The Seattle Seahawks' Super Bowl XLVIII thrashing of the Denver Broncos almost defies analysis. Seattle was better in every single facet of the game, so much so that you almost felt bad watching Peyton Manning and Denver's record-setting offense flail about like some hapless FCS team taking on Alabama.
Offense. Defense. Special teams. Coaching. Fandom. Media relations. Gatorade pouring. No matter what noun you use, the Seahawks were better at doing it on Sunday—unless you delve into negatives like depression, frustration and the all-important turnovers.
While the score was a relatively manageable 22-0 at halftime, only our inherent assumption that the Super Bowl is always good allowed fans to suspend their disbelief heading into the third quarter. And that only lasted all of about 12 seconds—the amount of time it took Percy Harvin to return the opening kickoff of the second half back 87 yards and essentially lock down the second Seattle title in the four major sports.
Watching the second half at times felt like a chore, either out of professional obligation (hey, everyone!), because your party had folks more obsessed with the commercials than the game itself, or because New Girl is on next and I'm not missing it, dammit.
Whatever. Rehashing a terrible game is exactly that. Super Bowl XLVIII did nothing to destroy the legacy of Peyton Manning. Nothing to "redeem" Richard Sherman (who didn't need redemption, for what it's worth). It didn't do anything except prove that, in the battle between two very good professional football teams, the Seattle Seahawks were light years ahead of the Denver Broncos at nearly every position.
The only important question here: Why?
The answer: money—and tons of it.
I know what you're thinking. The NFL has a salary cap. How can one team use money to their advantage when nearly every team across the league caps itself out while trying to field the most competitive team possible. According to publicly available data compiled by Spotrac, the Seahawks had a total cap charge of $133.8 million for 2013, while Denver spent $133.7 million.
So, that $100,000 really made the difference, eh? Of course not. As fans for the 30 teams that didn't make it to Super Sunday know, it's not the money you spend—it's how that money gets distributed.
The most obvious place to start here is at quarterback. Peyton Manning was probably worth three times his $17.5 million cap charge. Super Bowl struggles aside, Manning set NFL records for touchdown passes (55) and passing yards (5,477) and—this is key here—is not Timothy Richard Tebow. Without Manning's excellence, Denver never gets the opportunity to get waxed.
Still, Seattle is paying the man who outplayed Manning on Sunday less than Manning's backup, Brock Osweiler. Russell Wilson's cap charge is an absurd $681,085, thanks to him being drafted in the third round and being under the NFL's new rookie wage scale; Wilson makes a little more than a tenth of center Max Unger.
If you've ever wondered how Seattle managed to fit Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons all on the same pass-rush rotation, it begins with Wilson's salary. Bennett was nothing more than a luxury when he signed with Seattle on a one-year, "prove it" deal when long-term options weren't available. He only became one of the handful or so best defensive ends in football this season.
It's also lot easier to throw money Harvin's way and a first-round pick back to Minnesota when you're not thinking about finances or how to replace Tarvaris Jackson or Matt Flynn under center.
Adding depth is also pretty darn easy when you're paying the NFL's best cornerback $600,606, as the Seahawks are doing with Richard Sherman. Or as it could otherwise be known, eight figures less than what Denver paid Champ Bailey—its preseason No. 1 cornerback. While Bailey was usurped by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, his exorbitant salary—juxtaposed with his production—was essentially a sunk cost by Super Sunday.
The difference between Manning-Bailey and Wilson-Sherman is more than $25 million. That dollar figure alone can explain why Seattle's roster goes three deep at certain positions with players who would start had they played on the Broncos. Denver's secondary roster was over-reliant on undrafted free agents and bargain-basement players—especially defensively—and it came back to haunt them with just a couple nicks and cuts.
There will be some in the coming days—if you're not already seeing it—saying the Seahawks have revolutionized the way you build a team in today's NFL. That's not remotely true and misses the point.
Seattle is able to afford these pieces for a simple reason: It drafts incredibly, freakishly, awesomely well. Sherman was a fifth-round pick. Wilson was a third-rounder. Harvin almost went entirely forgotten during the regular season because, while he was out with a hip injury, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin were out there having career years. Jermaine Kearse was plugged in from near-obscurity, and he had 100-plus more receiving yards than Sidney Rice and his $9.7 million cap hold.
Irvin and Bobby Wagner were the Seahawks' first two picks in the 2012 draft. Wilson was the third. Since John Schneider arrived as general manager and Pete Carroll as coach in 2010, the combination of talent mining and player development has been second to none.
The Seahawks luckily coincided their leap to draft-day competency around the inaction of the rookie wage scale. Others, like the Detroit Lions, have been stuck paying their well-drafted superstars elite-level money since Day 1—and those problems are only going to continue exacerbating as Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, et al. get older. Seattle will eventually have to choose which players it wants to compensate properly, but it has drafted so well that it will be a tough choice—not cap ransom, as it is with the Lions.
Similarly, the Broncos had their own successes. Sylvester Williams had a stellar rookie season, Eric Decker was a third-round home run in 2010 and Orlando Franklin fits in nicely on the right side and only cost a second-round pick. But Von Miller and Rahim Moore, two gems from 2011, were out with injury. The 2012 draft looks like a pretty big bust, minus linebacker Danny Trevathan. This past year's class produced Montee Ball, a luxury item, and Williams.
The Broncos are great at plucking other teams' unwanted items and ship-shaping them into football players. Rodgers-Cromartie and Shaun Phillips signed prove-it deals with Denver in hopes of landing long-term deals. John Fox deserves the credit that he receives for taking a defense built on a leaking foundation, but he finally needed to hazmat suits to clear out the black mold on Sunday. Phillips was the only thing resembling a worthwhile pass-rusher on the field for Denver, and Seattle responded by mauling him with Russell Okung, a 2010 first-round draft pick.
And perhaps that's the lasting legacy of Super Bowl XLVIII. Not Manning's place on the all-time football hierarchy. Not Sherman's ability to control his volume levels in normal conversation.
The team with the better general manager, the better head coach and game plan won. Seattle came out, took advantage of the areas where Denver was deficient and used the otherworldly talent in its coffers to frustrate the holy hell out of Manning. You can say that the Seahawks tapped into the best way to take advantage of the new CBA, but 31 other organizations had multiple chances to grab Sherman or Wilson or any number of these other players.
The best team won, because the best organization put them in the place to do so. You know, like football should be.
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