The 2014 NFL season is behind us. The New England Patriots have won yet another Super Bowl, cementing both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's place among the all-time greats. Over the past decade, it has been much of the same in the NFL: the same teams keep winning and the same teams keep losing.
In the NBA, there has been much more turnover at the top for the past few seasons. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are among the league’s worst teams despite winning championships within the past 8 seasons. Now, the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, and Cleveland Cavaliers are now among the NBA's top-performing teams.
For whatever reason, under-achieving teams in the NFL seem to have a much more difficult time turning things around. The Oakland Raiders have not had a winning season since losing Super Bowl XXXVII to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of the 2002 NFL season. The Jacksonville Jaguars have similarly been a franchise of mediocrity, notching only a few decent seasons since the joined the league.
The Formula for Resurgence
It is not impossible to turn a franchise around. The New Orleans Saints reversed their fortunes when they made some great off-season moves following a disastrous 2005 season in which they won only 3 games. During that fateful stretch they hired head coach Sean Payton, who subsequently brought in quarterback Drew Brees (arguably the greatest free agent signing ever).
The following season the Saints rebounded, making it all the way to the NFC Championship Game. That's quite a turn-around for a team that only a single season before resided in the NFL cellar.
New Orleans would continue to build on that turn-round season, ultimately winning Super Bowl XLIV in 2009. Even though they've never returned to the Big Dance, they have qualified for the playoffs in four of the last six NFL season.
This proves that, while it's hard to turn around a struggling team, it’s far from impossible. It simple requires bringing in the right talent both on and off the field.
Front Office Woes
NFL Draft order is based on a simple concept: the worst teams get the best picks. They thus have the best opportunities to target the premium college talent on which to build their team around, presumably contributing to the parity that the league so craves.
As such, the problem with teams like the Jaguars and Raiders start in their front office. The Raiders and Jaguars have picked in the top five almost every one of the past ten NFL drafts, but they still cannot seem to do anything with the players they select.
Consider this sample of rookies that the Jacksonville Jaguars selected in the first round (either with their own selection or players they traded up to draft) and when they selected them. There’s a reason you don’t recognize many of these names—they have done nothing of note during their professional NFL careers.
- Derrick Harvey (8th overall)
- R. Jay Soward (29th overall)
- Matt Jones (21st overall)
- Reggie Williams (9th overall)
- Blaine Gabbert (10th overall)
The Jaguars have also passed up a lot of talent in NFL drafts. For instance, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Meriweather, Jon Beason, Ben Grubbs, and Greg Olsen were all selected after Reggie Williams in the 2007 NFL Draft. The Jaguars also selected a punter in the 3rd round of that draft, which was bad enough, but made worse when Russell Wilson was drafted only a few picks later by the Seattle Seahawks.
The Raiders have more than their fair share of draft busts as well. In fact, the Raiders drafted Jamarcus Russell 1st overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, possible the biggest draft bust of all time. Do you know who was selected 2nd overall that year? That would be the Detroit Loins' Calvin Johnson- easily the most dominant NFL wide receiver of the past decade..
Sure, the Jamarcus Russell pick wasn't a sure-fire bust on draft day. And the Russell pick by itself is not the reason the Raiders are still bad 8 painful years later. The problem with both teams is not one draft bust or a bad trade, it's that they consistently make poor selections on draft day.
Coaching Staff Turnover
Another problem, especially in Oakland, is the constant turnover of the coaching staff. The coaches of these poor franchises often get blamed for losing despite being given little to no talent to work with on the field. The Raiders recently hired Jack Del Rio to be their head coach—their 9th such hire since 2002.
With millions of dollars in cap room, the Raiders and Jaguars again have a chance to improve their teams over the next few seasons. However, until they commit to a coaching staff that can properly evaluate and retain talent, they will continue to be the laughingstocks of the NFL.