Cultivating Invincibility and the Super Bowl

Over the last two years, many people in the NFL have become interested in stoicism through Ryan Holiday’s books The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy, both of which I read and led me to purchase Ryan’s latest book with Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic. As they wrote in the introduction to this latest book, the stoic philosophers framed their philosophies into three critical disciplines:

  • The Discipline of Perception: how we see and perceive the world around us
  • The Discipline of Action: the decisions and actions we take—and to what end
  • The Discipline of Will: how we deal with the things we cannot change, attain clear and convincing judgement, and come to a true understanding of our place in the world

The book has become a daily reminder of many of the same things that Dr. Kevin Elko would tell me during college like learning how to focus on controlling what I can control, which is a main tenant of stoicism. Elko has worked as a sports psychologist with numerous NFL teams, so teams can still hire a guy like Elko to work with their team, but they have a stoic reminder they can read each day to keep their minds sharp for their personal and professional lives. For me, the book has helped me organize my thoughts each day as I’m also keeping a daily journal of these passages and my notes on them, which on some days can grow into longer personal notes.

Today’s passage in The Daily Stoic was from Epictetus in Discourses where he wrote, “who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice.” I had re-watched Conor McGregor’s two most recent fights this morning, the win against Eddie Alvarez in November for the UFC Lightweight Championship and the win in the rematch against Nate Diaz in August. While watching the fights I had the same thoughts that many have when they watch McGregor: What is it that makes this guy so special? Why is he so confident? What makes him seem to feel invincible?

What Epictetus was talking about was what I saw in McGregor this morning and what we see in the Patriots and their style of thinking. This morning Adam Schefter tweeted a pretty crazy sounding statistic in that the Patriots have the most snaps in the NFL by undrafted players over the last decade with nearly 54,000 going back to 2007. That sounds crazy, but in the midst of the writing process of Caponomics I’m reminded in every chapter that I write that Bill Belichick succeeds and outmaneuvers everyone because he knows football better than anyone else: growing up with a father in Steve Belichick who wrote Football Scouting Methods, which many refer to as the best book on NFL scouting ever written, and combining that with an economics degree from Wesleyan. Belichick started creating his own scouting manual with Mike Lombardi and then later with Scott Pioli, Ernie Adams, and Bucko Kilroy. As Michael Holley writes in Brady & Belichick, “they wrote with clarity and power, accurately describing some of their championship players before they were even in the building.” Combining his deep knowledge of football with an economics education, Belichick had the perfect tools to become the head coach/General Manager that he is with the Patriots: because he knows exactly what he’s looking for that allows him to find value, which allows him to create near invincibility in the salary cap era.

What I realized when taking my notes this morning is that that invincibility Epictetus speaks of is created by people who have mastered focusing on what they can control. They don’t care what other people think because they know the principles of what matters to them; they understand the steps they need to take for success, so why would they let the noise come in? Of course, stopping the noise from coming in is far easier said than done in 2017, but when someone has the supreme self-confidence in their abilities and their process, they know how to disallow the outside noise from coming in because they know the noise will only distract them from focusing on their process and improving their abilities.

Holiday and Hanselman write in their notes on Epictetus, “our reasoned choice—our prohairesis, as the Stoics called it—is a kind of invincibility that we can cultivate.” As they point out, the invincibility is a result of our reasoned choice and to that point, everything positive that we cultivate is a result of the decisions that we make. Whether it’s a mind state and personal attribute or a personal goal outside of ourselves, we can earn these things like we can earn invincibility through the choices we make. As author Tim Ferriss talks about often on his podcast, figure out what your objective is, then back engineer that objective to figure out the steps necessary to get to the goal. After doing that, plan out the steps you’ll take, create your strategy, then execute.

This quote and these notes are applicable to our personal lives, our professional lives, and to our favorite NFL teams. The Patriots have complete alignment between their head coach and General Manager because they’re the same person, while the Seahawks, Packers, Steelers, Ravens, and others have great alignment between two individuals in those positions. We have two current examples in Indianapolis and San Francisco of what happens when there’s no alignment. That complete alignment of understanding of what the team is trying to accomplish on the field with an understanding of how to execute it through the salary cap is what has put the Patriots in seven of the last 16 Super Bowls.

NFL teams are trying to implement stoicism and the only way to do this is through a dual understanding of on field and salary cap needs; it has enabled the Patriots to create a repeatable formula in terms of the math and the ability to find players to fill the roles on their roster. An example of this formula is in their WR1 cost for their Super Bowl teams. Terry Glenn cost 3.90% of the cap in 2001; Troy Brown cost 3.27% in 2003, then 3.96% in 2004; Danny Amendola cost 3.53% in 2014 and Chris Hogan costs 3.54% this year. They do this because having your top paid receiver at this cap number allows you to get into the bottom of the second tier of the market (3.5-6.5%) where you can find a player to fill a key offensive role, but still have the cap space to go sign two more receivers in the third tier of the market (1.5-3.5%).

The top of the wide receiver market can get up to 10% of the cap with Julio Jones consuming 10.24% of the cap for the Falcons as the top paid receiver in the NFL. He can break Demaryius Thomas’ record setting 9.21% in 2015 and Matt Ryan can break Steve Young’s Super Bowl record of 13.08% with his own 15.30% cap hit to become the most expensive duo by 3.90% of the cap with a 25.54% cap hit compared to the 21.64% that Young and Jerry Rice consumed in 1994. The Falcons may be able to go on a little run here even with those cap hits because of the way Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff have worked together to find the pieces necessary to execute their on field objectives. As Jason pointed out in November, the Falcons have the most valuable offense in the NFL because, outside of Jones and Ryan, they have a bunch of low-cost pieces and they’ve drafted most of their defense, the same way the Seahawks built the defense that’s been helping them compete in the playoffs since 2012. Just like with some over-investments in tight end Zach Miller (8.94%) and wide receiver Sidney Rice (7.89%) for the 2013 Seahawks, the Falcons are able to overcome a historic cap hit from Ryan and Jones because, well, first those two played at a Hall of Fame level this season, but also because of the extreme value they found all over the roster, just like those 2013 Seahawks. Where the Seahawks had Bobby Wagner (0.80%), Golden Tate (0.72%), Brandon Browner (0.63%), Russell Wilson (0.55%), KJ Wright (0.55%), Richard Sherman (0.49%), Doug Baldwin (0.46%), and Jermaine Kearse (0.39%); the Falcons have Keanu Neal (1.26%), Jalen Collins (0.79%), Robert Alford (0.70%), Devonta Freeman (0.41%), Tevin Coleman (0.40%), Taylor Gabriel (0.39%), Ryan Schraeder (0.38%), and Grady Jarrett (0.32%).

I think the Patriots will win on Sunday as I’ve thought they’d win all season because their salary cap formula is the best in the NFL and it’s not even close as Belichick is in year 17 of his New England Experiment, learning and progressing every year, while everyone else tries to catch up. He’s martial arts equivalent of the master black belt who we refer to as the Professor, while most other coaches are just blue or purple belts trying to catch up without enough time in the day to catch up to a man who pioneered the art of watching film.

In Caponomics, we see the definition of success as the ability to make the playoffs every year because being in the playoffs means having a chance at the Super Bowl. I know the Patriots will continue to dominate and the Falcons have a shot at competing at a high level for the next two years at least. With their defense having so many first and second year players playing key roles, that helps extend the window through 2018, but Matt Ryan needs a new contract after 2018 and so many of their key pieces will be up for free agency like the Patriots’ defense this offseason. We know Belichick can reload because he has done it for a decade and a half; the Falcons future will be determined by their ability to create their own cap formula these next few years the same way the Seahawks had to, but with the added hurdle of a quarterback and wide receiver making top of market money.

Understanding the on field and salary cap objectives helps NFL franchises create a stoic process. It creates an ability to control what you can control and trust the process. It allows you to be proactive, rather than reactive, by creating long term salary cap solutions, rather than short-term on field solutions that almost never result in a Super Bowl anyway. Super Bowls are the result of three to five years of reasoned choices. They don’t happen overnight. Super Bowls are cultivated. Caponomics will help fans understand this process, but for now, I hope you enjoyed this article and have a great Super Bowl Sunday.

Zack Moore is a writer for, author of the upcoming book titled, “Caponomics: The Process For Building Super Bowl Champions,” and NFLPA Certified Agent. You can follow him on Twitter @Zack_OTC.