7 Habits of a Highly Successful NFL Franchise
The ultimate goal for any NFL team is to win a Super Bowl. If counting the Colts as one franchise in both Baltimore and Indianapolis and the Raiders in Oakland and Los Angeles,18 teams have won the big game. That leaves 14 current teams without a ring.
So what makes the New England Patriots, the Green Bay Packers, the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New Orleans Saints and the New York Giants so consistently good?
All of these teams have quite a few traits in common. Just like the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers in their heyday, successful teams find a formula that works, and if that team stays true to the vision, they will have continued success year after year.
Though each of these teams share many of the same traits, all of them are neither too strong nor too weak in any one area. The successful NFL teams know that all seven traits are intertwined and are vital to the franchise's overall success.
This article will look at those seven characteristics that consistent NFL winners have. Maybe some teams do not have the most Super Bowl wins, but season after season these teams are in the playoffs and at least giving the franchise and their fanbase a chance to hold the Lombardi trophy.
1. Owners That Own, Not Manage
The New England Patriots have had 11 straight seasons with nine or more wins in the regular season. The team has won three Super Bowls in that time period as well. Ask anyone in the NFL who they think is one of the best owners to work for and most of those people will say, Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Kraft is at the forefront of many NFL issues, but when decisions concerning his football team need to be addressed, Kraft understands that he must trust the people he hired to run the team. Head coach Bill Belichick has Kraft’s total faith and trust. Belichick had to earn his stripes with Kraft, but the once controversial hiring is now one of the greatest in NFL history.
The late Art Modell and now Steve Bisciotti of the Ravens look at general manager Ozzie Newsome’s record and allow the Pro Bowl tight end to call the shots.
The Rooney family in Pittsburgh, the Mara family in New York and the Benson family in New Orleans all understand the business side of the NFL. They happily and successfully leave the football side to the football decision makers.
2. Draft/Sign a Franchise Quarterback
This is much easier said than done, but throughout the history of the NFL, the most successful teams had a playmaker at the quarterback position. Some of these teams selected that quarterback high in the NFL draft such as Eli Manning with the Giants, Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers.
Other teams must find their signal-caller in free agency. The New Orleans Saints are a classic example of a franchise that did not historically draft well at the quarterback position, but with the signing of Drew Brees, completely turned the fate of the team around.
Tom Brady is in a completely different category all his own. Though he was drafted very late by the Patriots, Bill Belichick let the young gun learn behind a very good NFL quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. But when Bledsoe was knock out of the game versus the Jets, Belichick believed enough in his backup to hand him the reins. The rest is NFL lore.
The NFL is a quarterback driven league and even from the 1960s to today, almost every Super Bowl winning team had a difference maker running the offense.
3. Draft the Best Player on the Board
There is an old football adage that reads, “When you make an exception in the draft, sooner or later, you will have a team full of exceptions.”
The NFL is littered with players who were the next “sure-fire” draft picks, only to be out of football in a couple of seasons. Teams that constantly win are teams that trust their scouts and the ability to evaluate talent.
Case in point: The Green Bay Packers had one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in Brett Favre as the starter. Favre wanted to make another run at a Super Bowl and was lobbying for other playmakers on offense and defense. General manager Ted Thompson trusted his talent evaluators and his gut and instead selected Aaron Rodgers in the first round.
At the time, pundits blasted Thompson for the pick, saying the selection was a waste. By staying true to the draft board, Thompson set the Green Bay Packers up for success for years to come.
4. Separate Titles
The best hierarchies in the NFL game have consistently been when there is one person as a general manager and a different individual as a head coach. Not to say there have not been some cases where the head coach, acting as the pseudo general manager did not win, but the separate jobs for separate individuals seem to work best.
This is not to say both general managers and coaches do not have a say in the draft, free agency or the roster. Both sides work well together in the best franchises to make the team better. Egos need to be checked at the door.
In New England where head coach Bill Belichick seems to hold both titles, without personal gurus Scott Pioli in the early 2000s and now Nick Caserio, Belichick would not have been as successful.
The Steelers’ Kevin Colbert is one of the best general managers in the NFL yet quietly does an outstanding job year in and year out. The Ravens, the Saints, the Giants and the Packers all believe in a separation of power, and these franchises are consistently good.
5. Do Not Be Afraid of Change; Manage Change
Change in life is unavoidable. As Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam sings, “I’ve changed by not changing at all.” The good teams in the NFL understand this principal and are not resting on their laurels.
Successful teams lose coaches and players all the time. This is the inevitable truth in the NFL. The teams that win on a consistent basis understand how to control and manage the change while still holding on to traditions.
If the core culture of the organization is strong, handling the ebbs and flows that come along with the ever-changing effects of being an NFL team will stay firm.
Head coach Tom Coughlin was losing his New York Giants team after the 2006 season, and his coaching style was grinding some of his players the wrong way. But after meeting with the veterans on the club and clearing the air, Coughlin was able to re-direct his motivations, and this led to his team winning the Super Bowl after the 2007 season.
Successful organizations can have a hundred moving parts, but if the core culture is strong, even with new coaches, management and players, the team can still win.
6. Understand How to Use the Salary Cap
To the casual fan, the salary cap makes zero sense and is something those “Moneyball” geeks deal with. The teams that are solid over a long period of time understand how to manage the salary cap and never waiver.
The $120.6 million salary cap for the 2012 season is a flat cap, but teams are able to “carryover” money that is left in any year of the future collective bargaining agreement. This allows successful teams to plan into the future on which young stars to sign to longer term deals as well as which aging veterans must be let go.
The teams that are consistently in the playoff chase are right around the salary cap limit. Some teams will skimp on salaries, and this produces a young and inexperienced team. Some teams are regularly over the cap and have to take drastic and team changing moves to get under the cap.
The teams like the Ravens with cap number cruncher Pat Moriarty (pictured), Patriots, Steelers, Packers, Giants and Saints all have one-year, three-year, five-year and 10-year projections of where the cap is now and where the ceiling may be after new television and media revenues.
By planning for the short and long term, these teams will not be caught off guard by any drastic happenings in the franchise.
7. Have an Imprint on the Community
No organization epitomizes this phase in all of sports like the Green Bay Packers. The franchise is Green Bay and vice versa. No other team in major professional sports has a setup like the Packers. The fans literally own the team and gladly claim stake in the hallowed club.
Players ride local kids’ bikes to practice. The streets are named after Super Bowl heroes, and every game is sold out for years to come. The Packer players are a major part of the community, and the literal lifeblood of the town comes from the Packers organization.
Look at the Patriots where the entire Northeast claims them as their own. In Pittsburgh, even with popular baseball and hockey teams, locals know it’s a football town. The Ravens are the show in Baltimore, and a case can be made that the Saints helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Successful teams connect with their fanbase and understand that without the fans, the team is non-existent. Winning brings fans to the stadiums of course, but even when these franchises had lean years, the bond with the fans kept them battling for wins.