As the AFC Championship neared the end of the fourth quarter Sunday Night, it appeared that the Bengals and Chiefs were set to head for overtime for the second straight year. Then a brutal penalty by Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai, who hit Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes out of bounds after a last-play scramble, moved Kansas City’s field goal attempt from 60 yards to 45, and a Harrison Butker kick later, Cincinnati’s season was over.
The Bengals will be back – lost amidst the justifiable criticism of their offensive line last night is the silver lining that, based on last week’s film and this week’s broadcast, Cincinnati has found a left tackle in Jackson Carman who can set a physical tone while providing solid blindside protection for this unit moving forward, which is a huge win for this organization as they once again enter an offseason needing to rebuild Joe Burrow’s protection – but they couldn’t do enough last night, and for the third time in five years, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will be back in the Super Bowl.
This time, they will face off with the Philadelphia Eagles, who pulled away from the San Francisco 49ers after sending quarterbacks Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson to the sidelines in the NFC Championship Game. Purdy returned to action after Johnson’s concussion, but was unable to throw the ball due to an elbow injury, which left the 49ers a game short of the final game for the second straight season.
There is no shortage of Brotherly Love storylines between the Eagles and Chiefs: there is a Kelce brother on either side, Chiefs coach Andy Reid used to run the show for the Eagles, and Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love (the last one is lame, I know). Reid’s history with the Eagles overlaps with Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman, and there are many ties between the front offices/coaching staffs of these organizations, which adds a level of intrigue.
There aren’t many odds left to discuss – the Eagles are two-point favorites with a 50-point total on DraftKings – so let’s take a look back at how these teams earned their trips to Arizona. Before we do, be sure to sign up for The Oracle’s Picks today – football season may be winding to a close, but there is plenty of other sports action to come!
Kansas City: Re-Tooling for the Long Term
In the wake of Kansas City’s first championship with Patrick Mahomes at the helm, a great deal was made out of the Chiefs’ ability to keep their roster together. In retrospect, it might have been better to rip off the Band-Aid right away.
The reality was that if the Chiefs were going to contend throughout Mahomes’ career, the roster would have to change. It’s hard to be overly critical of their decisions, as they went to four AFC Championships and two Super Bowls in four years, but it did put the Chiefs in a position where they had to aggressively overhaul their roster over the past two off-seasons, a process that started with the offensive line ahead of 2022 and expanded to the rest of the roster in 2023.
Fortunately for Chiefs fans, the front office recognized the way to build a championship contender around an expensive quarterback: find surplus value elsewhere. Rather than throw up their hands and bemoan the fact that they no longer had a quarterback on a rookie deal, the Chiefs recognized that you can make up that difference by finding multiple contributors on rookie deals.
The best example of this is how the Saints flipped their fortunes in the Drew Brees-era in the 2017 NFL Draft when they added cornerback Marshon Lattimore, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, safety Marcus Williams, running back Alvin Kamara, linebacker Alex Anzalone, and defensive end Trey Hendrickson. We’ll set Anzalone, who is more of a replacement-level player, and Hendrickson, who came on late in his deal, to the side; the combination of Lattimore, Ramczyk, Williams, and Kamra created (conservatively) $40 million in surplus cap value per year over the course of their rookie contracts, and given the price of premier cornerbacks and offensive tackles, you could argue that number is closer to $55 million per year.
Kansas City had to trust in their development process, but last night, the list of contributors on rookie deals included center Creed Humphrey, right guard Trey Smith, running back Isaiah Pacheco, wide receiver Skyy Moore, defensive end George Karlaftis, linebackers Nick Bolton and Willie Gay, safeties Juan Thornhill and Bryan Cook, and cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson, and Joshua Williams.
Sneed exited early, but that’s beside the point; with a long list of contributors outperforming the contract value on their rookie deals, the Chiefs have rebuilt the talent on their roster around a highly-paid core that includes Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, and defensive tackle Chris Jones. It’s a great example that shows you don’t need a quarterback on a rookie deal to get to the Super Bowl, but you do need to be creating similar surplus value elsewhere on your roster to keep up.
Philadelphia Eagles: QB on a Rookie Deal and the Talent Around Him
With all that said about Kansas City, the most straightforward way to create surplus cap value is to get a high-level quarterback on a rookie deal. When that quarterback is on a second-round deal like Jalen Hurts, it only makes things better.
Hurts’ emergence as one of the NFL’s top dual-threat quarterbacks has unlocked what is arguably the NFL’s most talented roster. Some of the headline deals, such as the trade for A.J. Brown, stand out, but it’s worth noting how many other ways general manager Howie Roseman has created on this roster.
Roseman finds players every which way. He stuck with the development of left tackle Jordan Mailata, then signed him to a team-friendly extension ahead of his breakout season. There was a similar story with defensive end Josh Sweat, though Sweat didn’t bring the intrigue of a rugby background to the story.
Those are the types of moves that gave Roseman the assets to comfortably trade for Brown, as well as defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson. The Eagles may need to move on from some veterans in the coming offseason, such as cornerback James Bradberry, who has been a huge contributor after becoming a cap casualty with the Giants, but with two first-round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, the Eagles are set up to continue building on their list of rookie contract contributors ahead of Hurts’ extension. With left guard Landon Dickerson breaking out in Year Two and rookies like Jordan Davis poised to take on larger roles next season, Philadelphia is set up to build a contender past the end of Hurts’ rookie deal, which currently has one year remaining.
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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.