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Ravens And 49ers Prove There Is No Magic Bullet For Football Teams

The Atlanta Falcons can emulate the two Super Bowl teams in a patient approach to team-building.


I work in marketing when I'm not wearing my Falcoholic cape and tights, so one thing I hear a lot is the phrase "magic bullet." It does not, disappointingly, refer to a bullet fired from a magic gun, which means it is not a tiny brass-jacketed wizard. Alas.

No, this magic bullet refers to the one idea that will take you from successful to the best in the business. It's the most common shorthand for "find me a winner, now, damnit." It is also as lazy and cheap a buzzword as you might think it is. If there were magic bullets that were reliably easy to find, there would be more successful businesses by many orders of magnitude.

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There would also be more successful NFL teams, and that's where I want to turn our focus today.

The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers were not built the same way, but they were built over many years by shrewd talent evaluators. They have made mistakes along the way, of course. They have hit upon players who have been fairly transformative, in terms of the relative success of the franchise. But they were built slowly, painstakingly, carefully, with an eye toward achieving the highest level of success possible and maintaining that level.

Take a look at the Ravens. Ozzie Newsome has done most of his damage through the draft and amongst the UDFA crowd. He has made a habit of swinging draft day trades that give his team more picks to play with, while still staying in position to draft guys like Joe Flacco. When he has gone to free agency, it's for guys underappreciated by other teams who happen to be nice system fits for the Ravens. But Newsome is also always tinkering, kicking to the curb those players who aren't working out with nary a thought given to how he acquired them. There's little sentimentality here, outside of Ray Lewis and maybe Flacco this off-season, and a lot of movement to ensure the roster stays talented. Newsome wants guys who can contribute, and quickly. He often gets them.

Then take a look at the 49ers. Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh have only been on board for a couple of years, which means some of the team's finest draft picks came before them. There was a concerted effort through the last decade to build the Niners back into a defensive team with a lot of toughness up front, and to give them a strong ground game. Those goals were achieved slowly, but they were achieved. Baalke and Harbaugh saw the opportunity to also create a strong passing game and take a strong defense and turn it into a dominant one. Again, they were able to accomplish this chiefly through the draft, by concentrating on getting the best possible players available and keeping an eye on those few remaining needs. It was a quick process, but they also had quite a foundation.

The 49ers are also constantly picking up players that they're willing to give a redshirt year to if the talent is there. Kaepernick was a great example of this a year ago, and A.J. Jenkins could be a great example a year from now.

What these two teams have in common, at this point, would be considerable talent and enough young players with promise that we would have to consider them perennial playoff contenders for the foreseeable future. One of them will also be the Super Bowl champion this year. This was not accomplished by way of magic bullet, though you could argue that adding Colin Kaepernick turned the 49ers into 49ers who actually found gold. But really, it took time to build these two teams to dominance,

This is instructive for us as NFL fans, more specifically Falcons fans and also human beings. Magic bullets are rare, unreliable, and more likely to be stumbled upon than found by those looking. It is smarter to build a foundation, as the 49ers, Ravens and (sometimes inexpertly) the Falcons have done, and then look for a few talented pieces to push your team over the top and keep the success train rolling. It is not wise to put your hope into one player or one off-season, and the best teams never do.

Or go get the next J.J. Watt and call it a day. Either way.