The philosophy of building an NFL roster differs from one general manager to another, but certain trends do appear over time. The phrase “offense wins games, defense wins championships” is often used, but how much do Super Bowl winning GMs value their defensive fronts? And how do they go about building it? We take a look at the last five Super Bowl winners, how they acquired their defensive front, and how much those players were paid.
For clarification, the term “defensive front” in this article refers to players with a primary role rushing the passer (DE, OLB, DT).
Los Angeles Rams 2021
Greg Gaines, Aaron Donald, A’Shawn Robinson, Von Miller, Leonard Floyd.
These players were acquired via the 4th Round, 1st Round, Free Agency, Trade (2nd and 3rd Round picks to the Denver Broncos), and Free Agency respectively. The Rams spent $18.3m over 3 years on Robinson and $64m across 4 years for Leonard Floyd. In 2021, they were paying a total cost of $26,870,876 and averaging $5.4m per player on the defensive front (this doesn’t include Sebastian Joseph-Day who was paid $2.2m during the 2021 season. It is important to remember the Rams gave up significant compensation in way of picks as they only inherited a little over $700k of Von Miller’s salary in 2021).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2020
Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, William Gholston, Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaquil Barrett.
These players are from Free Agency, the 1st Round, 4th Round, Trade (3rd Round pick to the New York Giants) and Free Agency. The Buccaneers paid for Suh on three different deals averaging $9.1m dollars APY over the last 3 years and $68m to Barrett over 4 years. Total money between the defensive front for Tampa Bay in 2020 was $45,420,974 averaging $9.1m per player.
Kansas City Chiefs 2019
Tanoh Kpassagnon, Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Frank Clark.
These players made up the roster via 2nd Round pick, 2nd Round Pick, 3rd Round Pick, Trade (1st and 2nd Round picks). The Chiefs paid their front four a cumulative total of: $10,552,529 in 2019, averaging $2.6m per player.
New England Patriots 2018
Trey Flowers, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Adam Butler, Adrian Clayborn.
Bill Belichick acquired these players via the 4th Round, Free Agency, 4th Round, as a UDFA, and Free Agency. The Patriots paid Guy $14.4m over his first 4-year contract and Clayborn $5.9m of the $10m, 2-year contract that he was signed to before being terminated. The Patriots paid these players $11,954,500 total in 2018, averaging $2.4m per player.
Philadelphia Eagles 2017
Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Vinny Curry.
The Eagles acquired the first two players via the 1st Round, Jernigan via a Trade (Received Jernigan and the 99th Pick in return for the 74th Overall Pick from the Baltimore Ravens) and Curry was selected in the 2nd Round. In 2017, the Eagles paid their front four a total of: $33,767,284 averaging $8.4m per player.
This clearly shows the different mentalities to building a defense and pass rush, with some Super Bowl winning GMs spending around $2.5m per player on their front and utilizing underrated talent and UDFAs. On the other hand, others invest heavily and bring in proven players — and for the discourse about the Rams paying their way to a Super Bowl, although they brought in a proven veteran like Von Miller, he didn’t even cost them $1m as a cap hit after they gave up the appropriately large compensation.