We are now entering the 6th season in what I hope will be a very long run in GZL. With the first lustrum(thanks for the word AF) in the books, I got a wild hair up my ass the other day to figure out which, if any, teams had yet to make a playoff appearance. I went through all the playoff brackets and discovered that only 5 teams have failed to qualify for the tournament in our 5 seasons. Of the five teams to never appear, there are a grand total of 5 winning seasons(8 if you count .500 seasons) and a mere 1 double digit win season among them. Why have these teams failed and who is to blame? That's what I'm going to try to figure out. So without further ado, let's get in to what I've lovingly dubbed the GZL's "Futile Five."
Bold indicates team's best record in GZL.
General Managers: Tim Brown(2010-2012, 13-19), Jermaine McClinton(2012, 4-12), Merlin Smith(2013-Present, 8-24)
The Colts are arguably the worst franchise in GZL history. They are the only team to never log at least a .500 season, have earned 4 top 10 draft picks(their "worst" pick was 1.12) and have never come so close as a sniff of the playoffs. The teams best season was a 7-9 campaign in the league's first season. The 2010 Colts, led by Peyton Manning, were a dynamic passing team but that was about it. A 7-5 start had many predicting a playoff run, but 4 straight losses to end the season put an end to those hopes. GM Tim Brown didn't appear to be very engaged, and the emergence of Tennessee and Houston sent Indianapolis in to the cellar.
Jermaine McClinton took over the Colts after a controversial run in San Francisco where he took the Russell Warner built 49ers to an NFC Championship appearance. As an Indy fan who hated Peyton Manning, this was a match made in Hell from the beginning. Manning was sent to Washington for 1.30 and TE Fred Davis. Then, former first round pick HB Mark Ingram was traded to New Orleans along with RE Jerry Hughes for Reggie Bush and LT Charles Brown. Ingram went on to win an MVP in Oakland and Hughes has been a decent end. Neither Bush or Brown made an impact in Indy and are both gone from the team. McClinton ended up leaving the league after making several enemies and is probably best remembered for initially refusing to complete his progression because the process was too difficult. Tim Brown has to receive some blame for the franchise's struggles, but to me McClinton is the biggest goat.
Merlin Smith's tenure in Indy has been a failure so far, but playing in one of the league's tougher divisions and taking over a trainwreck earns him a pass. Merlin is the most dedicated GM in the franchise's history, and he's starting to build some momentum despite back to back 10 plus loss seasons. The overall talent level on this team is as high as it has ever been, and the move to finally acquire an elite QB in Matt Schaub was very savvy. The Colts seem poised to make a playoff run as early as this season if Schaub stays healthy.
New York Jets
General Managers: Terry Gall(2010, 6-5), Douglas Williams(2010-2012, 19-18), Tom Riddell(2013, 3-9), League Run(2013, 1-3), Corey Smith(2014-Present, 6-10)
The Jets are arguably the best franchise to never make the playoffs, which is a bit of a surprise considering how much turnover they've seen at GM. Under Terry Gall and then Douglas Williams, the Jets actually had a winning record over the first three seasons. In 2010, the Jets were a win away from claiming the AFC East or a wild card berth. They swept the division winning Patriots(who finished one game ahead at 11-5) but a week 12 loss against the Bengals eventually sent them home early(Cincy won the tiebreaker for the 6th seed thanks to the win). After going 6-10 in 2011, the Jets rebounded by going 9-7 and narrowly missing the playoffs again in 2012.
After Douglas Williams' departed the league the Jets turned to Tom Riddell for the 2013 season. Tom has proven to be a pretty good GM, but at the time of his hire he seemed out of his depth as a personnel director and his stint in New York is famously remembered for the Mark Sanchez amnesty situation. The Jets started the season 0-6 but had won 3 straight when Riddell decided that Sanchez was to blame for the team's poor performance. The QB was amnestied and although several teams offered up a 1st round pick, New England won the prize thanks to their inferior record. While many(including me) believe that New York could have gotten much better value if they'd waited until the offseason to trade Sanchez(or traded him before the deadline), in Tom's defense the pick did turn out to be 1.7 and Sanchez has been fair to middling at best in New England. Riddell wouldn't be the man to spend 1.7 though, as his beloved Detroit Lions became avaialable later in the season and he escaped the Big Apple. The Lions went on to win the NFC Championship before falling to the Chargers in the Super Bowl and the Jets went 1-3 while the league ran the front office.
Corey Smith signed on for the 2014 offseason and made immediate progress in turning around what many around the league felt was an impossible situation. Acquiring Matt Schaub and Keith Payne among others, the Jets looked like contenders by the time the season began. Unfortunately an injury to Payne and some bad luck led to a bad start, and things never recovered. Smith was able to recoup a first round pick by sending Schaub to Green Bay before the deadline and another stellar offseason in 2015 has New York looking like a real contender in the East if they can get decent QB play out of Kevin Kolb and/or enticing rookie EJ Manuel.
Kansas City Chiefs
General Managers: Olivier Ratajczak(2010-2012, 15-33), Tim Miller(2013-Present, 16-16)
The initial Kansas City Chiefs roster was fairly mediocre, so it wasn't a big disappointment when the team ended up with the first overall pick in the inaugural GZL draft. Andrew Luck is still, in my opinion, the best QB to enter the league through the draft and Olivier Ratajczak was wise to resist the urge to trade out of the position to take him. Unfortunately that was one of the few truly inspired moves Olivier made while in KC and the lack of talent surrounding the franchise QB made his transition to the pro game more difficult than most envisioned. After an 8-8 season in 2012 in which the Chiefs never really threatened for a playoff spot, the team unraveled and went 3-13 in Olivier's final season.
Tim Miller left GZL and the Washington Redskins midway through the 2012 season after trading away 1.1(Blaine Gabbert) following a 1-15 season. A few months later, Miller's hometown Chiefs opened up and Tim came back to take over. After a 2-7 start and some around the league beginning to mumble the words "Luck" and "bust" in the same sentence, the Chiefs finished the 2013 campaign 6-1. Miller drafted an extremely gifted duo of receivers in Terrence Williams and Justin Hunter and expectations were very high heading in to 2014. Andrew Luck began the season by playing the best football of his career by far and Kansas City was 3-1. Then Luck was lost for the season after throwing just 1 pass in week 6 against Denver, and the combo of Tino Sunseri and Matthew Tebow was not enough to carry KC the rest of the way. Still, the future looks very bright for the Chiefs. With Luck back this is a playoff team waiting to happen, although I sure would have liked to see them grab an upgrade at the backup QB position.
General Managers: Anthony Cepparulo(2010-Present, 32-47-1)
The Vikings are the only team on the list to have no turnover in the front office during their time in the GZL. During Minnesota's first two seasons, the problem was crystal clear: the quarterback position was an absolute mess. Adrian Peterson was a stud during those first two seasons, but the team couldn't overcome the likes of Bruce Gradkowski, Tarvaris Jackson, Tom Brandstater, Kellen Clemens, Tony Pike and Jimmy Clausen(who was acquired for 1.8 and traded midway through 2011 for three 2nd round picks) bungling things under center. That changed completely in 2012 when Cepparulo acquired Colt McCoy from the Browns, but Adrian Peterson's production fell off in a big way that season and the team could only manage an 8-7-1 mark and fell short of the division crown in large part due to a week 6 tie at Green Bay. If Minnesota had won that game(or any of the other 7 they lost), they would've held the tiebreaker over 9-7 Detroit. 2013 was a similar story, the team posted their best record in GZL at 9-7 and rookie HB David Wilson did an admirable job stepping in for Adrian Peterson(who was traded to Baltimore following the 2012 campaign), but once again came up just behind a 9-7 Detroit squad due to tiebreakers. These two seasons were the closest the franchise was able to come to the postseason and it may, unfortunately, be the closest they get for some time.
McCoy had his worst season in 3 years in 2014 and the reemergence of the Packers and Bears in the NFC North sent the Vikes back in to double digit loss territory. The Vikings look great on paper, but with fantastic offseasons for the already strong Packers and Bears, as well as a Detroit team that's always dangerous thanks to the Stafford/Johnson combo among others, it may be a long wait for Minnesota fans to see the postseason.
General Managers: Erik Haag(2010, 4-11), Gary Hickman(2010-Present, 26-39)
The Panthers share a similar story to the Vikings. While Erik Haag was technically the team's first GM, he did little if anything to even attempt to improve the lackluster roster he inherited. Some nice pieces were already in place, but with extremely raw Jimmy Clausen as the team's best hope at quarterback this was going to be a long process for whoever the GM was. After Haag was booted just before the end of the 2010 season, the respected Gary Hickman was brought in to fix the issues in Carolina. Hickman got to work on draft day 2011, first trading a late 2nd and 3rd to Philadelphia for Mike Vick and a 5th and then making a blockbuster deal to acquire 1.8 from Minnesota for Jimmy Clausen(an incredible statement on how the value of QB's has changed since the league's inception, by the way). Vick provided a solid upgrade but failed to say healthy in 2011, and the extremely talented NFC South proved too much. The Panthers went 6-10, then followed up with a 5-11 mark in 2012.
While the 5-11 mark was yet another disappointment, it did give Carolina the 2nd pick in the draft. With Tampa set at QB with Josh Freeman, the Panthers were able to nab the draft's top quarterback in Matt Barkley. Unfortunately for Barkley, the rookie struggled in 2013 and was supplanted by former 49er and Colt Howard Christensen(traded for a 3rd round pick). The Panthers went 8-5 with Christensen as the starter, but lost the final two games of the season to fall to 9-7 overall. If Carolina had won either of those games they'd have earned a wild card spot, as it was they fell prey to a complicated tiebreaker scenario that saw Seattle advance instead. Christensen was traded to Denver for 1.15 and 3.27 before the 2014 season where he once again had his team primed for a playoff run before a losing streak ended their season(this time a 4 game skid cost his team a potential playoff run). With the team solely his in 2014, Barkley began to improve. However, the lack of a consistent running game, which has always plagued the Panthers(LeSean McCoy is the team's all-time leading rusher with 1948 yards), hurt the offense again. Another 5-11 season marked the 4th time in 5 years that the Panthers lost at least 10 games.
The NFC South has been and likely will always be one of the toughest divisions in the GZL. The Panthers are 10-20 within the division and 2-8 agains the Buccaneers, which doesn't bode particularly well for them going forward. On the plus side, Matt Barkley is still improving and should be a legitimate franchise player in a few years.