This is the fourth straight losing season for the Broncos and the fifth year in a row without a playoff appearance. The Broncos have not had four straight losing seasons in my lifetime. The last time this occurred was 1969-1972. From 1973-2016 the Broncos had a total of seven losing seasons and never more than one losing year without at least getting back to .500 the next season: that’s 7 in 44. Over the course of those 44 seasons the Broncos had a record of 412-270-4. That’s 142 games above .500.
This got me wondering about a few things:
- When was the last time each franchise had a four year losing streak (four straight losing seasons)?
- How long do those losing runs generally last?
- How many NFL general managers keep their jobs during extended blocks of losing seasons?
So let’s state this upfront: John Elway is still under contract as the Bronco’s executive VP of football operations/general manager. Joe Ellis is still the president/CEO. Both men were in those positions in 2017 when this extended streak of losing seasons started and both men appear to be coming back for the 2021 season. The general thought is that Ellis does not have too much control over player selection and retention. Things like how much money to offer various players like Brock Osweiler, Chris Harris, Ja’Wuan James and Melvin Gordon are more of his purview.
Now on to the historical data. This table shows when each franchise last had a four year streak of losing seasons. The Raiders can avoid one if we lose to them on Sunday, but if Denver win, the Raiders will have had one winning season in the last 18. Three franchises have never had a four-year streak of losing seasons: the Panthers, the Vikings and the Ravens. This table also shows how long the streak lasted. Many teams recent times in the desert lasted only four seasons, while others lasted significantly longer. The Browns had twelve straight losing seasons from 2008-2019. The Lions had ten straight from 2001-2010.
|Franchise||Last 4-yr Losing Block||Total Length of Losing Block||General Manager at Start of Block||Tenure with Team as GM|
|Arizona Cardinals||2003-2006||8 years||Bob Ferguson||1999-2004|
|Atlanta Falcons||1987-1990||8 years||Tom Braatz||1982-1985|
|Buffalo Bills||2010-2013||9 years||Tom Donahoe||2001-2005|
|Chicago Bears||2014-2017||4 years||Phil Emery||2012-2014|
|Cincinnati Bengals||2017-2020||5 years||Mike Brown||1991-2020|
|Cleveland Browns||2016-2019||12 years||Sashi Brown||2016-2017|
|Dallas Cowboys||1987-1990||5 years||Tex Schramm||1960-1988|
|Denver Broncos||2017-2020||4 years||John Elway||2012-2020|
|Detroit Lions||2007-2010||10 years||Matt Millen||2001-2008|
|Green Bay Packers||1974-1977||5 years||Dan Devine||1971-1974|
|Houston Texans||2003-2006||5 years||Charley Casserly||2002-2005|
|Indianapolis Colts||1983-1986||9 years||Ernie Accorsi||1982-1983|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||2013-2016||6 years||Gene Smith||2009-2012|
|Kansas City Chiefs||1975-1978||5 years||Jack Steadman||1963-1975|
|Las Vegas Raiders||2012-2015||4 years||Reggie McKenzie||2012-2018|
|Los Angeles Chargers||1988-1991||4 years||Steve Ortmayer||1987-1989|
|Los Angeles Rams||2013-2016||10 years||Les Snead||2012-2020|
|Miami Dolphins||2009-2012||4 years||Jeff Ireland||2008-2013|
|New England Patriots||1990-1993||5 years||Pat Sullivan||1983-1990|
|New Orleans Saints||1994-1999||6 years||Bill Kuharich||1993-1999|
|New York Giants||2017-2020||4 years||Jerry Reese||2007-2017|
|New York Jets||2017-2020||5 years||Mike Maccagnan||2015-2018|
|Philadelphia Eagles||1984-1987||6 years||Jim Murray||1973-1984|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||1968-1971||8 years||Francis Fogarty||1951-1968|
|San Francisco 49ers||2015-2018||4 years||Trent Baalke||2010-2016|
|Seattle Seahawks||2008-2011||4 years||Tim Ruskell||2005-2009|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2012-2015||5 years||Mark Dominik||2009-2013|
|Tennessee Titans||2012-2015||4 years||Ruston Webster||2009-2015|
|Washington Football Team||2017-2020||4 years||Bruce Allen||2010-2019|
For these “recent” blocks (PIT, GNB and KC have not had an extended period like this since about the time I was born), the average length is 5.4 years.
Added in response to commenters request regarding the success of these GMs with their franchises
The General Managers
They break down into three groups from a tenure perspective:
- short (less than or equal to 5 years) - 12 guys
- medium (5-9 years) - 9 guys
- long (10 or more years) - 8 guys
I’m going to focus on third group since Elway is part of it. There were seven (or eight if you include Elway) GMs who are/were in the long tenured group: Bruce Allen of WAS, Jerry Reese of NYG, Jim Murray of PHI, Jack Steadman of KC, Tex Schramm of DAL, Francis Fogarty of PIT and Mike Brown of CIN. You could argue that John Elway belongs in this group since he was employed by the franchise in 2011 as director of player personnel, DPP. He was not elevated to GM until 2012. If you count his 2011 season as DPP, then he has had 10 years with the Broncos in a GM or GM-like role.
Mike Brown is principle owner/president/general manager of the Browns and has been since 1991. He is the son of the founder of the team. He is not going to fire himself since he is the owner. In his 30 years as the head of the team, the Bengals have only had 7 winning seasons and have an overall record of 192-283-4.
Tex Schramm, Jack Steadman and Mike Brown are real outliers since all had/have extremely long tenures with their teams, but for different reasons. Schramm was inducted into the hall of fame in 1991 for his long run as the GM of the Cowboys (from 1960-1988). The Cowboys compiled a record of 250-162-6 under Schramm. The Cowboys were having their run of futility at the very end of Schramm’s tenure. It was also the very end of his career in the NFL. Interestingly enough, the Cowboys used their 4-year run of failure to build a dynasty in the 1990s that would win three Super Bowls in four years.
Jack Steadman was almost as much a part of the founding of the Chiefs (who were the Dallas Texans when they were founded) as Lamar Hunt was. Steadman was the team’s first GM and would serve as the GM from 1961 until 1975. The team would be quite successful during his time, winning their first Super Bowl in 1969 as well as an AFL championship in 1962. The team would only have four losing seasons during his tenure as GM. Two years of their four-year losing block would be at the very end of his career, similar to Schramm. Jim Schaaf would be hired as GM for the 1976 season. He would be nowhere near as successful as Steadman, despite spending 13 seasons as the team’s GM. The franchise would have an overall record of 79-119-1 under Schaaf with one playoff appearance. This a far cry from the 121-79-10 record that team had under the guidance of Steadman.
Bruce Allen is similar to Brown in that he is family to a man revered in the Washington organization. Allen is the son of Hall-of-Fame coach, George Allen. Allen was GM for the Bucs from 2004-2008. He was initially executive VP/GM for WAS from 2010-2013, then his title was changed to president/GM for 2011. His role as GM was stripped from him in 2012 and he was listed only as president. I don’t know how much this changed his control of personnel decisions or not. WAS would only have one winning season with Allen in the front office, 2012, and would have an overall record of 45-83 during his tenure. According to what I have read, Allen, who was fired in 2019, was not implicated in the sexual harassment scandal that has ended the careers of others in this franchise’ front office.
Jerry Reese was a long-time member of the Giants’ front office, serving 23 total years. He was GM from 2007-2017. He was fired near the end of the 2017 season with the Giants having a 2-10 record. The Giants head coach, Ben McAdoo, was also fired at that time. Reese is given credit for many of the player decisions that led to the Giant’s super bowl victories in 2007 and 2011. Despite that and his long tenure, the ownership of the Giants fired him after the Giants missed the playoffs in five of the six years after winning the big game in 2011. For context, the Broncos have missed the playoffs in five straight years after winning the Super Bowl. Similar to the Broncos, the Giants had only one winning season during that time, going 11-5 in 2016.
Jim Murray was GM for the Eagles from 1973 to 1984. He took over when they were bad and turned them into a contender. The Eagles had five straight losing seasons at the beginning of his tenure, but then they had four straight winning seasons and playoff appearances reaching the Super Bowl in 1980 (and losing). While Murray was not a great success as an NFL GM, he is probably best known as the co-founder of Ronald McDonald House.
Francis Fogarty was the GM for the Steelers from 1951 until 1968. The Steelers had existed since 1933, and were not very good. The had one playoff appearance from 1933-1951, but they had zero playoff appearances during Fogarty’s run as GM. The Steelers had an overall record of 93-129-10 during Fogarty’s tenure, but their run of bad seasons came at the end of his tenure. Starting with 1964, the Steelers endured eight straight losing seasons. The fifth one is what finally got Fogarty fired. The team would finish 2-11-1 in 1968. Interestingly, and somewhat similarly to Dallas, they would emerge from their losing years as an NFL powerhouse. The Steelers had winning seasons from 1972 to 1980 winning four Super Bowls and would not have a losing season until they went 7-9 in 1985. The man who would take over as GM in 1969 was Dan Rooney. Dan is the son of team owner, Art Rooney. Dan served as GM from 1969-1970 when his title was changed to chairman. Dick Haley took over DPP/de-facto GM in 1972 and served in that role for the Steelers until 1990. Dick is the father of former NFL head coach, Todd Haley.
In summary, here are the TL:DR for each of the seven guys who are in group three with Elway. Brown is in a category by himself since he is the owner. Schramm and Steadman were at the very end of long successful careers. Allen never really had success but was given latitude because of the franchise’s fondness for his father. Reese was given latitude because of his two SB victories. Murray was given latitude because of the team had been terrible and he was able to build them into a winner after years of futility. Fogarty was given latitude because the Rooney’s were not interested in shaking things up. Their team had always been average or poor prior to him. So there is some precedent for GMs with a connection/history with the team getting plenty of latitude even when having long streaks of losing seasons.
John Elway’s contract is up after the 2021 season. If the Broncos have another losing season in 2021, I would expect that John Elway’s contract would not be renewed.
What do you see as the most likely scenario for 2021?
This poll is closed
Broncos have winning season, make playoffs, Elway gets new contract
Broncos have losing season, miss playoffs, Elways gets new contract.
Broncos have winning season, make playoffs, Elway still gets fired.
Broncos have losing season, miss playoffs, Elway gets fired.
some other scenario (mention in comments)