Ranking the 5 Worst Front Offices in the NFL Today
Take a look at the quick turnarounds of the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. The reason those organizations were able to transition from pretender to contender in the matter of just a season or two is because they built stability throughout their infrastructure.
Now look at some of the bad teams around the National Football League. Most of them have one thing in common: They have shoddy front offices and are among the worst in player personnel and development.
Not only will this article look at the five worst front offices in the league, it will give you insight as to why I am taking such a hard-line stance against some of these organizations.
You may not like that your favorite team is on here, but the first step towards recovery is recognizing you have a problem. Once you do that, you will no longer be blinded by fandom.
Note: Ownership, draft picks, free-agent signings, success on the field and head-coach turnover were all criteria that I used when drawing up this list. Front offices are ranked based on these factors only. Front offices with new general managers and head coaches who appear on this list are based more off of that previous combination of factors, but a larger importance is placed on ownership.
5. Buffalo Bills
Owner: Ralph Wilson Jr.
President and CEO: Russ Brandon
General Manager: Doug Whaley
Head Coach: Doug Marrone
In order to have success as an organization, continuity needs to be an overriding theme. Without this, a team is two moves behind its opponents on the chessboard. In the case of the Buffalo Bills, their opponents are the other 31 teams in the NFL.
Buddy Nix was promoted to general manager towards the end of the 2009 season after current president Russ Brandon was promoted from that title.
At that point, it seemed Buffalo had come up with the idea of promoting from within and building continuity.
Nix, who resigned his post this offseason, struggled a great deal in the decision-making process, both in the draft and in free agency.
His struggles in free agency were obvious and pretty much led to his departure from the role of general manager, last offseason in particular.
Buffalo went out there and signed former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams to a ridiculous six-year, $96 million contract with $50 million guaranteed.
Buffalo also added defensive end Mark Anderson on a four-year, $21 million contract.
These two defensive ends, who were relied on to get the quarterback last season, combined for 11.5 sacks. To put that into perspective, eight players compiled more sacks than this tandem last season.
While it's obviously too early to indicate whether Doug Whaley, who was promoted to general manager from within, will be successful, the infrastructure of Buffalo's front office leaves a lot to be desired.
This is mostly due to the fact that owner Ralph Wilson Jr. continues to change up the philosophy of the organization, which has led to a lack of success over the past two decades.
First, it was about building through the draft and supplementing in free agency. When that didn't work, Buffalo went the other route. It is now caught in between a mix of the two, which seems to have caused a lack of philosophical continuity within the organization.
The results have been horrendous on the field.
Buffalo's last playoff game was against the Tennessee Titans in January of 1999. Sound familiar? It should: That game became known as The Music City Miracle.
That's 14 seasons with a postseason appearance, the longest in the NFL today.
During that time, Buffalo has gone through five head coaches and seven different regular starting quarterbacks. Again, I look back to the lack of continuity within this organization.
If it does start at the top, which seems to be the case in Buffalo, first-year general manager Doug Whaley and his rookie counterpart at head coach, Doug Marrone, are already being placed behind the proverbial eight ball.
Maybe they can change up the landscape of this floundering organization.
4. Dallas Cowboys
Owner: Jerry Jones
CEO and Director of Player Personnel: Stephen Jones
Head Coach: Jason Garrett
Where to begin here? It starts and ends with Jerry Jones. While the success the Dallas Cowboys had in Jones' early years as owner needs to be brought into the conversation to an extent, the NFL is a "what have you done for me lately?" league.
Jones and the 'Boys haven't done much since calendars changed to the new millennium. It's kind of like they faded with fads of the 1990s such as The Macarena, flip-top phones and tube televisions.
Dallas has won a total of one playoff game since the end of the 1996 season. Coincidentally, that was the last run for The Big Three. Troy Aikiman struggled in his final four seasons, going 24-28 as a starter. Michael Irvin moved on three years later, while Emmitt Smith began what was a gradual decline.
What has happened to the Cowboys front office since borders on hilarity.
The Cowboys have had five different head coaches since those years, mostly either in-house promotions or retread options. None of these coaches possessed a great relationship with Jones, and the lack of continuity from the sideline to the front office became apparent.
Jones would end up making more appearances on the sidelines towards the end of the game, which seemed to show up the coach. While Jones has only fired one of these coaches (Wade Phillips) midseason, his relationships with them, at least in a public eye, have been impacted by his strong-armed approach.
For the lack of a better word, Jones is the face of the Cowboys player personnel department. He makes the selections come April and negotiates contracts with free agents and extensions with veteran holdovers.
At times, the results have been nothing less than comical. Just take a gander at some of the picks Dallas has made in the NFL draft. Interestingly enough, Dallas seemed to draft well over the past couple of years, prior to this past April.
It was, however, the Cowboys' struggles from 2006-2009 that seems to have led to a mediocre product on the field.
From linebacker Bobby Carpenter in the first round of the 2006 draft to Felix Jones in the first round two years later, Dallas missed on picks it needed to hit on in order to take that next step among the best in the NFC.
The Jones pick in 2008 really stands out to me. Dallas picked up that first-rounder in a trade with the Cleveland Browns the previous year. That deal netted the Browns the bust that is Brady Quinn.
Even without getting into detail about the parameters of the deal, which didn't work out too well for the Cowboys, they missed big time with the Jones selection.
Running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson went in the picks immediately following where Dallas selected Jones.
In a nutshell, Dallas has failed more often than it has succeeded in the draft since its drought as a true Super Bowl contender began nearly two decades ago.
The biggest blunder that Dallas' front office has made with Jones at the helm has to be considered the ill-conceived trade for wide receiver Roy Williams.
During the 2008 season, Dallas sent four picks, including a first-and-third round pick to the Detroit Lions for the former first-round pick.
Williams went on to to sign a five-year, $45 million extension after the deal was completed, a contract that gave him $20 million guaranteed (via ESPN).
In less than three seasons with Dallas, Williams caught just 94 passes for 1,324 yards and 13 touchdowns. These are numbers that Jones and Co. expected him to put up over the course of a single season.
Below are a list of players Dallas could have netted with those two valuable picks it yielded to Detroit in the deal.
|2009 First-Rounder||2009 Third-Rounder|
|Percy Harvin||Mike Wallace|
|Clay Mathews||Jared Cook|
|Hakeem Nicks||Lardarius Webb|
Hindsight is 20-20, but this deal stands out to me because it seemed one-sided at the time it was made.
Williams had put up a total of one 1,000-yard season with Detroit and regressed in terms of production during the first half of the 2008 season before being traded to Dallas.
You simply cannot give up those types of picks in the NFL today unless you are getting back someone who has proven himself to be a perennial Pro Bowl performer. Williams had not played at that level prior to his trade to the Cowboys.
Don't even get me started on the ridiculous free-agent signings that Dallas has made over the past few seasons.
From washed-up veterans such as Eddie George and Drew Bledsoe to questionable character acquisitions such as Adam "Pac Man" Jones and Mike Vanderjagt, Dallas has failed at nearly every turn in free agency.
The one saving grace here for Dallas is that it does have a keen eye for talent. How else would you explain picking up quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Miles Austin as undrafted free agents?
In addition, the Cowboys may have turned the corner when it comes to the draft. While too early to call the 2013 draft, Jones and Co. hit on a multitude of picks over the past couple of seasons.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne, offensive tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee come to mind first.
Let's see if they can sustain that type of success moving forward and avoid the disaster that has been free agency.
3. Carolina Panthers
Owner: Jerry Richardson
President: Danny Morrison
General Manager: Dave Gettleman
Director of Football Operations: Brandon Beane
Head Coach: Ron Rivera
Marty Hurney led the Carolina Panthers front office as general manager from 2002-2012. For the most part, he had success finding talent in the draft early in his tenure.
It was a series of questionable draft picks and contract extensions that led to him being ousted by owner Jerry Richardson in 2012.
|Charles Johnson||Defensive End||2011||Six Years, $76 Million|
|Jordan Gross||Offensive Tackle||2009||Six Years, $60 Million|
|Jon Beason||Linebacker||2011||Six Years, $52.9 Million|
|Ryan Kalil||Center||2011||Six Years, $49 Million|
|DeAngelo Williams||Running Back||2011||Five Years, $43 Million|
|Thomas Davis||Linebacker||2011||Five Years, $36.5 Million|
|Charles Godfrey||Safety||2011||Six Years, $28.7 Million|
Not that these players aren't solid contributors to the Panthers. It's more about them not really being worthy of the ridiculous money thrown in their direction toward the end of Hurney's tenure atop Carolina's player personnel department.
When Dave Gettleman took over as the Panthers' lead dog, his first task was to get Carolina's financial house in order.
That's $44 million guaranteed to two running backs in an offense with a running quarterback, who is also going to be set for an extension in the next couple of seasons.
This just isn't sustainable for an organization that is attempting to change things up from the latter part of the Hurney years.
On the field, Carolina has been mediocre at best over the past couple of seasons. It surprised the NFC South by winning six games back in 2011, which had a lot to do with the emergence of then-rookie Cam Newton at quarterback.
However, the Panthers failed to take that next step this past season. They finished under .500 for the third consecutive season. This also came as a surprise to many pundits, who expected Newton and Co. to contend for a playoff spot.
Inconsistency on the field, a lack of a game plan from the coaching staff and immaturity from key young players all led to the substandard product we saw fielded last season.
It appears now that head coach Ron Rivera is heading into a make-or-break season. If Carolina finishes under .500 for the fourth consecutive season, he might be getting his walking papers.
As it relates to Gettleman, he probably has a bit longer of a leash considering the complete and utter mess he took on.
That being said, none of us can pretend to know what owner Jerry Richardson is thinking. The often-criticized head man hasn't made many allies among those in the football world, especially within the confines of the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association).
Former NFL linebacker and players' association lead dog Scott Fujita had this to say about Richardson, via Greg A. Bedard of The Boston Globe: "I don’t begrudge anyone for making money, but lying, colluding, cooking the books, and squeezing your employees via a work stoppage seems a little uncool."
The same Globe report quoted former Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer as saying the following about the collective bargaining negotiations that took place in 2011: "Wow, I can now confirm Jerry Richardson lied to my face, and every employee still in his locker room by extension."
These are the type of things that create mistrust and a lack of continuity within a front office and the broader NFL. It creates issues from the top down.
For these myriad reasons, Carolina is firmly entrenched as one of the worst front offices in the professional sports world, let alone the NFL.
2. Miami Dolphins
Owner/Chairman of the Board: Stephen Ross
General Manager: Jeff Ireland
Head Coach: Joe Philbin
While the Miami Dolphins might be fully prepared to make a postseason run and contend with the New England Patriots for the AFC East title this year, the management of this organization has been downright horrible over the past few seasons.
From overpaying for free agents to completely whiffing on the draft, general manager Jeff Ireland has proven himself to be among the most inept executives in the entire league.
The list goes on...and on.
Let's take a look at what has become of the most questionable quarterback situation in the league since Dan Marino parted ways back in 1999.
Since taking over as general manager back in 2008, Ireland has crashed and burned when selecting quarterbacks to lead the team on the field.
It started with the selection of Chad Henne in the second round of Ireland's first draft in 2008. Despite Henne's success at Michigan, many scouts concluded that his game didn't translate to being a starter in the NFL. This is a primary reason that he fell to the mid rounds.
Henne went on to lose 18 of his 31 starts as the Dolphins starting quarterback in a three-year span from 2009-2011. He threw six more interceptions than touchdowns and compiled a pedestrian 75.7 quarterback rating before departing via free agency last offseason.
Miami passed up on Matt Ryan with the first overall pick in that draft in lieu of offensive tackle Jake Long, who is no longer with the team.
In 2009, Miami went back to the well and selected former West Virginia quarterback Pat White in the second round. The mobile quarterback, who is attempting to latch on with Washington this season, attempted a total of five passes in his only season in South Beach.
Talk about wasting a valuable pick on someone who provided nothing on the field.
Hopefully for fans in South Beach, the surprise selection of Ryan Tannehill in the 2012 NFL draft will turn around what has been an anemic organization when it comes to selecting quarterbacks. If Tannehill's rookie season is any indication, he may just do that.
Outside of the quarterback position, Miami's success in the draft has been severely limited under Ireland.
Only 11 players selected from 2009-2011 are currently on the Dolphins roster. Out of that 11, just seven are considered sure-fire starters this upcoming season.
Considering that Miami finished a combined eight games under .500 in those three seasons, you'd expect more success in the draft. The combination of a lackluster roster and picking earlier in each round are both indicators that the Dolphins should have done better.
While I have chastised Ireland for overspending in free agency this offseason, I fully understand what went into that thought process. Ireland knows full well that another substandard season on the field will lead to his demise. Why not go with an "all hands on deck" mentality? Put the best possible product on the field short term in order to save your job.
Still, I want to see how the likes of Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler, Brent Grimes and Mike Wallace perform on the field before drawing a final conclusion there.
As it is, Miami has to possess one of the most questionable front offices in the NFL today.
1. Arizona Cardinals
Owner: William Bidwell
President: Michael Bidwell
General Manager: Steve Keim
Vice President/Player Personnel: Jason Licht
Head Coach: Bruce Arians
It's been horrific decision after horrific decision for the Arizona Cardinals front office under the Bidwells over the past few seasons. This is magnified by what has to be considered one of the most inept organizations as it relates to the draft in recent memory.
Arizona isn't a place that attracts free agency on a large scale, so the importance of building through the draft is paramount.
It just hasn't happened in recent seasons. Here are just a few examples of blown picks over a five-year stretch, from 2007-2011. I will not include picks in the past two drafts because it's too early to draw conclusions about them.
|2011||Second||38th||Ryan Williams||Running Back||Virginia Tech|
|2010||First||26th||Dan Williams||Defensive Tackle||Tennessee|
|2009||First||31st||Beanie Wells||Running Back||Ohio State|
|2009||Second||63rd||Cody Brown||Defensive End||UCONN|
|2007||First||Fifth||Levi Brown||Offensive Tackle||Penn State|
Not that every team hits on every single pick. We have seen even the best organizations over the past three seasons, such as the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, miss on some selections.
That's not the point.
Good organizations find talent, target that talent and usually hit on a vast majority of their picks. For every Daryl Washington, there are three or four Cardinals picks that leave your eyebrows raised.
Arizona nabbed an injury-plagued Ryan Williams from Virginia Tech toward the beginning of the second round back in 2011. It did so with the likes of Shane Vereen, DeMarco Murray and Stevan Ridley still on the board at the running back position. This doesn't even take into account the fact that players at other need positions, such as Kyle Rudolph and Randall Cobb were still on the board.
In 2010, Arizona picked up former Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams in the first round. In doing so, it passed up on two players who have been more productive in their careers in the form of Jared Odrick and Lamarr Houston.
This list can go on and on, but I will go ahead and give fans in the desert a bit of a reprieve from having to hear the same thing over and over again.
When your franchise isn't able to acquire top talent in free agency, it becomes of paramount importance to actually succeed with the signings you do make.
After Kurt Warner retired and Matt Leinart was released following the 2009 season, Arizona needed to go out there and find a replacement. Options were severely limited in the draft. With Sam Bradford off the board to the St. Louis Rams at No. 1 overall and Tim Tebow (thankfully for fans in Arizona) off the board just before the Cardinals selected at No. 26, reaching for another quarterback didn't make a lot of sense.
Instead, Arizona decided to go out there and sign a free agent who had one successful season with the Cleveland Browns. It inked Derek Anderson to a two-year, $7.25 million extension. Coming off a season that saw him throw three touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions, Anderson was horrible in his only year with the Cardinals.
He won just two of nine starts and became a headache around Arizona, mostly due to this now-infamous blowup following a Monday Night Football loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
The quarterback issues in Arizona can be summed up by one small declaration: It simply hasn't drafted well at that position in recent seasons.
|2012||Sixth||185||Ryan Lindley||San Diego State||Four|
|2006||First||10th||Matt Leinart||Southern California||18|
|2002||Third||81st||Josh McCown||Sam Houston State||33|
Arizona's issues have become more about not spending the necessary high-round pick on a quarterback than anything else. Maybe the disaster that was Matt Leinart played into this, but in order to get something back in the draft at quarterback, a team needs to invest higher-round picks.
In total, these five quarterbacks listed above have combined for a 26-35 record with 56 touchdowns compared to 76 interceptions.
You get what you pay for.
Apparently the Bidwells and their new head coach Bruce Arians haven't learned the lessen. Arizona went out there and traded for an aging and struggling Carson Palmer this offseason. While Arizona didn't give up much in terms of picks to the Oakland Raiders, it did sign the veteran to a restructured two-year, $16 million restructured contract with $10 million guaranteed.
While it would have been a reach to go for any of the top quarterbacks in the top 10 of the 2013 NFL draft, Arizona was sitting there with the 38th pick with Geno Smith still on the board. Instead of investing in a young quarterback, the Cardinals traded that pick away and went with an inside linebacker to pair up with Daryl Washington.
Why not take the shot there? After all, Palmer isn't being brought on at this point to be the long-term solution in Arizona. Bringing on a veteran of his age with his recent lack of success is fine when you have a long-term plan in place. Arizona doesn't.
The Cardinals are now bogged down in the cellar of one of the best divisions in the entire NFL. While San Francisco added to a roster that already made the Super Bowl, and Seattle brought on a ton of talent to challenge the 49ers for the division, St. Louis continued what has been a solid rebuilding process.
The gap between those three teams and Arizona seems to have widened even more since the end of the 2012 season.
It is these types of decisions and the complete ineptitude of this organization that has me questioning whether even Bruce Arians can succeed as its head coach.
I guess time will tell.
Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist at Bleacher Report.