What 7 NFL Teams Can Teach You About Business

Do’s & Don’ts About Leadership From Prominent NFL Teams

Are You Like the Raiders or the Patriots?

If you’ve got a player like Tom Brady of the New England Patriots on your team, you have a decision to make.

Can you be a winner on the football field and at the bank? Brady is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in National Football League history, but if you were to look at a list of the top-paid QBs in the league, he doesn’t even crack the top 10.

During week 8 of the 2014 NFL season, Brady and the Patriots annihilated the Chicago Bears by a score of 51-23 – the final score looking a lot closer than the game was because Brady and many of the defensive starters took an early exit with the game well in hand.

But guess who makes more money than Brady.

The quarterback of the Bears, Jay Cutler, whose career record after that game hovered just north of .500, is making 18.1 million compared to Brady’s $14.12 million. Even Matt Ryan of the 2-6 Atlanta Falcons is making $6 million more per year than Brady.

Of course, no one’s going to have to throw a benefit for Brady. His wife Giselle Bundchen earns $47 million per year, according to Forbes magazine. But it says a lot about the philosophy of the Patriots and what’s kept them among the league’s elite for more than a decade. With a salary cap in place, every team has the same amount to spend, but it’s how they spend it that counts.

Here are some of the lessons about hiring, business, and leadership you can take away from NFL teams.

7. Oakland Raiders

The Raiders used to be the team that others in the league were terrified to play. Howie Long. Jack Tatum. Lyle Alzado. They would hit and hit hard. Now the only thing terrifying about the Raiders is how incompetent they are at the business end of the game, often spending so far beyond the salary cap that it impacts what they have available to spend on the next year’s team.

It’s a scenario that keeps repeating itself, leaving Oakland fumbling its way through season after season at the bottom of the depth chart.

Remember JaMarcus Russell? Neither do most Oakland fans. Well, they do, but not fondly. Russell makes the top 10 on the all-bust team. And the hits – or more appropriately the misses – have kept on coming. In the offseason, with plenty of money to spend, the Raiders put their money in players like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith, whose best games are behind them.

Poor hiring decisions and picking the wrong personnel can haunt even the best organizations, and turn them from top performers to bottom dwellers.

6. Washington Redskins

You know when the most buzz generated by your football team is about whether the name is racist or not to Native Americans, you’ve got plenty of issues to tackle.

Like the Raiders, Washington’s football franchise hasn’t exactly demonstrated wise spending.

In 2012, the Redskins bet the farm (and their neighbor’s farm and their neighbor’s neighbor’s farm) on a franchise quarterback named Robert Griffin III or RGIII. It’s too early to call RGIII a bust, but he’s been mostly sidelined with injuries keeping him off the field. Those three first round draft picks and a second round pick so Washington could move up to pick RGIII seem to be a steep price.

It’s not the first time that owner Daniel Snyder has been accused of overpaying for talent.

This is a guy who gave Albert Haynesworth $100 million. That’s a lot of money for a defensive tackle. It’s even more for a defensive tackle that couldn’t, well, tackle anything but lunch.

The list for Snyder is a long one – Donovan McNabb and Coach Steve Spurrier – and the list of players past their prime is even longer and includes a player nicknamed Primetime, Deion Sanders. For a while, it was if Snyder was raiding the NFL nursing home to fill out his roster.

When management gets enamored and taken with hype over substance, it’s a recipe for disaster.

5. New England Patriots

The Patriot Way is the antithesis of the Raiders and Redskins.

The key? Don’t fall in love with your players — even the historically top performers. Owner Robert Kraft might, but his longtime Head Coach Bill Belichick doesn’t. And Belichick makes most of the personnel decisions.

Belichick is so ruthless that “in Bill we trust” has become a mantra for New England fans, even though many times they secretly don’t – until it works.

The list of players sent packing – Drew Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, Ty Law, Wes Welker and, more recently, Logan Mankins – is an all-pro cast. Most had their best years in Patriots blue and white. So why get rid of them?

Because they were past their primes and weren’t worth signing to new expensive contracts. Spend enough time around Gillette Stadium and the word value will come up over and over again. When there is an injury, it’s next man up. Good players, at reasonable salaries, who can “do their job.” No sacred cows, no valuing individuals over the team, and always keeping an eye on the future.

It’s not always popular with some, but it’s been a winning combination for more than a decade.

4. Dallas Cowboys

Like the soap opera of the same name, America’s Team, the Cowboys, live on the edge. They’re always one bad signing, one prima donna away from blowing up all that is good on the gridiron.

Only in Dallas could the owner sign his quarterback to a $110 million contract and then openly lust after Johnny Manzeil in the draft. Published reports say Jerry Jones’ son had to intervene to prevent the pick.

And speaking of pick, you never know when Tony Romo (who is currently injured) is going to throw one.

Although they had sustained success 20 years ago, they have a micromanaging owner who often clashes with head coaches and failed to adapt to changing environments. When leadership is in turmoil, it will inevitably trickle down to the rank and file employees. As a result, you can’t get much more mediocre than the Cowboys have been over the past three seasons, finishing every year 8-8.

3. Denver Broncos

While Dallas has its soap opera, Denver is Peyton’s place.

General Manager John Elway and the Denver Broncos are like that bumper sticker on your grandmother’s Toyota Camry, “I’m spending my grandkids’ inheritance.”

After getting to the promised land last year on the gilded arm of Peyton Manning and then getting tossed from the mountain top, the Denver Broncos went shopping for more groceries.

They added another weapon for Manning, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. But, more importantly, they shored up the defense with T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and Demarcus Ware.

The NFL is a copycat league and after some crazy signings, like the Tim Tebow experiment that never had a prayer of working out, Denver has taken more of a Patriot approach – signing players to team-friendly contracts that allow them to walk away if needed and stay competitive.

2. Green Bay Packers

You can own the Green Bay Packers. No, seriously, you can own them.

Green Bay, the league’s third oldest franchise and one of its most storied, periodically sells stock in the team. Of course, unlike most stocks, they don’t pay dividends (unless you count Aaron Rodgers touchdown passes) and they aren’t tradable, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Despite the investment from fans, Green Bay, like the Patriots, plays it conservative, not dabbling in the high-priced and high-risk free agents that get so many teams (see Oakland and Washington) into trouble. This year, the Packers took some risk and shelled out some dough on Julius Peppers. (Hmmm, wonder if that was disclosed in their SEC filings.)

Like the Patriots and Broncos, it’s more about adding pieces and less about making a big splash to get fans in the seats. That’s not a problem when you have a waiting list of 81,000 people for season tickets that it will take, on average, 30 years to climb to the top of it, according to the team’s web site.

The Packers have been around and enjoyed success for a long time because they take a steady-handed approach to player signings and financial decisions, as you should for your company.

1. New York Jets

In the 13 seasons since Tom Brady has been the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots, the New York Jets have had 10 different starting quarterbacks.

They talk a good game, but can rarely cash the checks they’ve written. And that inconsistency has come home to roost in the form of a 1-8 start to the 2014 season.

The Jets have a reputation for spending big and coming up short, though there is evidence they may finally be taking some notes from their division rivals. This year, they went for the long bomb with free agent receiver Eric Decker, but other deals are of the short-term, low-risk, value variety. Think Patriots and Packers.

Still, it’s the Jets and that means drama like the Cowboys – quarterbacks who miss meetings, backup quarterbacks who aren’t prepared to play, and a head coach in Rex Ryan who took his team to two straight AFC championships a few years ago, but hasn’t found any success lately. When your leaders are all talk and no results, heads will usually start rolling.


It’s not too late to go from the Raiders to the Patriots. If you start taking the right approach to hiring and business, you can find yourself scoring metaphorical touchdowns in no time.