Football is the ultimate team sport; each element of a team’s chemical make-up must complement one another to not only create an environment conducive to success, but also to shine the brightest lights on the team’s star players.
Generally, marquee talents take up a large percentage of a franchise’s salary cap. In turn, teams bank on production from young players with cheap rookie contracts or veterans on prove-it deals, so they can reap the benefits that come that having superstars.
One of those benefits is the MVP award.
But there is an issue: there are so few candidates this year for the award because of what I like to call the “MVP Window,” and it has closed on almost everyone.
The MVP Window is not a measure of an individual’s ability to play at an MVP level, but rather a franchise’s ability to juggle having a top paid star and still fill out the rest of the roster with players good enough a star can flourish.
What’s a great quarterback without an adequate O-line to protect him? Think Andrew Luck this year. What is a transcendent receiver with a below average quarterback hurling wobbly passes too high and too late? Think Larry Fitzgerald post Kurt Warner.
The top candidates this year are all on teams with open MVP Windows, and here they are:
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England Patriots
Brady offers a peculiar situation in that his cap hit is only the 28th highest in the league, though he is arguably the preeminent player in the history of football and seemingly gets better with age. He appears to have used the deflategate suspension to both rejuvenate his body and his motivation. Through four games he has a 12-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio and is averaging 330 yards per game to go along with a league leading 73 percent completion percentage. The relatively small cap hold has fostered a nice supporting cast around him; Gronk is the best tight end in NFL history, Edelman and Amendola mesh nicely with the Patriots quick passing scheme, and LeGarrette Blount is 8th in the league in rush yards per game. His financial decisions are the mold other stars should follow if they want both great team success and opportunities for MVP awards.
Ezekiel Elliot, running back, Dallas Cowboys
“This is what heaven is like” is what Elliot likely thought to himself when he saw the Cowboys’ mammoth offensive line. The crop top-donning half back from Ohio State has been blasting through the holes created by the likes of guard Zach Martin and center Travis Fredrick and is unanimously the best running back in the league this year. Demarco Murray, the second-place player in yards per game is astoundingly 20 yards behind “Zeke.” He’s eating defenses alive and then symbolizing it with the gesture. He can run through you; just ask Kam Chancellor. He can run around you, see the Packers defense. If need be, he’ll go over you; he made a poster-worthy hurdle over bears defender Chris Prosinski. Of course, Elliot is on a rookie scale contract, and the Boys will probably have to let go of other promising players when both Elliot and Dak Prescott are up for new contracts. This is his MVP window, and he’s doing what he does best: running through it as fast as he can.
Derek Carr, quarterback, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are one of the lone bright spots in what has been a down football year, and Derek Carr is at the center of all of it. His stats are elite: 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions, top eight in completion percentage and yards per game and he’s been sacked only nine times. The AC/DC connection with Amari Cooper has left defenses “Thunderstuck,” and Michael Crabtree looks rejuvenated after frustrating years just across the Bay bridge. As is the theme with the others, Carr is on a low-budget contract that has allowed his GM to build a complete team to support him, and for the first time in a while, the Silver and Black could be challenging for a Super Bowl title.