Perhaps the weirdest thing to wrap my brain around after last season is that every player on the 2013 Seattle Seahawks is now a "Super Bowl champion." If Russell Wilson or Earl Thomas or Richard Sherman one day make the Pro Football Hall of Fame (go ahead and add an "and/" to all of those "or's"), it will be in part due to the Super Bowl XLVIII win over the Denver Broncos.
DeAngelo Hall, a 10-year NFL veteran, told Sherman to check his "bank account" before talking. I'm surprised that others weren't quick to tell Hall, a cornerback with a lot of hype coming out of Virginia Tech and exactly one playoff win in his career, to "kiss the ring, bitch." The money a player makes in his NFL career is sadly more likely to disappear one day than not, but diamonds (encrusted in Super Bowl rings) last forever.
Soon enough, Sherman will be paid. Hall, like most players, may never win a ring.
Given the way that the free agent cornerback market has resolved itself this March, Sherman will likely get a new contract that pays him $12-$13 million annually with over $30 million in guarantees. Hall signed a new deal with the Washington Redskins that pays him $17 million over four years, and he's a 30-year-old with 23 interceptions in 84 career games with the 'Skins.
Sherman will be 26 later this month, and has 20 interceptions in 48 career games with the Hawks, 16 of which have come in the last two years alone. Also, he's proven to be the type of player that can help you win a Super Bowl, right?
Well, if you are saying that Sherman, like Thomas and possibly Wilson (if not today, then soon), is an "elite" player that will obviously guarantee you more success than an average player or even a good player, then yes, Sherman can help you win a Super Bowl. He'll be paid for his talent though, not for any magical, mystical presence that "Super Bowl experience" or winning a championship provides.
Thus far, winning a Super Bowl has done nothing to indicate future success of the player or the team that acquires said player. How do I know this? Well, much like when I have too many shots of Fireball and start texting a girl: I started digging.
But instead of digging a hole, I was digging through the numbers and historical records to find an answer to the day-old question: What value does "Super Bowl winning" experience have on the open market, if any?
I started with the 2012 Baltimore Ravens and started working my backwards. I was looking for players that left via free agency (and every so often, trades) the year after his team won the Super Bowl. Not two or three years after, but I'm talking strictly about that high of coming off a title run and being known as someone who had won a championship within the last two months.
I then wanted to see how the player and team (mostly the team) did after signing that player. How many of them won a Super Bowl with the player that they signed, possibly in part due to the fact that he had just won the Super Bowl? There are several important factors to consider when looking for these results:
- All but one team ends their season without a Super Bowl championship. So not winning the title doesn't necessarily deem a season unsuccessful, though that should be the only real goal for any franchise. It's also important to note that if you sign a player to a five-year contract with the intent that he's a key part of the core unit of your franchise, you do have some expectations that you'll win a Super Bowl or come close in that window.
- Most players aren't about to be free agents. This lessens the pool of available players considerably after each season.
- I ignored kickers, punters, and most of special teams. Sometimes I looked at notable kick or punt returners. I tried to note as many "hidden players" as possible, like offensive lineman, but it's possible I missed somebody along the line. I'm happy to look over any oversights, if you see any.
- Most great players aren't let go by their teams. If a player helped you win the Super Bowl and you can afford him, you'll keep him. I didn't dig as deep as finding out how many players were retained when they could have hit free agency. I didn't note Joe Flacco last year, for example. I went team-by-team, opening up player pages, looking for players that switched teams the year after winning the Super Bowl.
What I did was list the team, the year, the player, the player's next team, and whether that team ever won the Super Bowl with said player. If yes, I'd mark a "Y" and if no, I marked an "N." It's as simple as that. Year after year, playa after playa. (I also noted their PFR Adjusted Value the year of the championship and the year with the new team, but I'm not sure yet what I'll do with this, if anything. It's just easier than going back and adding things later.)
Former Seahawks like Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, Golden Tate, Breno Giacomini, Clinton McDonald, Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond III are now "former Seahawks" as noted in the former part of this sentence. Clemons and Bryant will try to help Gus Bradley turn around the Jaguars, Tate gets to play with a future Hall of Famer receiver in Detroit, Breno's going to start "punching" the clock in New York, while McDonald has found a new home with the Buccaneers and defensive genius Lovie Smith.
Meanwhile, Thurmond is going to try and prove himself on a one-year deal with the New York Giants and Browner somewhat miraculously went from possibly seeing his career over with a one-year suspension to getting a three-year deal with the New England Patriots that should change his life for the better. Can a 2013 member of the Seattle Seahawks go on to win another title with his newest team?
Despite the long reach of seven "Super Bowl-winners" on six new teams, the answer is still probably "No."
Because as I went down the list of free agents, year by year, marking my "Y"s and "N"s, I marked: N.
N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. N. -- over and over and over and over again.
Finally, after marking down 79 former free agents to change teams after winning the Super Bowl, I found one that went on to win a Super Bowl with his new team; Ed McCaffrey was practically an "extra" on the 1994 San Francisco 49ers that won the Super Bowl, before getting a minor deal with the Denver Broncos in 1995. He'd help them win championships in 1997 and 1998.
It only took me 20 years to find the last player -- at least one that's notable on even a minor scale -- that switched teams after winning the Super Bowl and then went on to win another with his new team. And honestly, there were hardly any examples of players or teams even coming close in the last 20 years until I got to McCaffrey.
I knew ahead of time that eventually I'd land on Ken Norton, current linebackers coach for the Seahawks and former Super Bowl-winner with the '92 Cowboys, '93 Cowboys, and '94 49ers (the only player in history to win three straight Super Bowls) but I had no idea that I'd come so close to getting to the '93 Cowboys before finding someone else.
So, when a team is considering whether or not they should give a "newly-crowned champion" an extra 5-percent because he has a Super Bowl ring, the answer is a dead-pan, "NO." Not five percent, not two percent, not 0.0001-percent. Winning the Super Bowl is meaningless for future success. Talent matters; Pay Thurmond or Browner or Tate for what you think his talent is worth.
Same with any free agent that didn't win a championship.
If the Jaguars paid a premium price on Clemons and Bryant, it's most likely because they had extra money to spend due to their cap room (another issue that factors into these non-championships is that bad teams have more money to buy free agents) and that they need to spend it to acquire good players. Hopefully it's not because they can tell DeAngelo Hall to, "Kiss the ring, bitch."
Though it is fun to say.
Here are some more interesting tidbits I found in my research:
- When I finally got to McCaffrey, after 79 "No's", I wrote "YES YES YES" because I was so damn excited. It was getting maddening to find so many duds and I looked hard for anyone that qualified in the affirmative. So how freaking weird is it that the player I just happened to list after McCaffrey, was also a "YES YES YES"?
The 81st player I noted was Deion Sanders. A teammate of McCaffrey in San Francisco, Sanders signed a seven-year, $35 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys in 1995. It made him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL, though in a classic tale of "telephone," Wikipedia says that his book says that Sanders was offered more money by the Oakland Raiders. (This will be an ongoing theme in my findings.)
Sanders played five years with the Cowboys (and was seemingly worth every penny) and became the most recent player of note (or of anyone that I could find) to win back-to-back Super Bowls with two different teams.
- So then how weird is this: Sanders played on the 1994 49ers defense with Norton, who had won the previous two Super Bowls with Dallas, making him the next-most recent player to win back-to-back Super Bowls with two different teams.
- So then how weird is this: Other players on the '94 49ers were running back Derek Loville (a member of the Seahawks in 1990-91) and defensive back Dedrick Dodge (a member of the Seahawks from 1991-92.) McCaffrey, Loville and Dodge all won the Super Bowl with the 49ers in 1994, and also all won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 1997.
Loville and Dodge both left San Francisco for Denver after the '96 season. Dodge wasn't there for the '98 win, but Loville stuck around through 1999.
- I stopped at the 1993 Cowboys, and all-in-all tracked 89 players to switch teams after winning the Super Bowl. McCaffrey, Sanders, and Norton were the only three to win a championship with their next team.
As far as I can tell, I don't believe that any of the others ever won another Super Bowl with any team at all. (This is just the players that left right after the win, not guys like Loville and Dodge that stuck around a little longer.)
- I wanted to track contract figures, but at a certain point it gets difficult to find those. Still, when you can find them, there's a clear favoritism towards "winning" that there shouldn't be.
Paul Kruger parlayed seven starts in four years with the Baltimore Ravens into a $40 million deal with the Cleveland Browns. He had 47 tackles and 4.5 sacks as an outside linebacker last year in 16 starts.
- The 49ers seem to be especially interested in "Champions" as of late. They signed Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham after the Giants '11 win, and traded for Anquan Boldin in 2013. However, the next most recent example i could find of San Francisco doing this was Norton back in 1994.
- I wrote "Raiders" a lot. (Though in Excel, I guess you could said I wrote "RAI-enter key" a lot)
In 1996, they signed Russell Maryland and Larry Brown off of the Dallas Cowboys. Brown got a 5-year, $12.5 million contract after being one of the most obscure MVP winners in Super Bowl history. In 1997, they did it again, signing Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard to a four-year, $6 million contract, though he was strictly only useful on special teams.
The '97 Raiders went 4-12.
Howard was released after two seasons. Brown was ravaged by injuries and made one career start for Oakland. Maryland did have a successful four seasons with the Raiders.
All in all, the Oakland Raiders have seemingly plucked at least one player off of the Super Bowl winner in nine of the last 18 seasons. In recent years, this includes the likes of Dave Tollefson, Gibril Wilson, and Dominic Rhodes. These players were paid more than expected, and did less than expected. (Which for most fans paying attention, was a lot less than the Raiders expected to begin with.)
- Not surprisingly, teams with a high retention rate of their own notable free agents had a higher chance of success the following years than those that didn't.
The 2012 Baltimore Ravens lost no less than seven key players. (Adding Ray Lewis to those I counted, since Lewis was a retirement. I did not note retirements on this list, but some are obvious.)
The 2011 Giants lost at least seven.
The 2000 Ravens lost a ton of players, from both of their quarterbacks (Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer, with Dilfer going to Seattle) to Priest Holmes (probably the most talented player from this century to leave his team after a Super Bowl victory), Kim Herring, and starting right tackle Harry Swayne.
However, the 1999 Rams retained almost all of their key players (though they did lose head coach Dick Vermeil) and put together arguably an equally-impressive season in 2001. Same with the 1997 Broncos that repeated in 1998 and the 1996 Packers that returned to the Super Bowl in 1997.
The question that Seattle Seahawks fans have to ask themselves is: Did we lose a ton of value in 2014 already and will it be easily replaced?
- Golden Tate had a 2013 AV of nine, which is significant. Other players to post a nine and leave their Super Bowl-winning team are Boldin, Larry Foote and the 2008 Steelers, Dominic Rhodes, Antwaan Randle El and the 2005 Steelers, David Patten and the 2004 Patriots, and Steve Atwater with the 1998 Broncos.
Tate is a talented player, but Rhodes, Randle El, and Patten?
Randle El is an interesting comparison because he was an electric punt returner and dangerous when he got the ball in his hands, but still a work in progress as a receiver. Tate is a better receiver than Randle El but is he going to improve? That's not nearly proven yet. The Steelers drafted Santonio Holmes and instilled him as the punt returner the next season. Randle El went to the Redskins and never really became the receiver they hoped he would become.
- McDonald had an AV of four last season, same as what Kruger had with the Ravens in '12. Thankfully for the Bucs, they didn't have to give him $40 million. Mcdonald, like Miley Cyrus, was in heavy rotation -- but he was plucked from obscurity three years ago for the price of Kelly Jennings and Seattle needs to find his replacement with the next version of him. That's a lot easier than replacing someone like Ricky Watters.
(Watters left the '94 49ers after posting an AV of 19, which is MVP-level. He'd sign with the Philadelphia Eagles before later joining the Seahawks.)
- Clemons had an AV of seven last year. Kimo Von Oelhoffen left the Steelers after the 2005 season after posting an AV of eight. At the age of 34, he signed a three-year deal with the New York Jets and subsequently played one year of that deal and made one sack.
- Walter Thurmond had an AV of three last season. WTIII has always been a "nice idea" but let's not get it twisted when it comes to his contributions over the last four years. That's why he signed just a one-year deal with the Giants.
- Big Red posted an AV of eight last year and either he or Clemons could be the most difficult to replace. Kawika Mitchell posted an eight with the New York Giants in 2007 and then signed a five-year, $17.5 million contract with the Buffalo Bills. He played in 20 games for the Bills and had four sacks.
- As soon as Browner was replaced by Byron Maxwell, he was replaced by Byron Maxwell.
- Giacomini played in nine games last season and was given an AV of five. Pro Football Focus still gave the highest grade on Seattle's entire offensive line to Michael Bowie in the games in which he replaced Giacomini. I don't know if he's definitely better, but I've got my suspicions that given a full offseason of him and Alvin Bailey and possibly someone else competing for the right tackle spot, the team will be better off.
These former Seahawks signed some good contracts and will given new chances to grow and compete in a different environment than the one they knew in 2013. The likelihood that any one of them will actually play out the length of the contract, with the possible exception of Thurmond, is slim. The chances that their new digs will be the home of the next Super Bowl champion are slim to none...
And none just signed a four-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.