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A Simple Lesson in Talent Acquisition From the Super Bowl Teams

Is it better to recruit high-priced leadership talent from another organization, or to home-grow your leaders? To judge by how the Seahawks and Broncos built their winning squads, the answer lies in remaining flexible about it.
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You know accomplished leaders are hard to find. And if you find one, chances are he or she will come at a high price (lofty salary, boat load of stock). Moreover, a leader recruited from the outside will also have to learn your company culture. The alternative, of course, is to develop leaders yourself, from the ranks of your organizaton's rising stars. 

Which approach is better?

The Super Bowl teams demonstrate the importance of maintaining a flexible attitude about the eternal challenge of finding skilled leaders. Here's a summary of how these two teams used contrasting approaches to find leaders at football's most vital position: quarterback. 

First, The 2 Talent Acquisition Styles, Dissected

Denver Broncos recruited an accomplished, pricey star from the outside. When the Broncos signed Peyton Manning to a 5-year, $96-million before the start of the 2012 season, they had to win a bidding war. Four other teams were in contention for Manning's services. The reason? Manning's superb track record with his former team, the Indianapolis Colts. He had already appeared in two Super Bowls (winning one) and was one of the most prolific passers in the sport's history. Further, his credentials as a locker room leader and off-the-field role model were indisputable.

The National Football League mandates that payrolls max out at $123 million. So by splurging on Manning, who earned $17.5 million in 2013 (14.2 percent of the max), the Broncos needed to rely on bargains at other positions.

Seattle Seahawks internally developed an affordable young talent. By contrast, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is a home-grown talent. The Seahawks drafted him before the start of the 2012 season. This year, he earned $681,085. That figure is less than 1 percent of the $123-million max. Among the 32 starting NFL quarterbacks, Wilson's salary ranks 31st. 

Wilson's low pay enabled the Seahawks to splurge elsewhere. For example, the team's star players at four other positions on offense account for roughly $38.7 million in salary--a whopping 31.5 percent of the max. That is only possible because Wilson's salary--still on the rookie wage scale--is so low.

The Bottom Line

Consider how the leadership position can maximize the talents of your current personnel.

Before Seattle drafted Wilson, they already had a strong ground attack, led by running back Marshawn Lynch and left tackle Russell Okung. They didn't need a prolific (and pricey) passer like Manning at the quarterback position. They needed a game manager who'd play risk-free football. Wilson stepped in as a rookie and quickly exceeded those low expectations. 

By contrast, the Broncos already had superb young (and low-priced) talent at the receiver position in Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. But their previous quarterback, Tim Tebow (maybe you've heard of him), was more of a runner than a thrower. The switch from Tebow to an elite passer like Manning helped Decker and Thomas maximize their abilities as precise route runners with fleet feet and trusty hands.

Of course, in the football world, fans will soon find out whether the Broncos' or Seahawks' approach yields a more fruitful result. That's the great thing about sports. There's no need to wait one year and see how stock prices change or profit margins fluctuate. All you have to do is sit back on Sunday, and check the scoreboard.




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