What counts as a dynasty? Certainly it takes more than one championship, something that only four NFL teams have done in the last two decades: New England, Baltimore, the Giants and Pittsburgh. But most of us would agree that qualifying as a dynasty takes at least three rings in a relatively compact period of time, which is why it is so hard to do. In a timeframe when no other NFL team built a dynasty, the Patriots essentially had two: 2001-04 and 2014-18. But you may have heard that Tom Brady switched teams this offseason, which has filled the NFL with a host of new possibilities... allegedly. MMQB colleague Conor Orr wrote last week a list of the dozen teams who are the only realistic Super Bowl LV contenders, and today we are following that with an even shorter list of the franchises that have what some may call dynasty potential. The list is probably even shorter than the six we identify here, but let’s just say we are keeping an open mind (rather than acknowledging that a list doesn’t really work with just one or two items).
1. Kansas City Chiefs
It’s about the QB and the coach, but it’s also about the money. Patrick Mahomes set a tone with his 10-year contract extension earlier this summer: What was important to him, in his own words, was “chasing a dynasty.” That approach allowed the Chiefs, who one Monday in March had as little as $177 in salary-cap space, to sign Mahomes, Chris Jones and Travis Kelce to contract extensions in recent weeks. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, a friend of The MMQB, reported that those three contract extensions added only $8 million to the team’s payroll in 2020. Of course, team-friendly contracts, specifically Brady’s willingness to take them, were one factor in New England’s dynastic team-building. Mahomes has taken a similar tack. He committed himself to K.C. through 2031 rather than insisting on a shorter-term deal that would allow him to cash in again at whatever the new top of the market spikes to a few years from now, after the influx of money from new TV deals and legalized gambling. There are many factors that go into any negotiation, and it’s clear that one big factor for Mahomes was to keep the kind of supporting cast that will allow him to add more rings.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are first focused on getting over the hump of winning a playoff game together. But nothing about the season Jackson had, or the Ravens’ commitment to building a paradigm-shifting offense around him, suggests that it was a fluke. The Ravens have been unafraid to make Jackson the centerpiece of both their passing and rushing attacks, and the shiftiness inherent to Jackson’s game eases questions of the approach’s long-term sustainability. In addition to Jackson’s ability, safety Earl Thomas pointed out in January that the Ravens’ respected roster-building approach gave him confidence that they were building the organization’s next iteration of a winner (this move hadn’t happened when Thomas spoke, but Baltimore’s trading a fifth-round pick for Calais Campbell certainly falls into that category). “I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but just taking time to step back, I feel like they're putting the core guys together right now,” Thomas said then. “I know what it looks like, and I didn't recognize it at first in Seattle. So, to be going through it a second time, I understand it now.”
3. San Francisco 49ers
There were some eyebrows raised around the league when Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch got six-year deals in 2017 following a series of misses for the organization. But they got these hires right, rewarding both with long-term contract extensions on the heels of last season’s trip to Super Bowl LIV. A strong working relationship between the coach and the GM is essential to an organization’s long-term success, and part of the reason the partnership has worked to date has been their intentional work to make sure they are on the same page. Before Shanahan and Lynch’s first draft, in 2017, they worked together with a Stanford professor, Burke Robinson, to put together a vision statement, along with other key members of the organization. They intended to use the vision statement just for that draft, but their team-building tenets written out that spring have become a permanent part of the 49ers ethos. At the bottom of that first vision statement was a graphic representing the team’s five Super Bowl trophies, representing their ultimate vision of rebuilding the team’s dynasty. Seeing how the 49ers, and Jimmy Garoppolo in particular, rebound from last season’s heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl LIV will be a critical checkpoint in the pursuit of this goal.
4. New England Patriots…still?
Orr ranked the Patriots No. 2 on his list of Super Bowl LV contenders, and I’m going to back up my Weak-Side Pod co-host in not pronouncing the New England dynasty over until it’s really over. And 2020—when Cam Newton joined the team mid-pandemic and eight Patriots opted out—might not be the season that answers our questions. Bill Belichick always has a plan, even if it’s not immediately or instantly clear. For two decades Brady was a major piece of that plan, but he was not the only piece. Let’s see how the next two years unfold before we start applying T. Swift’s latest melodic brilliance to the crumbling of a different great American dynasty in New England.
5. Whoever Drafts Trevor Lawrence
This item is the brainstorm of MMQB senior editor Gary Gramling, and with good reason. To give you an idea of how eagerly NFL talent evaluators have been awaiting Lawrence’s arrival, the Clemson QB was the answer given by one well-respected GM to The MMQB’s anonymous poll question in the spring of 2019: Could any college football player go one-and-done into the NFL? “If he came out, he’d be the first pick in the draft this year,” the GM said then, just months after Lawrence’s true freshman season ended with a national title. Only one other QB received a vote in that poll—Peyton Manning—showing the rare company Lawrence is in.
This is, truthfully, the likeliest of all options. Think of all the other would-be dynasties we have seen in the NFL? The mid-2010s Seahawks, foiled at the goal line by Malcolm Butler. The late 2000s Giants, derailed by Plaxico Burress’ night out at the Latin Quarter. Even the Patriots went a full decade—with Belichick, Brady and perhaps the greatest team of all-time in 2007—without winning a ring. The Chiefs, who feel so invincible right now, were in a 24-0 hole in the divisional round and trailed by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV. The margins on any play, game or season are razor-thin in the NFL, making it exponentially more difficult to establish the dynasties we all love to speculate upon.