Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: In the NFL, Bad Owners Make for Bad Franchises

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 4, 2017

AP Photo/Tony Avelar

Some NFL owners are biggest reason their teams stink, lots of "Snacks," and will African-American coaches get shut out?  


1. Trickle-Down Intelligence, or Lack Of It, Plagues the NFL

In San Francisco, 49ers owner Jed York, after firing his third coach in three years, was asked at a news conference whether he was competent enough to make the decisions on the next general manager and coaching hires. It was a brutal question, but a needed and fair one.

York said it didn't matter what his response was because it wouldn't satisfy the questioner. He was right. After firing Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have made lots of cash off the field, but on it, they've been a swirling pool of poo. The biggest reason for that is York.

In Buffalo, general manager Doug Whaley told reporters he had no input in the firing of Rex Ryan, and didn't know why Ryan was fired.

The owner of the Bills, Terry Pegula, later contacted John Wawrow of the Associated Press to say the Bills were not in disarray even though Whaley didn't know what was happening with Ryan. When an owner has to say the franchise isn't in disarray, it usually is.

In L.A., Rams ownership gave Jeff Fisher an extension before firing him a week later.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

And in San Diego (for now), the Chargers maintained their aura of cluelessness, firing Mike McCoy a year after they almost fired him but instead fired a handful of his assistants.

On and on the circus goes.

If you want to know why the dregs of the league stay the dregs of the league, look no further than the owners of the teams. Not the coaches. Not the general managers. The owners.

Consider this from The MMQB's Albert Breer: There have been 45 coaching changes over the past six years, and 25 of the NFL's 32 teams have accounted for those changes.

The seven not on that listthe Bengals, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Saints, Seahawks and Steelersall have something in common: good, stable ownership. Yes, that includes the Bengals and Saints, too.

Ownership is the biggest reason why teams struggle or remain competitive; whether a decision is made rashly or not, smartly or not. A good owner, like New England's Robert Kraft, can help create a decades-long tradition of winning. Someone like York can potentially do the opposite.

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04:  Robert Kraft, owner and CEO of the New England Patriots, speaks at half time during the game between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo b
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

But owners seem to evade criticism because they aren't as visible. It's much easier (and I'm guilty of this) to point the finger at coaches, whose decisions are more immediately tangible. Ownership decisions play out over time, but they are no less impactful and carry greater import for a club's long-term health. 

Though York didn't answer whether he could make the right decision for the Niners moving forward, I give him credit for facing the heat. Where are some of the other owners from these perennial losers?

Good owners know when to make changes but, perhaps more important, when not to.

Years ago, the Giants were under mounting public pressure to fire Tom Coughlin, and last summer, they heard calls to fire general manager Jerry Reese. They held firm in both cases, and saw Coughlin lead them to two Super Bowls and watched Reese's moves transform their defense this season into a unit no team wants to play.

Critics of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin have occasionally chimed in about their desire to see him gone, but Pittsburgh's ownership kept him, and here the Steelers are again, back in the postseason, with a good shot to reach the AFC championship game. The Steelers have had three coaches in the last 45 years and six Super Bowl wins. That's smart ownership.

But the bulk of the league doesn't have a Rooney or a Mara or a Kraft in the owner's office. Does that mean they are doomed for eternity?

When you speak to coaches and executives in football about NFL owners, they all say the same thing: Bad owners become good owners by changing their methods, and good owners become Hall of Famers by expanding their already successful ways.

But these coaches and execs look at the ways some owners have handled recent coaching changes and don't think they've learned or adapted.

There is a sense that in San Francisco and Buffalo in particular, ownership will make the same errors they've made before. York is not highly thought of around the NFL for his football knowledge, which spurred a collective chuckle in league circles when York quipped that owners can't be fired.

He's right, but it still sounded weird, naive almost.

In other words, there's no reason for the Patriots, Giants or Steelers to worry about losing their edge anytime soon.


2. Bad Money Follows Bad Ideas

Here's one more example of what happens with bad ownership. The 49ers may owe as much as $69 million, to past coaches they've fired over the last three seasons alone, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter (via CBSSports.com's Will Brinson). When I queried people around the sport, they could not remember the last time a team owed so much money to past head coaches in such a short span.

While a separate report from the Mercury News' Tim Kawakami put the total closer to $30 million, that figure still would represent an unprecedented total.

It wasn't that long ago that the 49ers used to set different kinds of records.


3. NFL Coaching Comes at a High Cost

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 1:  Head coach Gary Kubiak of the Denver Broncos watches Trevor Siemian warm up before the game against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 1, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

This season, four NFL head coaches were hospitalized. Out of 32 total. Four. That's no small sample.

Jets head coach Todd Bowles was hospitalized last month because of kidney stones. Denver's Gary Kubiak was treated for migraines. Minnesota's Mike Zimmer had emergency eye surgery and Arizona's Bruce Arians was admitted for treatment in November after experiencing chest pains, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter at the time.

Are all of those medical issues directly related to the rigors of coaching in the NFL? Probably not. But Kubiak retired from coaching this week, primarily for health reasons.

And several assistants have told me some lower-level coaches across the league have also faced serious health issues this season. They estimated the number was in the 15 to 20 range. But since those coaches are out of the spotlight, few have heard of their plights.

I've written for decades about the effects of coaching stress. In the 2000s, coaches told me it was worse than ever. But now, all these years later, coaches I speak to say social media has made the pressure far worse than it's ever been.

This isn't to say anyone should feel sorry for these men, especially head coaches, who make millions and have their salaries guaranteed. They aren't fighting on foreign soil or toiling on a teacher's salary, but their stress, and what it does to their bodies, is still a hidden cost of the game.

And it isn't going anywhere.


4. NFL Water Cooler Talk, Part I: Is Arians On His Way Out?

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 24:  Head coach Bruce Arians of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on December 24, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Two AFC assistants who say they know Arizona head coach Bruce Arians think next season will be his last. I don't buy it. I think Arians is the type of coach who will have to be pushed out of the door. But these assistants insist Arians doesn't want to coach longer than one more year.


5. NFL Water Cooler Talk, Part II: Timing Isn't Good For Black Coaches

Those same two assistants suggested this hiring cycle will not produce an African-American head coach or a front office executive. I disagree with this as well. My guess is Buffalo interim head coach Anthony Lynn will replace Rex Ryan on a permanent basis. I also think ESPN analyst Louis Riddick will be running a front office next season, maybe in San Francisco.

But these assistants fear this season has generated more of a sense of panic than in others, and that panic will cause owners to revert to older ways, which is going with people who look like them.  

It's impossible to know what's to come, but there's clearly a lot of skepticism floating around about the immediate future of increasing the numbers of blacks in positions of power anytime soon.


6. Snacks Eating Up The Run

LANDOVER, MD - JANUARY 01: Running back Rob Kelley #32 of the Washington Redskins carries the ball against defensive tackle Damon Harrison #98 of the New York Giants in the first quarter at FedExField on January 1, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Ro
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Giants defensive tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison has quietly (though someone nicknamed "Snacks" probably doesn't do things quietly) had a superb season.

How good? Well, according to Nathan Jahnke at Pro Football Focus:

Nathan Jahnke @PFF_NateJahnke

Only defensive linemen with 50+ run stops in a season in the past decade: J.J. Watt in 2012, Watt in 2013, Damon Harrison in 2016.

Harrison is a prime reason why the Giants' defense ranked 10th in yards allowed and second overall in points allowed, and why this team can potentially beat any team, anywhere, anytime.


7. Brady's GOAT-ish Accuracy

I've been pretty clear that I think Aaron Rodgers should be the league's Most Valuable Player. But it's also clear the vote will be razor-thin close between Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Brady.

To me, Brady should rank second. For the reason why, I direct you to this nugget from the NFL: By the end of this season, Brady had thrown 28 touchdown passes and two interceptions. That's the greatest touchdown/interception ratio in regular-season NFL history.

And he missed four games.


8. Prescott Continues to Amaze

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 26: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys throws as Kerry Hyder #61 of the Detroit Lions defends during the first half at AT&T Stadium on December 26, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Brady may have more company among the all-time greats if Dak Prescott continues on the trajectory on which he's started his career. According to NFL director of football communications Randy Liu, Prescott is just the second player in league historyand the first rookieto throw for at least 3,500 passing yards and have fewer than five interceptions in a season. Brady is the only other player to accomplish the feat—twice—in 2010 and this past season.

Prescott's accuracy and penchant for limiting mistakes has made him an MVP candidate this season, and could make him a lot more in the years to come.


9. Down Time Should Remain Down Time

Justin Witmondt @JustinWitmondt

So OBJ, Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, and Roger Lewis flew to Miami last night, went clubbing, and are on a boat. Living life. #Giants https://t.co/SE6QqfuYfT

There's been a great deal of hyperventilating, old-man-yelling and sanctimonious gobbledygook over the fact Giants players—on their day offwent partying on a boat.

Lots of dudes, especially old ones I know who used to party their asses off when they were younger and working, objected to players partying on their off day. It is, easily, one of the dumbest non-stories of all time.

The same was true when Tony Romo was once criticized for traveling to Cabo San Lucas with Jessica Simpson. What rational human being would ever fault anyone for going to Cabo? With Jessica Simpson?

The standards for the outrage of these things seem to shift.

US golfer and tournament host Tiger Woods(C) poses for photos with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (R) and entertainer Jessica Simpson during opening ceremonies on July 1, 2009 at the AT&T National golf tournament hosted by Tiger Woods at the Congres

In 2008, Tom Brady went partying in New York before Super Bowl 42 with his foot in a walking boot, and few said anything. It was a different social media landscape, that's true, but Brady was portrayed then as a likable guy just having fun. The same standard has seemed to apply with Rob Gronkowski.

Players deal with extreme violence, the threat of long-term brain damage, debilitating injuries that can last a lifetime. If they want to party on a day off, hell, let them.

My only issue with what the players did is hanging out with Justin Bieber.

At least party with someone that can sing.


10. Will the Browns Get This No. 1 Pick Right?

17 Apr 1999: Number one draft pickTim Couch poses with owner Al Lerner of the Cleveland Browns during the NFL Draft at the Madison Square Garden in New York, New York.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Former longtime Cowboys executive and NFL historian Gil Brandt tweeted that prior to this year, Cleveland has held the first overall pick twice in the modern draft era (since 1967). The first produced quarterback Tim Couch in 1999. The following year, they nabbed Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown.

The Browns chose...poorly.

Those picks set the franchise back years, if not decades. For a team that hasn't reached the playoffs since 2002, the fanbase won't accept whiffing on another draft.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter:@mikefreemanNFL.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.