The Super Bowl ingredient just as important as the quarterbacks

Eight primary reasons the Chiefs, Ravens, Lions and 49ers are one win from Super Bowl LVIII:

Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Jared Goff, Brock Purdy … and Brett Veach, Eric DeCosta, Brad Holmes and John Lynch.

The first four are star quarterbacks — all under 30 — who toss touchdowns on center stage. The last four are even more important.

They're general managers who belt home runs and limit organizational strikeouts behind the scenes.

Three of these GMs were longtime scouts. Proverbial football-breathing lifers. The other guy's a Hall of Famer.

Veach, 46, started out as an Eagles coach under Andy Reid, shifted into scouting, followed Andy to Kansas City in 2013 and became Chiefs general manager in 2017. He's won two Super Bowls, been to three, and is heading to Baltimore on Sunday for his sixth straight AFC title game in seven years as GM.

DeCosta, 52, began as a 25-year-old personnel intern under the Hall of Fame wing of Ozzie Newsome, who built two Super Bowl champions in Baltimore while grooming DeCosta as an area scout, scouting director, player personnel director, assistant GM and successor in 2019. DeCosta's squad owns the league's second-best record since 2018 (68-37, .648) behind only Kansas City (88-27, .765), sports the expected league MVP — the 27-year-old Jackson for what would be a second time — and, oh yeah, has a defense that led the league in fewest points allowed (16.5), sacks (60) and takeaways (31) this season.

Holmes, 44, started as a Rams public relations intern in 2003, quickly worked his way into the team's scouting department, became its college scouting director for eight seasons and landed the Lions GM job in 2021. Three seasons later, Detroit has won its first division title in 30 years, its first two playoff games in 32 and is heading to San Francisco for a chance to play in its first Super Bowl.

Lynch, 52, played 15 seasons as a Hall of Fame safety and left the broadcast booth to become 49ers GM in 2017. He quickly hired Kyle Shanahan as coach and is heading to the NFC title game for the third straight year and fourth time in the past five seasons.

Each decisionmaker was part of the most important job as a successful GM: finding a franchise quarterback.

Veach famously pounded the table for Mahomes loudly enough in 2017 for Reid to get on board with trading up from 27th overall to 10th at a time when far too many people (see: Chicago Bears) viewed Mahomes as a risky system quarterback with quirky mechanics and awful footwork. Reid already had a quarterback he liked — Alex Smith — but got the cornerstone of the NFL's current dynasty. And all it cost was a third-rounder in 2017 and a first-rounder (16th overall) in 2018.

DeCosta was in his last year as Newsome's assistant when the Ravens traded back into the first round with Philadelphia to select Jackson 32nd overall. All it cost them was second-round picks in 2018 and 2019, and a swap of fourth-round picks in 2018.

Lynch took two QB swings: a huge one in 2021 that failed (Trey Lance) and a small one in 2022 (Purdy) that saved his franchise, certainly his reputation and probably his job long-term. He whiffed on the native Minnesotan Lance when he used three first-round picks and a third-rounder to move up nine spots to take Lance third overall. Lance played only eight games, going 2-2 as a starter, before being shipped to Dallas for a fourth-round pick. But Purdy, the 262nd and final pick of the 2021 draft, has rendered the Lance gaffe irrelevant with one of the more unexpected starts to a career in NFL history.

Holmes, meanwhile, helped orchestrate one of the biggest blockbuster trades in recent history when he arrived in Detroit. He swapped Matthew Stafford to the Rams for a third-round pick in 2021, first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 and Goff. Stafford immediately won a Super Bowl, but the Lions are leveling the deal with Goff's resurrection and Holmes' shrewd selections. He turned the three picks he got into four starters — safety Ifeatu Melifonwu, receiver Jameson Williams, running back Jahmyr Gibbs and tight end Sam LaPorta.

Speaking of draft picks and shrewd moves …

• Fourteen of the Chiefs' starters last week were drafted by Veach since he became GM in 2017. Eight of those are on a defense that ranks second in fewest points allowed (17.3) and sacks (57).

• Eleven of the Lions' starters last week hail from Holmes' first three drafts. Two of them, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Penei Sewell, are first-team All-Pro.

• Seven of Baltimore's defensive starters last week were acquired by DeCosta in the last two seasons, including All-Pros Kyle Hamilton and Roquan Smith. Two other All-Pros on that top-ranked scoring defense — Justin Madubuike and Patrick Queen — were acquired by DeCosta in 2020.

• Eleven of the 49ers' starters last week were drafted by Lynch. Five of them were selected in the fifth round or later thanks to Lynch's eyeballs and a respected analytics department that launched Kwesi Adofo-Mensah on a path towards becoming the Vikings general manager in 2022. Lynch also hit a couple home run trades to get ageless All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams for a fifth and two thirds back in 2020, and MVP finalist Christian McCaffrey for a second, third, fourth and fifth last season.

So, there you have it. Come Sunday, Mahomes, Jackson, Goff and Purdy will be adding to the 121 touchdown passes they've thrown this season. But even they wouldn't have done it on this big a stage — one step from the grandest stage — without some serious home-run help from Veach, DeCosta, Holmes and Lynch.