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American Football It only takes one summer to transform an NFL franchise from nobodies to champions

WELL that’s it, the biggest part of the NFL off-season has come to a close. The big waves of free agency have passed and the annual draft circus has also scuttled out of town until next year.

Now the rosters are starting to take shape heading into training camp and beyond, it’s important to remember how quickly the NFL landscape can change. 

Super Bowl LII winners Philadelphia Eagles went 7-9 and finished a lowly fourth in the NFC East a year before their ultimate triumph.

Teams who finished bottom of their division in one season can quickly rise to the mountain top the next and become hipster darlings of the NFL scene. 

In recent times this has happened to the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears and the Jacksonville Jaguars, to name but three. 

In 2016 the then St Louis Rams finished a lowly 4-12 in the NFC West and cleaned house — in fact they moved to a new house and went to LA. 

Through smart hiring, astute free agent signings and hitting on their draft picks the new-look Rams went 11-5 in 2017 and topped their division. Their ascendency didn’t stop there as they recently took their place alongside the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. From rags to riches in two years.

General manager Les Snead armed Head Coach Sean McVay with fresh new targets as he acquired Cooper Kupp, Gerald Everett and Josh Reynolds via the draft to team with free agent pick-up Robert Woods — who has since gone on to be one of the league’s most dangerous receivers in McVay’s system.

Add in stud left tackle Andrew Whitworth to help protect quarterback Jared Goff and the Rams are now in position to be an NFC powerhouse for years to come. And all of that has come off the back of one transformative off-season.

That story was also true of the Eagles. GM Howie Roseman has been lauded as one of the best in the business for his roster building.

Roseman used every avenue open to him to give head coach Doug Pederson the best chance of lifting the Lombardi trophy with an assortment of shrewd trades, free agent pick-ups and drafting well.

First-round pick defensive end Derek Barnett came in and made an immediate impact for the Eagles as a rotational pass rusher to add to an already nasty front seven and traded for former Buffalo Bills cornerback Ronald Darby to help shore up a leaky secondary.

Roseman relieved the roster of injury-prone or highly paid players and did gymnastics with the cap space. And with the Eagles up against it in terms of how much they could spend, this makes the feat more impressive. 

Out went injury-prone players such as Ryan Mathews and those commanding a lot of money, like Connor Barwin, were also shipped out.

Of course, the process is much more complex than that. The front office is banking on their assessment of where a player is and how he fits into their system and if he is worth the contract he is on. And they must do all that while still making sure the head coach has the tools available to make a team competitive. 

The term “win now mode” is thrown around a lot in NFL circles, but it is having an impact on how an organisation attacks the off-season.

The Kansas City Chiefs lost in heartbreaking fashion in the AFC Championship game, but their flaws were obvious as they could not stop haemorrhaging points. 

Their mandate was clear and they aggressively added pieces in free agency with a view to not having to put up 40 points a game to win. 

In came Bashaud Breeland, Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark, via a seismic trade with the Seattle Seahawks, in a bid to climb off the bottom of the defensive rankings.

The Oakland Raiders endured a tumultuous 2018. Patience was already thin, with the team announcing they would be leaving California for Las Vegas and then tempers really flared when star pass rusher Khalil Mack was traded to the Bears.

To rub salt into the wounds, promising star wide receiver Amari Cooper followed Mack out the door and landed in Dallas with the Cowboys.

Their fortunes look drastically different now, however. Following their blockbuster trade for Antonio Brown, signing versatile defensive back Lamarcus Joyner — one of several notable free agent signings — and a having a solid draft class, the Raiders could be in line to surprise many in 2019.

They also shed some ageing players to get younger and more explosive on both sides of the ball.

New GM Mike Mayock has not wasted any time in trying to restore the three-time Super Bowl champions to their former glory and they are already being pencilled in by many as the team who could grab a surprise wild-card spot come December.

Roster building is often seen as a video game. Sign the biggest names, draft well, slot them in and win right now. But that approach seldom yields the desired results — just ask the New England Patriots, who have crafted multiple championship winning rosters with relative no-names on their books. 

Underneath the bluster of big-name acquisitions and draft day fun there lies a genuine art form in constructing a roster, and the very best general managers can turn a sinking ship around in one off-season.


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