From the Top: The NFL's Worst-Run Franchises

Chris CluffCorrespondent IIMarch 12, 2009

In 2008, the Detroit Lions became the first team to go 0-16, the Oakland Raiders lost double-digit games for the sixth straight year and Cincinnati had a non-winning record for the 17th time in the last 18 seasons.

Horrible seasons by all, but really just par for the course for the three worst-run franchises in the NFL. Some teams just can't get it right. They go through coaches, quarterbacks and first-round draft picks like they're disposable diapers. It's no wonder they always stink.

About a quarter of the NFL's teams would be better off—and the league would be more competitive—if they were sold to better owners. With that in mind, here's a list of the NFL's eight worst-run teams.

1) Detroit: The Lions' 0-16 record earned them the dubious distinction of being the worst team in NFL history. Fitting, since they have been the worst-run franchise in the NFL for the past decade.

The Lions have had losing records for eight straight seasons. You can blame it on Matt Millen, whose first-round draft picks were almost all busts. But you should blame it on owner William Clay Ford, who kept Millen as general manager for eight pitiful years and simply doesn't seem to care about his football team.

Ford fired Millen only after his son, William Clay Ford Jr., mentioned in a public interview that he would fire Millen if he were in charge.

Millen's first-round busts included QB Joey Harrington (third overall in 2002), WR Charles Rogers (second overall in 2003), RB Kevin Jones (30th in 2004) and WR Mike Williams (10th in 2005).

Roy Williams (seventh overall in 2004) is gone, too, although the Lions managed to get some good value for him from Dallas. But that was after Millen was long gone.

To replace Millen, Ford simply promoted the guys who had worked under Millen, Tim Lewand and Martin Mayhew. This is an owner—and therefore a team—that is content to be bad and simply doesn't care enough to try. And that is why it is the worst-run franchise in the NFL.


2) Oakland: Al Davis lost his "Commitment to Excellence" a long time ago; he just won't admit it. His decisions have gotten worse and worse as he has gotten older and older (and apparently more senile).

Davis is the ultimate over-reactor, be it his propensity to fire coaches or his decision to sign and cut players at the drop of a dime.

Tom Cable is the Raiders' fifth coach since Davis traded Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay in 2002. And the Raiders haven't won more than five games since losing to Gruden's Bucs in the 2002 Super Bowl.

It certainly doesn't help that Davis has a poor personnel department and apparently still likes to tell his coaches how to do their jobs.

The last year is a perfect example of Davis' loss of all sensibility. He hired the far-too-young and inexperienced Lane Kiffin in 2007, then was for some reason surprised that his Raiders didn't immediately turn it around. So he asked for Kiffin's resignation before the 2008 season.

When Kiffin refused, Davis let the Raiders drift through the first month of the season with a lame-duck coach until Davis finally fired Kiffin.

Davis' pride and impatience have cost the Raiders again and again in recent years. Last year, he spent $70 million in guaranteed money on four players. A year later, two of them are no longer on the team and the other two did nothing to earn the outrageous money Davis lavished on them in 2008.

Davis once knew what he was doing, as three Super Bowl titles attest, but that was so long ago that Davis no longer knows how to "Just Win, Baby."


3) Cincinnati: Mike Brown has a little Al Davis in him; he likes to run his team...into the ground. The Bengals have had one winning season across the last 18. For perspective, even the Lions and Raiders each have half a dozen winning campaigns in that time.

The Bengals have long had one of the smallest scouting staffs in the NFL, which is a big reason many of their draft picks fail to pan out. Plus, Brown has a penchant for drafting guys with long rap sheets—the Bengals had the most thugs per capita in the NFL just two years ago.

It's mindboggling that a team run by a defensive guru, Marvin Lewis, has not ranked in the top half of the league's defensive standings even once in his six seasons. It's because Brown can't find him any good defenders.

Lewis is actually the best coach Brown has had since Sam Wyche led the Bengals to the Super Bowl 20 years ago, but Brown is simply not good enough with personnel to help his coach out. And that will probably be Lewis' undoing in the next year or two.

Before Lewis, Brown went through three coaches—Dick LeBeau, Bruce Coslet and Dave Shula—over 11 straight losing seasons.

And that's why the Bengals have so often been called the Bungles.

4) Cleveland: Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have just two winning seasons and one playoff appearance. In those 10 seasons, they have gone 54-106 (.337), and they are now on their fourth coach.

Their offense has been pitiful for most of that time, ranking in the bottom quarter of the league eight times. And the defense has rarely been much better. They have gone through eight quarterbacks, spending first-round picks on two of them.

They have had seven different leading rushers. Their offense has never gotten settled—and still isn't, with both Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn vying to be the starting quarterback.

It doesn't matter which Lerner has run the team—the late Al Lerner or now his son Randy—the Browns still haven't really returned to the NFL.


5) Buffalo: The Bills just seem to have no direction. And their recent signing of WR Terrell Owens is a prime example. Why would a team with so many other holes sign a 35-year-old problem-child wide receiver for one year?

The Bills—one of the best teams of the 1990s—have had only one winning season this decade, and they have gone 7-9 in each of the last three seasons under Dick Jauron. Their offense is consistently one of the worst, which is probably why they think Owens will help them.

But do the Bills really think Owens is all they need to get to the Super Bowl in 2009? What about after that?

The Bills have been horrible planners. Early in the decade, they let a quarterback controversy between Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson tear the team apart.

Then they wasted a first-round pick on Willis McGahee when he was coming off a horrific knee injury and Travis Henry was coming off a 1,400-yard season.

Then they let McGahee go after just four years and replaced him with another first-round pick, Marshawn Lynch, who has not been any better and is now a legal liability.

They drafted J.P. Losman in the first round, then traded Drew Bledsoe so Losman could start. And now Losman is gone, and Trent Edwards is their third starting QB since Bledsoe left in 2005.

The Bills are doing so poorly financially that they have resorted to playing games in Toronto, where they might soon end up. But they probably won't be any good until Ralph Wilson no longer owns them.


6) Washington: Daniel Snyder is a maverick owner, and his offseason strategy reflects that every year. One year he spends big, the next he trades away all of his draft picks, then he goes back to spending big.

The Redskins were one of three teams reportedly over the salary cap as free agency approached this year—a result of bad deals still eating up cap room. And yet Snyder still managed to make his usual splash, giving DT Albert Haynesworth a deal with $41 million guaranteed.

But for all of his free-spending, fantasy-football antics, Snyder has seen his team make the playoffs just three times in the 10 years he has owned it. In that time, he has gone through five coaches.

And his current guy, Jim Zorn, was chosen in a most unorthodox way—hired to be the offensive coordinator and then promoted when Snyder decided he didn't like any of the other candidates.

Under Snyder's watch, the Redskins have been bad on offense and inconsistent on defense. And it really can be blamed on the fact that Snyder has not had a strong general manager—he let coaches Steve Spurrier and Joe Gibbs do the job themselves.

Snyder just can't help but make a big move, whether it's hiring Spurrier or Gibbs or signing big free agents like Haynesworth. And as long as Snyder keeps playing fantasy football instead of the real thing, the Super Bowl will remain a fantasy.

7) Chicago: The Bears might seem to be out of place on this list, simply because they have gone to the playoffs twice in coach Lovie Smith's five seasons. But this team is just not built for the long haul, and it shows through the inconsistency.

Before Smith was hired in 2004, the Bears had been to the postseason just twice in the past 12 seasons. Smith got them back in 2005 and 2006, reaching the Super Bowl in the latter season. But they have since reverted to their non-playoff ways.

The main culprit is the offense, which has long been one of the league's bottom-dwellers. General manager Jerry Angelo has wasted first-round picks on WR David Terrell (eighth overall in 2001), QB Rex Grossman (22nd in 2003) and RB Cedric Benson (fourth in 2005)—selections that have set the offense back time and again.

The Bears went to the Super Bowl in spite of Grossman's 20 interceptions and eight fumbles because they had a superb defense. If they could ever put together a good offense, they might have a chance to win the Super Bowl.

8) Arizona: Yeah, the Cardinals just went to the Super Bowl. But there's a reason no one expected them to do it: They're still run by a cheap family that has forever had problems fielding a competitive team.

Their stunning run to the Super Bowl came during just their second playoff appearance in 26 years. In other words, this team has long been one of the league's worst franchises, and one Super Bowl appearance doesn't change that.

Just look at how they have treated their players since the Super Bowl ended. They lowballed QB Kurt Warner, who had one of the great Super Bowl performances of all time even in a loss.

They have yet to release RB Edgerrin James, even though they have no intention of keeping him.

And they have yet to resolve the Anquan Boldin issue—a mess they created themselves by the way they structured Larry Fitzgerald's rookie contract, which inflated his salary to over $14 million in 2008.

To avoid a huge salary-cap charge and give themselves room to spend on other players last year, the Cardinals gave Fitzgerald a four-year deal worth $10 million a year. That was more than double what Boldin was making, and he quickly became dissatisfied with his deal.

The Cardinals are annually one of the teams with the most salary-cap space, yet they rarely use it. And that might explain why—this year's Super Bowl run aside—they rarely win.


Chris Cluff writes a weekly column at called From the Top, a look at the owners, coaches and front offices of NFL franchises. Read more at


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