The NFL is among the rare professional sports leagues that has designed a form of parity among the 32 teams it represents.
They have established a salary cap, to assure that no team has a significant advantage in being able to buy talent. This prevents one team from buying up all of the best free agents available each year and cornering the market on skill. There are no New York Yankees in the NFL.
The NFL has a drafting system for prospects coming out of the college football system that ranks teams inversely by the success they had the previous year. The winner of the Super Bowl, for instance, drafts last, or 32nd, and the team with the worst win-loss record drafts first. This balances out the skill level of teams somewhat.
Between those two checks and balances, the NFL has managed to remain fair and balanced and competitive. Almost. And that parity has been good for the NFL, increasing the fanbase and the TV audience, both of which increase profits. They have found a balance of power that works for the good of all.
Some NFL teams have found ways to beat the system—a phenomenon that exists within all systems. Someone always finds a way to outfox the system. Like the constant battle between lock makers and lock pickers; one builds the pick proof lock and the other finds a way to unlock it.
The San Francisco 49ers have been very good at finding ways to succeed in spite of the parity rules of the NFL.
The ownership’s methodology for success has been deceptively simple: Find the best talent in the front office, the best talent for the coaching staff, and allow them room to work. They did that with Eddie DeBartolo in the front office and Bill Walsh heading the coaching staff in the eighties and nineties, and now they are doing it with Trent Baalke in the front office and Jim Harbaugh leading the coaching staff.
In both cases, the leadership of the 49ers found talent lower down the draft list than one might expect, and hired free agents other teams released for cap problems or because they thought them exhausted. In both decades, the 49ers found jewels that helped the team make history.
The 2012 season is shaping up a bit lopsided. Parity has done some good, but is not a perfect system. Several teams have a distinct advantage over the others because of skill at critical positions. Some teams have a preponderance of talent and team spirit that make them stand out.
The New York Giants, with Eli Manning, the New England Patriots with Tom Brady at the helm, the Pittsburgh Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger and the Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rogers are definite repeat Super Bowl threats. The New Orleans Saints with Drew Brees, even without their bounty system, are also among the favorites to make it all the way.
Add to those a returning Pro Bowl quality defensive eleven, and that makes the 49ers a scary opponent for any of the NFL’s best.
The San Francisco 49ers, with Alex Smith at the helm are definitely in contention. Alex Smith? Who would have thought it? By adding a few skilled free agents to the offense during the offseason, the 49ers are definitely in the hunt. Strengthening the quarterback, receiving and running back corps left them with few needs to be filled by the draft.
They can now mine the draft for a quality offensive guard, perhaps a tackle and another receiver for development. The 49ers are looking strong, competitive and just a bit scary for the opposing 31 teams.
The 2012 San Francisco 49ers are threatening the NFL’s balance of power.