NPF's Robert Boland, described on the site as "The Sports Business Professor and NFLPA Contract Advisor gives his perspective on NFL legal matters," has been doing a series of articles ranking all the NFL franchises. Boland explains his ranking system:
[S]uccess in the NFL is a complex equation that isn’t merely about success in one or two aspects.
Rather, NFL franchise success is attained by financial success off the field, with an engaged top-down leadership, a consistent approach to player (and coaching) acquisition, evaluation and retention and some form of innovation or adaptation that helps that franchise exceed any of its specific limitations.
I took some heat last year for placing Jim Irsay and the Colts just off the elite list. My reason for doing so had to do with how much of the organization’s success was tied to Tony Dungy and the transition that was taking place on the coaching staff. But the organization replaced Dungy with Jim Caldwell and moved forward with key assistants Tom Moore and Howard Mudd in lesser roles and went 15-1 and to the Super Bowl. One of the key factors in evaluating the effectiveness of any organization is how it replaces outstanding performers and the Colts showed organizationally they could replace people. With a state-of-the-art stadium and a key understanding of their system and talent, the Colts and Jim Irsay vault into the elite ranks, in a dramatic change of trajectory from the team’s past history.
Though Boland's numbers are a bit off (the Colts went 14-2 in the regular season last year, not 15-1), he makes a good point about the effectiveness of a franchise being measure by how they adapt to change. The 49ers transitioned from Bill Walsh to George Seifert in the 1980s with tremendous success. The Cowboys did the same with Jimmy Johnson to Barry Switzer.
So, for the Colts to be so successful in 2009 after the Dungy-Caldwell transition speaks favorably to the strength of the franchise.
However, if "evaluating the effectiveness of any organization" in how it replaces "outstanding performers" is a major factor for Boland, why are the New England Patriots #3 on the list? Bill Belichick continues to be the lord and master of all in New England. Yes, they've had to deal with the change of Scott Pioli leaving recently to take the GM-level job with the Chiefs, but Belichick always had final say over who was or wasn't drafted or signed in New England when the two worked there. He also had final say on all coaching decisions. The Patriots were a joke of a franchise before Belichick showed up, and (if you really dig deeper) Belichick himself was a joke of a coach until a 6th rounder nobody named Tom Brady fell into his lap in 2000. So, compared to the Colts losing Tony Dungy, the Pats really haven't had that much significant change. As long as Belichick is there, it's business as usual.
I also disagree with rankings the Dallas Cowboys #1 overall. One of his key factors in ranking them there was the "football team also got its act together on the field and lived up to its potential." What? The Cowboys were supposed to be a championship-caliber team in 2009. They won the NFC East and, for the first time since Bill Clinton's first term in office, they won a playoff game against a Philadelphia Eagles squad decimated by injuries. The Cowboys then went to to Minnesota to play the Vikings and got waxed. This is the franchise "living up to its potential?" Boland basically loves Jerry Jones and the Cowboys for that gawdy stadium in
the middle of nowhere "North Texas."
Regardless of a few inconsistencies in his article, it's nice to see someone like Boland recognize the Colts as the truly elite franchise they are.