there are reasonable concerns around Watson. But if any roster in football is equipped to win with an average quarterback, it’s this one.
In Marcus Mariota, Tennessee has a long-term starter and potential superstar. That alone gives them dynasty potential, but the rest of the offense is ain’t half bad. DeMarco Murray had a renaissance last season running behind one of the best lines in football and all five starters are returning. The best part: every starter is under 29 years old.
Tennessee went big on the receiver position in the draft, picking Corey Davis at No. 5 overall and Taywan Taylor in the third round. Put them on top of Rishard Matthews — a solid second option — and tight end Delanie Walker and this offense has a chance to be great — Mike Mularkey’s playbook, circa 1975, notwithstanding.
The Titans also bolstered the defense this offseason, bringing in safety Jonathan Cyprien and cornerback Logan Ryan. On top of the talent already there — Jurrell Casey, Derrick Morgan, Brian Orakpo — this is an above-average unit already. If they fine-tune in some places and players like first-round pick Adoree’ Jackson work out in the long term, the Titans could be a powerhouse relatively soon.
A lot still has to go right, but that goes for every team. The Titans have two big factors in their favor: a young, star quarterback and youth, at least on the offensive side. The Music City could very conceivably see its first playoff game since 2008 this season and from there, who knows?
The Raiders can reasonably lay claim to being the most-exciting team going into the 2017 season. Derek Carr is only entering his prime and threw for nearly 4,000 yards for the second straight season in 2016 and finished sixth in efficiency. Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and tight end Jared Cook make up a solid receiving corps and the offensive line finished first in adjusted sack rate last season. Oh, and they brought Marshawn Lynch out of retirement,
Oakland was seventh in offensive efficiency last season and its offense is still getting better. It’s not hard to imagine the Raiders having a top-five offense for the next five years, if not more. The defensive end, of course, is a different story.
Khalil Mack is a generational talent, but the Raiders have to build more around him. They took steps last season, bringing in Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson and Bruce Irvin before 2016, but Smith struggled at the start of the year and never fully regained his mojo. Safety Karl Joseph flashed good signs in his rookie season, but Oakland took a major risk in drafting cornerback Gareon Conley, who is facing serious off-field allegations, in the first round. Even if that works out, there’s still a major hole to be plugged at defensive tackle.
Of course, we’re looking at the best-case scenario for all of these teams. A lot has to happen defensively for Oakland to have a chance at a dynasty, but with a great offense already in place, it’s possible. Dynasty or not, the Raiders should be Super Bowl contenders as long as Carr is playing like this.
The case for a Colts’ dynasty boils down to one player: Andrew Luck. It feels like we’ve been waiting for Indy to build a Super Bowl contender forever, and they’ve perennially failed. It shouldn’t be this hard to build around Luck, a quarterback with Hall of Fame talent, yet the Colts have somehow failed to play a postseason game since 2014, despite playing in a terrible division.
Coming into this year, things still don’t look likely to turn around, though progress was made by firing GM Ryan Grigson. Football Outsiders projects them to finish third (subscription required), in the worst division in football. Yet, hope springs eternal, and Luck is still one of the best quarterbacks in football.
Luck is the type of player who can take an imperfect roster far — the 2014 Colts made the AFC title game! They don’t need a cast of All-Pros, a decent defense and an offensive line that functions might be all it takes. Maybe that doesn’t come in the next year, but it better come soon.
The Colts have time — Luck is 27 — but not a ton of it. When Indy drafted him in 2012, a dynasty felt like the expectation. At minimum, he’d be able to fill Peyton Manning’s shoes. Five years later and — through no fault of Luck’s — a dynasty is still possible, but it feels more unlikely than ever.