The past two quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl were drafted in 2009 (Matthew Stafford) and 2000 (Tom Brady). The oldest signal caller left in this year’s final four was drafted in 2017 (Patrick Mahomes), and the other three teams are taking advantage of still having their starting quarterbacks on their rookie deals.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in how the NFC’s Eagles and 49ers (3:00 p.m. ET, Fox) and AFC’s Chiefs and Bengals (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS) constructed their rosters with enough talent to reach their conference championships this Sunday. They each have roughly half of their rosters filled by their own draft picks with the other half shaped by free agency, waiver claims and trades — with each team reaping the rewards of at least one impactful trade.
Here’s a breakdown of how each Super Bowl contender was built:
Roster breakdown: 29 players via draft, 25 via free agency/waivers, six via trades
QB: Jalen Hurts, drafted in second round (No. 53 overall) in 2020
Top target: WR A.J. Brown, acquired from Titans in April for No. 18 overall pick (Treylon Burks) and third-round pick
Defensive game changer: LB Haason Reddick, signed in March on three-year, $45 million deal
Just five years after winning a Super Bowl while former No. 2 pick Carson Wentz was still on his rookie deal (and injured, with Nick Foles leading their playoff run), the Eagles are back in business with Hurts in the third year of his rookie deal. That increased financial flexibility has allowed general manager Howie Roseman to build a strong team around him, including giving him a few top weapons in Brown (whom the Eagles immediately signed to a four-year, $100 million contract upon trading for him), DeVonta Smith (first-round pick in 2021) and running back Miles Sanders (second-round pick in 2019).
Hurts has also benefited from a strong offensive line, anchored by mainstays Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson and supplemented by Landon Dickerson (second-round pick in 2021), Isaac Seumalo (third-round pick in 2016) and Jordan Mailata (seventh-round pick in 2018).
While the Eagles have two more fixtures defensively in Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, the sack-heavy unit largely has been built through trades and free agency. Roseman hit the lottery by signing Reddick and Javon Hargrave to reasonable deals while bolstering his secondary by landing Darius Slay and C.J. Gardner-Johnson in trades plus James Bradberry on a short-term deal after the Giants were forced to drop him.
Roster breakdown: 29 via draft, 27 via FA/waivers, two via trade
QB: Patrick Mahomes, drafted in first round (No. 10 overall) in 2017
Top target: TE Travis Kelce, drafted in third round (No. 63) in 2013
Defensive game changer: DT Chris Jones, drafted second round (No. 37) in 2016
The Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 2019, when Mahomes was still on his rookie deal, and secured him long-term on a 10-year, $503 million extension that he signed in 2020. With the star quarterback taking up almost a quarter of the team’s payroll, the Chiefs have used a bit of a different roster construction to reach a fifth straight AFC championship.
Instead of signing Tyreek Hill to a hefty extension last offseason, the Chiefs traded him to the Dolphins for a haul of draft picks, then moved to replace his production by sharing the load. They signed JuJu Smith-Schuster to a one-year, $10.75 million contract and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to a three-year, $30 million deal. They also re-signed running back Jerick McKinnon to a one-year, $1.27 million deal and watched him become one of Mahomes’ favorite targets out of the backfield.
Kelce, playing on a four-year, $57.25 million contract extension that he signed in 2020, still seems underpaid as the NFL’s best tight end.
Mahomes got one more gift in 2021 when the Chiefs traded for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who is playing this season on the franchise tag.
The Chiefs have also been able to keep Chris Jones in their uniform after extending him in 2020 on a four-year, $80 million contract, and have surrounded him with talent through trades (Frank Clark) and non-premium picks in the draft (George Karlaftis III, Nick Bolton, Willie Gay Jr. and L’Jarius Sneed, among others).
Roster breakdown: 29 via draft, 31 via FA/waivers, one via trade
QB: Joe Burrow, drafted in first round (No. 1 overall) in 2020
Top target: WR Ja’Marr Chase, drafted in first round (No. 5) in 2021
Defensive game changer: DE Trey Hendrickson, signed in 2021 on four-year, $60 million deal
Burrow is primed to get paid handsomely this offseason, but before then, the Bengals are trying to reach a second straight Super Bowl with him still on his rookie deal.
As Bills GM Brandon Beane pointed out earlier this week — correctly, if not with a hint of sour grapes — the Bengals are also benefiting from drafting Burrow and Chase (still on his rookie deal, too) with top-five picks in back-to-back years, which accelerated their rebuild. Left tackle Jonah Williams was the 11th overall pick the year before Burrow.
But the Bengals have found value in non-premium picks, too, including WR Tee Higgins (second round), RB Joe Mixon (second round), LB Germaine Pratt (third round), G Cordell Volson (fourth round), S Jessie Bates (second round), DE Sam Hubbard (third round) and LB Logan Wilson (third round).
Hendrickson has been a strong addition, making back-to-back Pro Bowls since joining the Bengals after making none in his first four seasons with the Saints.
Plus, the Bengals’ one helpful trade? None other than landing defensive tackle B.J. Hill (along with a seventh-round pick) from the Giants in 2021 in exchange for Billy Price. Hill, now starting for the Bengals, has 68 tackles, three sacks, three fumble recoveries and four tackles for loss this season.
Roster breakdown: 31 via draft, 25 via FA/waivers, five via trade
QB: Brock Purdy, drafted seventh round (No. 262 overall) in 2022
Top target: Deebo Samuel, drafted in second round (No. 36) in 2019
Defensive game changer: DE Nick Bosa, first-round pick (No. 2) in 2019
Yes, the 49ers got here with a quarterback playing on a rookie deal, just not the one they thought. Trey Lance, the No. 3 pick in 2021, started this season under center before breaking his ankle. Then, after the 49ers went back to Jimmy Garoppolo — whose deal was restructured before the season to lower his cap hit — he broke his foot and they ended up entering the playoffs with Purdy, who was Mr. Irrelevant in April’s draft.
Though Purdy has played well, he has enjoyed the benefit of having Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle among his weapons. The 49ers landed McCaffrey in a Week 7 trade with the Panthers for four future draft picks, and Samuel, Aiyuk (No. 25 overall pick, 2020) and Kittle (fifth-round pick, 2017) were all draft coups.
The 49ers had Bosa fall into their laps with the No. 2 pick in 2019, but have also drafted well on defense in recent years by landing LB Fred Warner (third-round pick, 2018), S Talanoa Hufanga (fifth-round pick, 2021), LB Dre Greenlaw (fifth-round pick, 2019) and CB Demmodore Lenoir (fifth-round pick, 2021).
The team’s best free-agent signing on this roster? They originally acquired veteran left tackle Trent Williams in a 2020 trade, but then kept him around by signing him to a six-year, $138 million deal in 2021.
Today’s back page
🏈 O’CONNOR: Aaron Rodgers isn’t the best option for QB-needy Jets
🏈 Why Daniel Jones has ‘all the leverage’ as experts predict Giants contract
🏀 Knicks avoid blowing another lead in thrilling overtime win over Celtics
🏀 Nets fall to lowly Pistons despite Kyrie Irving’s 40-point night
The Jets found their next offensive coordinator on Thursday when they hired Nathaniel Hackett, which drew strong reactions in opposite directions: either wondering what the failed former Broncos head coach had done to deserve the job or salivating over the possibility that his presence might help lure Aaron Rodgers to Florham Park.
Of course, there were Broncos fans last offseason who hoped hiring Hackett would help get Rodgers to Denver. And, as was the case last year, Rodgers is not a free agent, meaning it won’t be as simple as the Jets offering him a hefty contract to go with one of his favorite coaches calling the plays.
But at the very least, hiring Hackett might give the Jets a fighting chance of somehow landing Rodgers. Consider what the Packers quarterback said about Hackett, then his offensive coordinator, in November 2020: “There’s nobody in the building that brings me more joy or is more fun to be around than Nathaniel Hackett. … He’s become such a close confidant and friend, besides a fantastic coach. I just really, really can’t express enough how important he is to our team in so many ways.”
And then, he finished his answer with this:
“I love him, hope he doesn’t go anywhere … unless I do,” Rodgers added with a smirk.
Numbers to know: Knicks 120, Celtics 117
The Knicks prevailed over the NBA-best Celtics in Boston on Thursday night in an overtime thriller. Here is a quick recap of their second straight win, which moved the Knicks to 27-23 — including 15-10 on the road — and within a half-game of sixth place in the East.
3️⃣7️⃣ Points for Julius Randle, to go with nine rebounds and 5 3-pointers
1️⃣2️⃣ The Knicks’ lead with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter — they had led by as many as 13 — before allowing the Celtics to come back
4️⃣ Straight free throws converted in the final 22 seconds, two by Randle and two by RJ Barrett, to turn a one-point deficit into a three-point winning margin
1️⃣ Block by Jericho Sims, at the end of regulation, of a potential Robert Williams III game-winner. Sims played nearly 36 minutes and finished with 14 rebounds.
2️⃣5️⃣ Field-goal attempts by Jalen Brunson, his fourth-highest total of the season. He shot 12-of-25, and finished with 29 points and seven assists.
— Jonathan Lehman
The next Hall debates
Fresh off Scott Rolen being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday, two new names to keep an eye on for next year’s ballot: Adrian Beltre and Joe Mauer.
Beltre should be a good bet to be inducted in his first year on the ballot after a 21-year career in which he recorded 3,166 hits, 477 home runs and 93.5 bWAR while being named a four-time All-Star, five-time Golf Glove third baseman and four-time Silver Slugger with six top-10 MVP finishes.
Mauer, meanwhile, will be an interesting case. His 15-year career with the Twins was shortened by injuries, which also forced a move from catcher to first base. But before he retired, he was a career .306 hitter with three batting titles, an MVP award and three Gold Gloves in addition to being a six-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger. His 55.2 bWAR ranks seventh all-time among catchers. The rest of the top 11 are all in Cooperstown.
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