End of decade: Worst pro teams of the 2010s
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It had to be the only time in NFL history that the coach of an 11-loss team earned a Gatorade shower.
Cleveland players doused first-year coach Eric Mangini on Jan. 3, 2010, after the Browns beat Jacksonville to finish the season on a four-game win streak.
Nobody on the field that day could have known they were witnessing one of the best moments the Browns would experience during the 2010s. Not once this decade did the Browns cobble together another four-game win streak. Heck, some years they didn’t even win four games the whole season.
The decade-long futility of the Browns made them an obvious candidate when we set out to identify America’s 10 worst professional sports franchises of the decade.
The list includes three teams that didn’t finish above .500 a single time this decade and six that didn’t make a single appearance in the playoffs. It also features a team that two years ago was minutes away from playing in the Super Bowl.
10. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Record since 2010: 50-109 (.314)
Coaches since 2010: 4
Most recent winning season: 2017
Most recent postseason appearance: 2017
What went wrong: It’s easy to forget that Jacksonville led New England deep into the fourth quarter of the AFC championship game two years ago. Aside from that season, the Jaguars have won less than 38 percent of their games this decade and have not made another playoff appearance. Quarterback play has been the biggest culprit for Jacksonville’s decade-long struggles. Spending top-10 picks on Blaine Gabbert and Blake Bortles did not work out, nor has the acquisition of former Super Bowl hero Nick Foles thus far. A dominant defense helped the Jaguars overcome their quarterback issues two years ago, but that unit has rapidly declined the past two seasons. The Jaguars lost 11 games last season and might match that feat this year.
Rock bottom: Convinced they had found their franchise quarterback, the Jaguars gave up two picks to Washington to move up six spots and select Gabbert at No. 10 overall in the 2011 NFL draft. Then the team dumped supposed starter David Garrard less than a week before the 2011 season began, thrusting Gabbert into the role. Alas, Gabbert wasn’t ready for that responsibility, nor was he worthy of such confidence. He went 5-22 as a starter in Jacksonville and threw more interceptions than touchdowns during that three-year stretch. He also missed games as a result of injuries to his shoulder, forearm, thumb and hamstring, as well as a cut on his throwing hand. In 2014, Jacksonville finally admitted its mistake. It traded Gabbert to San Francisco and … selected Bortles third overall in the 2014 draft.
Hope for the future: With Tom Coughlin already out of a job and head coach Doug Marrone likely to go with him, the Jaguars are headed for a rebuild. It will take at least a year or two to upgrade the offensive line, retool the formerly dominant defense and figure out whether either Foles or Gardner Minshew are franchise quarterback material. The good news for the Jaguars is that they have an opportunity to build through the draft. They have two first-round pick each of the next two seasons after trading disgruntled corner Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams.
9. SAN DIEGO PADRES
Record since 2010: 739-881 (.456)
Managers since 2010: 2
Most recent winning season: 2010
Most recent postseason appearance: 2006
What went wrong: When the 2010 Padres blew a 6 ½-game lead in the final month and were overtaken by the eventual World Series champion Giants, San Diego fans didn’t know that was the last time they would experience meaningful September baseball this decade. Not only have the Padres failed to finish .500 or better since that season, they also have placed last or second-to-last in their division in seven of the past nine years. An unwillingness to crack open their wallets made it tough for the Padres to keep pace with the Dodgers and Giants for most of the decade. Ownership has splurged on free agents Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado the past couple offseasons, but those marquee additions so far have not translated into winning seasons.
Rock bottom: In 2015, the Padres unexpectedly — perhaps even unwisely — went all in. Newly hired general manager A.J. Preller traded prospects in return for a slew of established veterans, some of whom were already past their prime. Matt Kemp, dumped by the Dodgers, was a complete bust. Derek Norris, once an All-Star catcher with the A’s, slumped at the plate in San Diego. James Shields, signed to a $75 million free-agent deal, could not quite duplicate his 2014 World Series form. Justin Upton hit 27 home runs that year and Craig Kimbrel converted 39 of 43 save opportunities, but the hot-stove excitement fizzled quickly. The Padres lost 88 games, finished 18 games out of first place and reversed course to launch a lengthy rebuild the following offseason.
Hope for the future: Though they dropped 92 games during an injury-plagued 2019 season, the Padres are optimistic they can leap up from last place in the N.L. West and perhaps even contend for a wild card. The big reason is a lineup that suddenly appears pretty potent after a trade with Tampa Bay for Tommy Pham earlier this offseason. Pham slides into the top half of the lineup that also features young phenom Fernando Tatis Jr. and former All-Stars Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer. The rotation is a far bigger question mark. Chris Paddock will be hoping to solidify himself as the staff ace, Garrett Richards returns from Tommy John surgery and Zach Davies comes over from Milwaukee, but top prospects Mackenzie Gore and Luis Patino may still be a year away.
8. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Record since 2010: 59-100 (.371)
Coaches since 2010: 5
Most recent winning season: 2016
Most recent postseason appearance: 2007
What went wrong: In a league that zealously pursues parity, the Bucs have stubbornly resisted. They’ve missed the NFL playoffs for 12 straight seasons, finishing last or tied for last in the NFC South eight times during that stretch. Throughout the decade, the Bucs burned through coach after coach searching for someone who could return the franchise to the prominence it achieved under Jon Gruden. Raheem Morris was too lax. Greg Schiano too disciplined. Lovie Smith didn’t win enough. Tampa Bay thought it found its franchise quarterback when it drafted Jameis Winston first overall in 2015, but Winston’s erratic style of play has not yet produced a 10-win season. Plus, in their zeal to surround Winston with elite weapons, the Bucs neglected their defense, resulting in back-to-back 11-loss seasons in 2017 and 2018.
Rock bottom: There were many dreadful moments during the Bucs’ 14-loss 2014 season, but none was more embarrassing than a 20-3 throttling at the hands of the Packers. Tampa Bay’s offense was so inept that it crossed midfield just once and tallied only six first downs and 109 total yards. The one-sided loss was a clear sign that neither Josh McCown nor Mike Glennon were long-term answers at quarterback. Only a few months later, the Bucs selected Winston with the first pick in the 2015 draft and began to revitalize their offense.
Hope for the future: A late-season surge hasn’t been enough to vault the Bucs into playoff contention in the loaded NFC, but it does offer reason for optimism. In Bruce Arians’ first season, the Bucs displayed a dynamic passing attack and an improved run defense. Chris Godwin joined Mike Evans as one of the elite receivers in the NFL, while Breshad Perriman displayed flashes of talent down the stretch after injuries struck. The biggest decision facing the Bucs this offseason is whether Winston is still their starting quarterback going forward. Winston has the talent to become an upper-tier starter if he can limit his mistakes, but it’s fair to wonder if he’s already a finished product five years into his NFL career.
7. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Record since 2010: 743-876 (.458)
Managers since 2010: 3
Most recent winning season: 2012
Most recent postseason appearance: 2008
What went wrong: Though the White Sox boasted a strong core in pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana and slugger Jose Abreu, they never managed to surround them with the right supporting cast to build a winner. They spent aggressively on the likes of Adam Eaton, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Adam LaRoche, yet finished below .500 for the third and fourth straight seasons in 2015 and 2016. At last convinced it was time to replenish their barren farm system and rebuild, the White Sox traded away most of their stars for prospects, sending Sale to the Red Sox, Quintana to the Cubs, Eaton to the Nationals and Robertson to the Yankees. The talent drain resulted in a 95-loss season in 2017 and a 100-loss season in 2018 as the White Sox waited for their haul of prospects to be major-league ready.
Rock bottom: Among the many reasons the 2016 White Sox underperformed was a bizarre flap between vice president Ken Williams and LaRoche. Williams angered LaRoche by asking him not to bring his 14-year-old son around the clubhouse quite so often. LaRoche responded by retiring on the spot, an abrupt and dramatic conclusion to a career that peaked when the outfielder won a Silver Slugger Award and finished sixth in the MVP balloting two years earlier. The incident divided the White Sox clubhouse and sparked a national debate over who was right. It was the most attention the White Sox received during a decade in which they were typically non-factors in the playoff chase.
Hope for the future: At last, the White Sox appear poised to end their 11-year playoff drought in the next few years. They’re growing more aggressive on the free-agent market just as their horde of prospects is starting to make an impact on the major-league level. Third baseman Yoan Moncada looks like a star in the making, shortstop Tim Anderson flashed power and speed last season, Eloy Jimenez blasted 31 homers as a rookie and free-agent acquisition Yasmani Grandal will be an upgrade at catcher. Though the White Sox did not land any marquee free-agent pitchers, Lucas Giolito and now-healthy Michael Kopech both have frontline starter potential and Dylan Cease may yet become a fixture in the rotation as well.
6. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Record since 2010: 62-96-1 (.389)
Coaches since 2010: 2
Most recent winning season: 2016
Most recent postseason appearance: 2015
What went wrong: How could a tradition-rich team with Dan Snyder’s financial backing finish below .500 seven times this decade and not win even one playoff game? The problems start with an owner who is notorious for treating people poorly, for meddling in football decisions and for fostering an environment of dysfunction and distrust. Bloated contracts to past-their-prime stars like Albert Haynesworth, Donovan McNabb and Josh Norman have hamstrung Washington’s ability to build a strong roster. When it has had talent in the building, Washington has mishandled it, from playing emerging star Robert Griffin III when he was hurt, to refusing to pay potential franchise quarterback Kirk Cousins, to botching the medical treatment of Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams. The surest sign of what ails the Redskins is that they once had three of the NFL’s top young coaches in their building and didn’t know it. Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan and Matt LeFleur are now elsewhere and are better for it.
Rock bottom: The bungling of Griffin’s career might be the Redskins’ most notorious failure of the decade. On March 6, 2012, Washington surrendered three first-round picks and a second-round pick to nab Griffin with the No. 2 pick in the draft. The former Heisman Trophy winner appeared destined for stardom as a rookie until the Redskins allowed him to play through a knee injury late in the season, resulting in an ACL tear. That caused a rift between Griffin and coach Mike Shanahan, one that reportedly widened the following season after differences of opinion over whether the quarterback should risk injury trying to run or reinvent himself as a drop-back passer. Snyder sided with Griffin and fired Shanahan, but the new coach he hired wasn’t the right choice to reboot the young quarterback’s career. Jay Gruden ultimately chose Kirk Cousins because he was a better fit for his system than Griffin was.
Hope for the future: There isn’t much reason for optimism without a leadership shakeup at the top of the organization. What respected coach will be eager to work for Snyder and Bruce Allen given the history of backstabbing and conflict under their watch? Whatever coach takes the Redskins job will inherit the same problems Gruden faced. The quarterback of the future, Dwayne Haskins, has not yet shown he’s worthy of that title. The team’s best player, Williams, is still feuding with the owner. And while young skill position players like Darius Guice and Terry McLaurin flashed talent this season, too much money is still tied up in underperforming veterans Josh Norman and Paul Richardson or in injured players Alex Smith and Jordan Reed.
5. OAKLAND RAIDERS
Record since 2010: 63-96 (.396)
Coaches since 2010: 5
Most recent winning season: 2016
Most recent postseason appearance: 2016
What went wrong: To understand why the Raiders only produced one winning season this decade, start with their poor draft history. They squandered high draft picks year after year, from receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, to linebacker Rolando McClain, to quarterback Terrell Pryor, to cornerback D.J. Hayden. Only a handful of players drafted from 2012-2017 were left by the time the Raiders fired general manager Reggie McKenzie last offseason. Even the Raiders’ lone sweet season (2016) turned sour when starting quarterback Derek Carr suffered a season-ending injury during a Christmas Eve victory over the Colts. The Raiders lost the division in Week 17 with Matt McGloin under center, then in the opening round of the playoffs fell meekly at Houston with rookie Connor Cook making his first start.
Rock bottom: When it became clear he could not persuade the city of Oakland to pay for a new stadium, Mark Davis began to explore relocation options. The son of longtime Raiders owner Al Davis flirted with San Antonio and vigorously pursued a return to Los Angeles before ultimately deciding to move the team to Las Vegas. As if losing their team for a second time wasn’t bad enough for Oakland-based Raiders fans, Davis provided one final gut punch. After setting a goal of winning a championship in Oakland before the team left, Davis jettisoned two of the team’s most popular players. The Raiders sent Khalil Mack to the Bears and Amari Cooper to the Cowboys last season in trades meant to sacrifice the Raiders’ present in Oakland in order to position the team to win in Las Vegas.
Hope for the future: While the Raiders have stumbled late in the season to fall out of playoff contention, this was still a step in the right direction compared to the ineptitude of the previous year. They found a stud running back in Josh Jacobs, a breakout tight end in Darren Waller, a dynamic pass rusher in Maxx Crosby and a capable slot receiver in Hunter Renfrow. That group may help the Raiders win more games the next decade in Las Vegas than they have in Oakland, but the environment in the stands won’t be the same. They’ll never replicate the passion and grit of the Black Hole, the smell of grilled meat and marijuana smoke in the parking lots or the roars of crowds that were just as enthusiastic when the Raiders were 3-9 as 9-3.
4. MIAMI MARLINS
Record since 2010: 707-911 (.436)
Managers since 2010: 5
Most recent winning season: 2009
Most recent postseason appearance: 2003
What went wrong: The Marlins were the only major-league team not to finish above .500 once during the decade. As a result, they extended the sport’s second-longest playoff drought to 16 seasons. The biggest problem was ownership’s unwillingness to splurge to retain top talent or to attract free agents and the front office’s inability to compensate. The Marlins were saddled with a bottom-tier payroll for much of the decade, forcing them to unload the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, JT Realmuto, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna. The lone exception came in 2012 when the franchise boosted its payroll to coincide with moving into a new ballpark and updating its team logo and colors. The Marlins then tore down that roster the following summer after severely underperforming.
Rock bottom: Of all the players the Marlins have been unwilling to pay over the past decade, Christian Yelich has to be the most painful loss. The outfielder has blossomed into a perennial MVP candidate with the Milwaukee Brewers since a January 2018 trade that netted the Marlins four prospects who have yet to prove themselves at the major-league level. Second baseman Isan Diaz hit .173 in 49 games with the Marlins last season and outfielder Monte Harrison has a chance to compete for a roster spot in spring training. Whether they can help reduce the sting of the Yelich deal remains to be seen.
Hope for the future: Any reason for optimism surrounding the Marlins lies with a farm system bolstered by the franchise’s 2017-18 fire sale. The Marlins lost 98 games two seasons ago and 105 this past year, but they hope help is on the way via a group of minor-league prospects that could be poised for a breakthrough. Right-handed pitcher Sixto Sanchez has the potential to headline Miami’s starting rotation someday and Harrison, JJ Bleday and Jesus Sanchez could all be part of the Marlins’ outfield of the future.
3. SACRAMENTO KINGS
Record since 2010: 287-517 (.356)
Coaches since 2010: 6
Most recent winning season: 2006
Most recent postseason appearance: 2006
What went wrong: The biggest frustration during Sacramento’s dismal decade was its inability to build around DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings wasted the four-time All-Star center’s first seven NBA seasons by failing to surround him with enough talent and leadership to even contend for a playoff berth, let alone actually make it. There were draft busts like Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson and Ben McLemore. There were trades that backfired, like jettisoning Isaiah Thomas or giving away a first-round pick for J.J. Hickson. It also didn’t help that the Kings could never find the right coach or veteran leaders to mentor the notoriously volatile, immature Cousins, once even making the ill-conceived decision to sign Matt Barnes of all people to help guide him.
Rock bottom: When the Kings used a 2016 lottery pick on a little-known 18-year-old 7-footer from Greece, general manager Vlade Divac hailed him as a potential future All-Star. Less than two years later, Georgios Papagiannis was out of a job, cut on the same day fellow 2016 first-round pick Malachi Richardson was traded. The Papagiannis pick is symbolic of the Kings’ string of poor draft decisions that preceded it. Not only did he log just nine minutes per game the previous season in Greece, he also played the same position as Cousins, free-agent signee Kosta Koufos and previous first-round pick Willie Cauley-Stein. Not surprisingly, the selection of Papagiannis was controversial from the start. Tweeted Cousins after the announcement of the pick, “Lord give me strength.”
Hope for the future: The much-maligned trade of Cousins to the Pelicans actually turned out to be a huge success for Sacramento. Not only did the Kings acquire Buddy Hield in the deal, it also helped them lose enough games during the 2016-17 season to retain the lottery pick that became De’Aaron Fox. Those two are the cornerstones of a nucleus that also includes Marvin Bagley III, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harrison Barnes. First-year coach Luke Walton has that group hovering around .500 and contending for one of the Western Conference’s last playoff spots.
2. NEW YORK KNICKS
Record since 2010: 324-480 (.402)
Coaches since 2010: 5
Most recent winning season: 2013
Most recent postseason appearance: 2013
What went wrong: For a few fleeting moments, the Knicks appeared to be building something sustainable under Mike D’Antoni. They had surrounded prized free agent Amare Stoudemire with a cadre of young talent that they could either develop or flip in return for another marquee player or two. Things went horribly wrong when Stoudemire’s already ailing knees deteriorated soon after the Knicks gutted their roster to trade for Carmelo Anthony and used what little cap space they had left to sign Tyson Chandler. The three short-lived playoff appearances that trio spearheaded were not worth mortgaging the franchise’s future and ushering in the hellacious decade-long rebuild that has followed.
Rock bottom: Tanking the 2018-19 season did not result in the talent overhaul the Knicks were seeking. Though they lost a league-worst 65 games and jettisoned lone asset Kristaps Porzingis in return for cap space, the Knicks’ bad draft-lottery luck cost them the chance to select Zion Williamson. Worse yet, top free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving spurned the Knicks without even taking a meeting, opting to sign with city rival Brooklyn instead. What talent did the Knicks acquire by tanking? Duke’s other standout one-and-done and a bunch of second- and third-tier free-agent forwards whose skill sets don’t complement one another.
Hope for the future: Everything about the Knicks’ 2019-20 season has been discouraging thus far, from their putrid record, to their ill-conceived roster, to their latest impatient coaching change. They’re a team that struggles to space the floor, that scores inefficiently and that doesn’t defend well. There are some young building blocks on the roster. 2019 first-round pick R.J. Barrett has star potential if surrounded by shooters who can free up driving lanes for him. 2018 second-round steal Mitchell Robinson is an effective role player who could develop into more. Struggling former first-round picks Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith still retain long-term upside. But unless there’s an ownership change or a front-office shakeup, how could any Knicks fan really find reason for optimism? This once-proud franchise is still a laughingstock.
1. CLEVELAND BROWNS
Record since 2010: 42-116-1 (.264)
Coaches since 2010: 6
Most recent winning season: 2007
Most recent postseason appearance: 2002
What went wrong: Plagued by bungled draft picks, impulsive coaching changes and chronic front-office dysfunction, the Browns staggered to the NFL’s worst record since 2010. Seven times they won five or fewer games in a season including an 0-16 mark in 2017, an unthinkable feat in the salary-cap era. Most crippling was Cleveland’s inability to identify a franchise quarterback prior to picking Baker Mayfield first overall in 2018. The list of quarterbacks the Browns previously drafted and then dumped includes Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy and DeShone Kizer.
Rock bottom: Out with a concussion for the final game of the 2015 NFL season, Cleveland’s supposed quarterback of the future didn’t bother to show up. Johnny Football wasn’t resting in a quiet, dark room either. He flew to Las Vegas the day before the game, partied until 4 a.m. in a ridiculous disguise hoping no one would recognize him and missed his flight home. The incident was a fitting end to Manziel’s NFL career. The Browns cut the troubled former first-round pick three months later … and went 1-31 the next two seasons with Cody Kessler and Deshone Kizer behind center.
Hope for the future: Cleveland concludes the decade with the most talented roster it has had in years. The Browns added Mayfield, Myles Garrett and Nick Chubb through the draft and stockpiled high-profile established stars last offseason, signing Kareem Hunt and trading for Odell Beckham Jr. That talent binge did not immediately lead to a long-awaited playoff appearance, however. The Browns are 6-9 going into the final game of another hugely disappointing season.