The NFL can be quite ambiguous. There's often no clearly defined way to do just about anything in this league, whether that be build a roster, prioritizing talent, a chain of command or just about anything else. But one of the more prevalent themes in the NFL is "bad teams stay bad". The climb from mediocrity or worse takes years and a little luck along the way, but often times these struggles are exacerbated by an old-school way of thinking or a traditionalist mindset. Add in a lack of job security and coaches and general managers often find themselves at odds with each other just as much as they are with opposing teams on Sundays.
Remember when former Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson threw Sashi Brown under the bus and stated that he wanted Carson Wentz all along in 2016? How about when New York Jets head coach Adam Gase strolled into New York and within 3 months had wedged himself between acting owner Christopher Johnson and then GM Mike Maccagnan? Surely you remember the time former Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland spent the final two games of 2013 badmouthing former head coach Joe Philbin in the press box — and the complaints worked their way back to Philbin, fracturing the relationship so badly that the head coach and general manager weren't on speaking terms by the end of that season before Ireland was fired from the gig?
It can be a pretty toxic circle, one with a lot of hazards. And yet for one reason or another, a select few in team management have found themselves almost impervious to the shortcomings of their respective teams. One or two years of regression is one thing. But constant disappointment, poor management, bad (or "damn good", depending on your perspective) culture and a failure to compete at a high level should all be considered catalysts for change.
Except it always isn't. Which brings us to the 2019 NFL season and three NFL teams that would most likely benefit from a change atop the organizational chart in football operations...but in all likelihood aren't going to get it. What brings hope to teams like these? Luck.
The Cincinnati Bengals & Mike Brown
Record under Mike Brown: 186-269-3 (.409)
Brown is one of only two NFL owners who serves as the de facto general manager for his team, the other being Dallas' Jerry Jones. And while Dallas hasn't exactly continued their dynasty beyond the 1990s, Jerry's Cowboys are still nearly annual contenders and regularly bring in the biggest and best names in the sport. Cincinnati? Uh, they almost signed Warren Sapp once in 2004? That was, of course, before Sapp said the Bengals pulled the offer, claiming the team was "bidding against themselves" for his services.
Oh! That's right! They signed 37-year old Terrell Owens back in 2010. The biggest and best names in football, indeed.
Mike Brown will finish his 29th season as the owner and acting general manager of the Cincinnati Bengals in six weeks. His teams have won zero playoff games, they've had seven winning seasons and they're quite easily the worst team in football this year as well. Brown keeps a small inner circle in his football operations building with just 8 individuals listed on the team's Football Operations roster. Getting out from that small echo chamber would greatly benefit the Bengals organization.
How many general managers do you know that would survive such a run? But alas, owners don't fire themselves and as such, Cincinnati will forge ahead with Brown at the forefront of the charge.
The Denver Broncos & John Elway
Record under John Elway: 81-57 (0.587)
The Broncos under Elway have experienced some booming success. The team's run between 2012 and 2015 is as impressive of a stretch as you'll ever find — the team went 50-14 in the regular season, made two Super Bowl appearances (winning one in 2015) and set a record for the most points scored in a single season with 606 back in 2013.
But. But! The marquee signing of the John Elway era in Denver was when the team inked one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, Peyton Manning, to spend the twilight on his career with the Broncos. Those 50 wins in four years? Manning won most of them. Sure, Brock Osweiler went 5-2 over seven starts that season and Manning was quite frankly horrible that final season, but it was Manning's team none the less and the future 1st-ballot Hall of Famer was sublime for the three seasons prior to that.
More importantly, the four seasons after the Manning era have been a total train wreck. The team is 23-35 (0.397) and botched at least one head coaching hire in Vance Joseph (he at least had the time of his life) and looks to have swung and missed again with Vic Fangio's year one performance. The team has botched the quarterback position at every turn, drafting 1st-round bust Paxton Lynch with the 26th overall pick in 2016, signed Case Keenum to a 2-year, $36M contract, traded for a 34-year old Joe Flacco (he's thrown 6 touchdowns in 8 starts this year — an NFL worst 2.3% of his pass attempts for qualified passers this year) and drafted a quarterback in 2019 named Drew Lock.
Here's what 1st-year head coach Vic Fangio had to say about Drew Lock back over the summer.
"His college offense really had no carry over to pro offenses and he was under duress a lot of times at his college, so a lot of his plays he was running around. I don’t think he’s far along being a ready NFL quarterback as he could have been. That’s what I mean when he’s got to get ready. He’s not a quarterback yet. He’s a hard throwing pitcher that doesn’t know how to pitch yet, so the faster he gets that the better off he’ll be and we’ll be." - Vic Fangio
What a ringing endorsement. Drew Lock not being ready to go is fine — but then why would the hiring process and quarterback approach be one that indicates the team is trying to win now? It's all a bit confusing as far as the overall direction of the team.
The icing on the cake here for Denver was the criteria John Elway pointed to when discussing why the team was so excited to land Joe Flacco this spring.
Uh huh. And the biggest thing he's learned from his time of swinging at quarterbacks all these years, from the same interview?
"I think the key thing for quarterbacks coming out is they've gotta be going into a system and they've got to comfortable in the system you're going to provide for them," said Elway.
...so what happened with the Drew Lock decision, then?
General managers don't typically get two cracks at head coaches or two cracks at quarterbacks. Elway has gotten two cracks at both in the last four years. Turns out being a Super Bowl winning quarterback can buy you a lot of wiggle room as an executive.
The Washington Redskins & Bruce Allen
Record under Bruce Allen: 43-79 (0.352)
The environment in Washington hasn't been particularly strong for quite some time now. Washington has developed a reputation of mishandling their players. Whether that be Robert Griffin III, Su'a Cravens or Trent Williams, Washington has had more flareups with player mismanagement than any other team in recent memory.
What's more is the toxic environment that has settled into the foundation of the Washington organization over the course of a decade, as well. Former head coach Mike Shanahan felt that owner Daniel Snyder's overly close relationship with Robert Griffin III undermined his ability to coach the young quarterback. Bruce Allen ceded some control to well respected executive Scot McCloughan after consecutive winning seasons in Washington (2015 and 2016) before reportedly getting insecure about the team success and strong-arming McCloughan out of the building. McCloughan's two year run as the team's general manager included a 17-14-1 record (0.548) — compare that to Allen's years of "success" sandwiched in between.
Washington attempted to pin the dismissal of McCloughan on relapses into alcoholism but no player ever reaffirmed the rumors, leaving a very suspicious stench around the decision making.
This doesn't even get into the latest rift with Jay Gruden and the decision to draft Dwayne Haskins in the 1st-round of this year's NFL Draft, either.
The bottom line? Washington's foundation is shaky on multiple fronts and the team isn't winning. Yet there's no indication that Bruce Allen's job may be in jeopardy. Maybe it's his Hall of Fame pedigree — he's the son of coach George Allen. It's difficult to say what may be keeping Snyder invested in keeping Allen in Washington. But the only sample size this decade of life with someone else as the general manager yielded two of Washington's three winning seasons since Allen was brought into the picture.
It'd be a wise bet that life would be better without Allen in control a second time, too. But Washington already has their red herring in coach Jay Gruden, who the team fired after an 0-5 start. And so Washington seems doomed to continue to tinker with pieces lower on the totem pole instead of addressing the common denominator in Allen.