For NFL fans, there is nothing worse than dealing with a perpetually bad front office. Bad players and coaches come and go within a few years, but front offices are often around for much longer.
Fans of these teams have been forced to stomach poor leadership, and as a result they are generally treated to some mediocre to awful football during the season.
As always, feel free to disagree with anyone on this list. One omission that’s likely to gain notice is the Buffalo Bills, who have the longest postseason drought in the NFL. The Bills aren’t included here because their ownership is still fairly new, so we’re cutting them some slack.
The rest of these teams don’t get the benefit of any doubt. These are the 10 teams which feature the worst front offices in the NFL, ranked from “best” to worst.
10. Dallas Cowboys
With the exception of Tom Landry, no man has coached more games for the Cowboys than their current head man, Jason Garrett. Garrett has been Dallas’ coach for five seasons (plus eight games in 2010 as an interim) and has made the playoffs one time. That would certainly makes Jerry Jones seem like a loyal guy, which can be a laudable quality.
The problem is that Jones is the same man who let Jimmy Johnson walk after winning consecutive Super Bowls. After the second win, William C. Rhoden of the New York Times quoted Jones, saying that he “should have fired him (Johnson) and brought in Barry Switzer. There are 500 coaches who could have won the Super Bowl with our team.”
Since then, Dallas has been plagued by immense mistakes in the draft and in free agency. The most recent disaster was the signing of Greg Hardy and the continued loyalty that was shown to the troubled defensive end last year, even after Hardy became a problem for the Cowboys.
Dallas has a glorious past, but with Jones running the show the future looks murky.
9. Los Angeles Rams
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane, back to 2010. Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did an in depth interview with Stan Kroenke, who produced a slew of words that are pretty hard to read now that the team is in Los Angeles, even for folks who aren’t fans of the team.
“I’m born and raised in Missouri,” Kroenke said. “I’ve been a Missourian for 60 years. People in our state know me. People know I can be trusted. People know I am an honorable guy.”
“I’ll do my damnedest,” to secure the Rams’ future in St. Louis, he said, per Miklasz.
St. Louis did significantly more to keep the Rams than San Diego or Oakland did to keep the Chargers or Raiders. Yet, the two AFC teams will remain in their current cities, at least for 2016, while the Rams are back in Los Angeles.
Now, as bad as all of that is, Kroenke did at least give his team a stable future, something that the Chargers and Raiders woefully lack.
Fortunately, we have another reason to include the Rams on this list.
After four completely mediocre seasons, the Rams decided to keep head coach Jeff Fisher. Not only are the Rams keeping Fisher for their grand opening in Los Angeles, but they’re actually in talks to extend him. Any time you can lock a coach up who’s posted a 27-36-1 record with no playoff appearances in four years, you just have to do it, right?
The Rams are certainly headed to warmer climates, but are a long way from being headed in the right direction.
8. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers need a new stadium. For the good fans of San Diego, we certainly hope that a new venue will remain in Ron Burgundy’s home town. With that said, the state of purgatory that the franchise and its fans have been in for the last few seasons is almost worse than moving.
The bulk of the blame for the uncertainty of the team’s future lies with owner Dean Spanos. San Diego’s need for a new stadium is not a new one. It goes back more than a decade in all of these years, absolutely no progress has been made.
Additionally, the Chargers haven’t enjoyed a lot of success on the field. Spanos oversaw the firing of Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season. Since then, he’s stuck with far less successful coaches — Norv Turner and Mike McCoy — for at least one too many seasons.
He also hired a general manager in Tom Telesco who alienated one of the franchises best defenders in Eric Weddle, who just signed a contract with the Baltimore Ravens in free agency.
Mediocre on-field performance combined with a consistently uncertain future definitely makes the Chargers one of the worst, most dysfunctional front offices in the NFL.
7. Oakland Raiders
In 2016, the Raiders will once again be playing at O.Co Coliseum. In 2017, the Raiders might be back in Oakland on another one-year lease or they could be in Los Angeles. Heck, they could be in some other city like Las Vegas, Portland, San Antonio, or some city that nobody is even thinking of right now.
It has to be incredibly difficult to build a winning team on the field when the future is so uncertain.
Now, if we’re being completely fair, we have to say that 2015 was a year of progress for Oakland. But the fact that a 7-9 season is considered to not only be progress, but immense progress, speaks to how bad things have been for a long time.
Oakland hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002. Many of these problems stemmed from poor decisions made by the late Al Davis. But while Al made bad decisions towards the end of his life, he at least had the background as someone who not only build Super Bowl-winning teams, but also the league itself.
His son, Mark, who’s been running the team since his father’s 2011 death, has no such resume.
The Raiders might be headed in the right direction, but they’re still a long way from their destination. The lack of success is too hard to ignore, especially when weighed with the never-ending stadium issues.
6. New York Jets
Much like the Raiders, the Jets look like they might be headed in the right direction. Also, much like the Raiders, their recent history gives us reason for doubt.
Since Woody Johnson became the team’s owner, they’ve mixed occasional success with spectacular failure. They have not been able to stabilize their head coach or quarterback situations. If it happens for a few years, blame doesn’t have to go to the owner. When it happens for this long, blame has to be assigned to the man who’s been running the team for so long.
From a distance, one other burning question lingers. Does this team want to win or grab headlines?
The fact that they acquired quarterbacks Brett Favre and Tim Tebow — two definite attention grabbers — in offseasons following the New York Giants’ two most recent Super Bowl wins only adds fuel to this fire.
One good season is nice, but it is not enough to offset the recent failures of this front office.
5. Detroit Lions
The 21st century has been brutal for the Lions and their fans. They’ve made the playoffs only twice and won zero games in the postseason. As a matter of fact, Detroit has won only a single playoff game since winning the 1957 NFL Championship.
The Lions’ most famous failure, of course, is going 0-16 in 2008. The problem is that Detroit was routinely one of the NFL’s worst teams in Millen’s tenure, which began in 2001 and ran through 2008. Millen was a bad executive but the people who consistently decided to keep him were worse.
One thing that the Lions have accepted is failure. Executives and coaches have consistently lost, but have virtually all been kept on for at least two seasons too long. That might have changed this last season when Martha Firestone Ford cleaned house, but decades of failure give us some deserved skepticism.
It’s also worth mentioning that the franchise’s two best players in the last few decades, Calvin Johnson and Barry Sanders, both retired in their primes.
Until the Lions can not only have a winning season but make winning seasons the norm, the front office should be considered one of the NFL’s worst.
4. Indianapolis Colts
Given the immense success that they’ve had for nearly 20 years, including the Colts on a list like this shouldn’t be so easy. But in his time as general manager, Ryan Grigson has made 20 years worth of bad moves.
We start with the fact that the Colts have done an abysmal job at protecting Andrew Luck. If they want the Luck era to be anywhere near as successful as the Peyton Manning era was, they need to protect him. He takes too many hits, and in 2015 it showed, as Luck ended up missing half the season with injuries.
If they don’t figure it out soon, Luck could end up a ruined product.
Not giving Luck adequate protection is a bad mistake. It’s the worst mistake that Grigson has made in Indianapolis. With that said, he’s made plenty of others.
We could also focus on the fact that he’d assembled the roster like a fantasy team, something he did in Philadelphia, too, with absolutely no success.
If that doesn’t work for you, let’s look at the fact that they tried to improve on a team that made the AFC Championship Game by signing Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, and Trent Cole, all in their 30’s and well past their primes.
He also wasted a first-round pick in 2015 on receiver Phillip Dorsett. Two years prior, he burned a first-rounder on Bjoern Werner, who’s no longer on the team.
That’s all on Grigson. Jim Irsay and his Twitter account deserve blame here for the simple reason that Grigson is still employed by the Colts. He’s done virtually nothing to deserve any confidence, but is about to run his fifth draft in Indianapolis. Grigson deserves the blame for the mistakes. The blame for hiring and keeping Grigson, however, goes to the owner.
3. San Francisco 49ers
How bad is the 49ers front office? Well, Trent Baalke is the man who oversaw the team’s 2012 draft. San Francisco has zero players remaining on the team from that draft. Most of the players from that draft class, including first round pick A.J. Jenkins, are not even in the league anymore. Still, Baalke, who still remains on board, is not even close to the front office’s biggest problem.
No, that man would be CEO Jed York. Based on his request to be held “directly responsible and accountable” for the team’s play, he wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course, York was a virtual hermit during San Francisco’s 5-11 campaign, so maybe he doesn’t want to be held too accountable.
Before that season got underway, York was also quoted comparing his decision to part ways with Harbaugh in favor of Jim Tomsula to the Golden State Warriors’ decision to fire Mark Jackson and hire Steve Kerr. How’s that working out, Jed?
Also, whether they’ve been about Harbaugh, Tomsula, or Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers have become the team of media leaks. We’ve seen countless leaks about how the team doesn’t have confidence in the scapegoat of the week and how whomever that person is is the true source of the team’s problems.
A team with the Niners’ glorious past that plays in the backyard of model organizations like the Warriors and San Francisco Giants should know how good franchises run.
The 49ers are 180 degrees from that.
2. Miami Dolphins
The 49ers get better placement than the Dolphins for a couple reasons. One, they’ve had better recent success. Two, while the relationship ended in terrible fashion, San Francisco did manage to get four years out of Jim Harbaugh, making three NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl.
The other team that tried to land Harbaugh was the Dolphins. Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald quoted Brandon Marshall, who detailed just how shady owner Stephen Ross and then general manager Jeff Ireland were in the midst of that chase.
“I was there when Coach Sparano was sitting in his office and the owner, Stephen Ross, and Ireland were on a plane headed to Stanford to talk to Harbaugh,” the former Dolphins wide receiver told Miami reporters this week. “ … I’ll never forget the look on Coach Sparano’s face when I walked in his office; you know, their interview was probably going on.”
Firing a coach is one thing. Interviewing another while your current head coach is still on the payroll is simply terrible. One, it’s awful to leave your current coach waiting in limbo. Two, the other coach, in this case, Harbaugh, sees that and has to ask the simple question, “If you’re doing this to him, how am I supposed to believe that you won’t do it to me?”
When it comes to players, they haven’t been much better. Does anyone out there really believe that Ryan Tannehill is the quarterback that will lead the team back to prominence? Well, his contract says that he should be.
On the free agent front, Miami spent a lot of money on Ndamukong Suh. One year in, that looks like a colossal bust. This year, they let young star Olivier Vernon go in favor of Mario Williams. Letting Vernon walk for the big money he got from the Giants is excusable. Spending big money on a guy like Williams has bust written all over it.
As bad as the Dolphins’ front office has been, it’s not even close to our No. 1 team.
1. Cleveland Browns
Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have been a source of constant dysfunction. Hue Jackson is now the ninth coach that Cleveland has had since 1999. Only two of the previous eight — Romeo Crennel and Butch Davis — lasted more than two seasons. In that same stretch, 24 different men have started at quarterback, with nobody starting more than 59 games.
Recently, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said that players view going to the Browns like college, four years and done.
That’s an environment created by the front office. The team consistently brings in the wrong people to guide the ship. On the off chance that the right person is brought in, he generally bolts at the first opportunity.
Even this year, under new leadership, there are rumors that the Browns have been scaring off free agents. Heck, they lost all of their cornerstone free agents to other clubs and haven’t managed to score a single top prize in exchange.
The NFL doesn’t lack for bad front offices, but none rival the Browns.