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Armando Salguero: A Dozen NFL Teams Have Used This Offseason To Make Themselves Super Bowl Contenders

Super Bowl or bust is the clarion call in the NFL now.

That’s the demand nearly a dozen NFL teams have put on themselves this offseason. They may not admit it, much less embrace it publicly, but it’s plain as the new free agents on their roster or the monster trade they just completed.

Teams are going for it in 2022.

And we’re not talking merely a chance to get in the playoffs. They’re going for the whole enchilada — if, of course, the Vince Lombardi Trophy were covered in verde sauce.

Why teams are doing this is important, but first let’s do a roll call of which teams have used this offseason to try checking in early for the next flight to Super Bowl LVII in Arizona. And let’s understand what they’ve done exactly to join the going-for-it gang:

The Buffalo Bills — They were bitterly disappointed last season after falling to Kansas City in the divisional round of the playoffs. They saw themselves as a Super Bowl team, so they went and got two-time Super Bowl champion edge rusher Von Miller to close out games and make sure that 13-second defensive collapse against the Chiefs doesn’t repeat. The Bills also added Rodger Saffold to upgrade the offensive line and Jordan Phillips on the defensive line.

The Miami Dolphins: They’ve spent $267.675 million in new contracts that includes $155.955 in guaranteed money. If they don’t win it all, somebody is wasting a lot of money. And, yes, this is a win-it-all proposition when the additions include Pro Bowl players Terron Armstead and Tyreek Hill in the last 48 hours, Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert to play running back, Cedrick Wilson at receiver and Connor Williams to play next to Armstead at left guard. Add the hiring of coach Mike McDaniel who promised quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to “get all that greatness out of you” and anything short of a Super Bowl is a disappointment, especially with owner Stephen Ross pushing 82 years old.

The Cincinnati Bengals: They were in the Super Bowl last season, and to make sure they return, the Bengals added a starting left tackle, a starting left guard and a starting center to protect franchise quarterback Joe Burrow, who was amazing last season and in the playoffs despite having to run for his life much of the time. Protecting their Burrow investment has the Bengals thinking Super Bowl again, as Burrow said they would immediately following their loss to the Rams.

The Cleveland Browns: This roster was replete with talent last year when they didn’t make the playoffs, but the trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson changes everything. The Browns not only paid a king’s ransom to trade for Watson but also paid a new $230 million contract that is fully guaranteed. The only way this is worthwhile is if Watson is hoisting the Lombardi above his head at some point soon. Getting Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper from Dallas for only a fifth-round pick might help in that endeavor.

The Indianapolis Colts: Much like the Browns, the Colts have an outstanding roster, but they have lacked great QB play for years. Thus the trade for Matt Ryan, who has already been to the Super Bowl once and would be a Super Bowl winner, were it not for his defense authoring the greatest meltdown in the history of the game.

The Las Vegas Raiders: They were pretty good last year and then they hired multi-Super Bowl winning offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to be their new coach. And then they added Chandler Jones, only the most productive edge rusher in the league since 2012. And then they traded for Davante Adams and made him the highest paid receiver in the league for a few days until the Dolphins did the same with Hill. All these are go-for-it moves.

The Los Angeles Chargers: They had elite quarterback Justin Herbert and weapons around him but a horrible defense last season. So they traded for edge rusher Khalil Mack to team with Joey Bosa and signed cornerback J.C. Jackson to bolster the secondary. They also spent $38 million on defensive tackles Sebastian Joseph and Austin Johnson. The Chargers now have a defense that won’t necessarily surrender every lead Herbert gives them.

The Denver Broncos: When he was fired, former coach Vic Fangio complained it’s hard to win big without an accomplished quarterback. So new general George Paton traded for Russell Wilson to play quarterback and added Randy Gregory to chase opposing quarterbacks, and suddenly, a roster that was otherwise very good becomes Super Bowl caliber.

The Green Bay Packers: Imagine if Aaron Rodgers had retired. Except he didn’t. So the Packers remain in win-now mode and, for them, that’s no longer defined as win the division now. It’s all about the Super Bowl.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tom Brady took a sabbatical, but now he’s back and he didn’t return to finish second. The Bucs have re-signed running back Leonard Fournette, cornerback Carlton Davis, center Ryan Jensen, receiver Chris Godwin, added receiver Russell Gage and promise more work being done — including re-signing tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The Los Angeles Rams: They seem to be bleeding talent such as Miller, cornerback Darious Williams, receiver Robert Woods, guard Austin Corbett and others. And there’s no telling what will happen with Odell Beckham Jr., who is a free agent. But the Rams added Allen Robinson and are assured coach Sean McVay and defensive tackle Aaron Donald (probably with a new contract) are going to run it back. And they’re not running it back to just win the division.

The Kansas City Chiefs: Yes, they traded Hill and that hurts. A lot. But they added JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the offseason isn’t exactly over. Coach Andy Reid and GM Brett Veach understand the championship window for this team is not closed as long as Patrick Mahomes performs. So the expectation is they’re going to continue to reload best they can to stay Super Bowl relevant, and they have two picks in the first, second and third round of the coming draft to do that.

So why this rush to add stars and win now?

Well, the last two Super Bowl champs — Tampa Bay and Los Angeles — did exactly that and it worked. And with the salary cap rising this year and promising to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years allows teams to “mortgage the future” because the payment down the road will be affordable.

There’s also this: If you’re not going for it all, then what exactly are you doing?

The NFL neither rewards nor celebrates mediocrity.

It’s about winning big. And more and more organizations have realized this.

Almost as interesting is the number of teams that have been competing for playoff success recently and haven’t made any reach-for-a-Super Bowl moves:

The New England Patriots.

The Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Tennessee Titans.

The San Francisco 49ers.

The Arizona Cardinals.

The Seattle Seahawks.

The Baltimore Ravens.

They should be fine. But probably not Super Bowl winner fine.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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