Antonio Brown’s rebuff of the Bills got us thinking: If money was equal, where do NFL players want to play? And where don’t players want to go?
For answers, I turned to 15 NFL agents whom I know and respect and asked the following: “If you polled your clients about the most and least desirable teams to play for, which teams do you think would end up in the Top 5 and which would be in the Bottom 5?”
The agents asked for anonymity to discuss players’ perceptions of NFL teams candidly. They listed a number of factors that make teams desirable or undesirable to their typical client. “There are so many factors to consider and every player is different,” one agent told me, “but typically we look at winning culture/tradition, opportunity [for playing time], income tax laws, market, area of the country, and sometimes weather.”
Said another agent: “It’s an interesting question because players don’t really know, so they just look at city and nightlife and a bunch of s--- that doesn’t matter.”
“I think most players take the most money regardless of location, as they should” said another agent. “But when it’s equal, that’s when this debate gets interesting.”
Without further ado, the Top 5:
1. Dallas, 11 votes
2. Seattle, 8
3. Miami, 8
4. L.A. Rams, 7
5. Atlanta, 5
Others receiving votes: Philadelphia (4), Houston (4), Indianapolis (3), New England (3), Arizona (2), Denver (2), L.A. Chargers (2), New Orleans (2), N.Y. Giants (2), Pittsburgh (2), San Francisco (2), Tampa Bay (2), Tennessee (2), Baltimore, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Minnesota
Atlanta squeaked past Philadelphia for fifth place, with one agent saying players from the SEC often see Atlanta as the “capitol of the south.” Another agent described the city as “America’s black mecca.” The Rams’ appeal is simple, said one agent: “Hot team, new stadium, new facilities.” Despite Miami’s floundering on the field of late, the attraction of the South Beach lifestyle is overwhelming for many. Seattle benefits from a popular city and what’s judged a “player-friendly” work environment, one agent said.
Our runaway winner, the Dallas Cowboys, are said to “spare no expense” when it comes to player luxuries. “They just treat the player first-rate,” one agent said.
And the Bottom 5:
1. Buffalo, 12 votes
2. Oakland, 11
3. Cincinnati, 8
4. Detroit, 7
5. Cleveland, 6
Others receiving votes: Jacksonville (5), N.Y. Giants (3), N.Y. Jets (4), Green Bay (3), New England (3), San Francisco (3), Washington (3), L.A. Chargers (2), Arizona, Denver, Minnesota, New Orleans, Tampa Bay
There was some debate about where Cleveland belonged in the ranking. Some agents said Cleveland would have been far and away the least desirable destination for players just two years ago, but the arrival of general manager John Dorsey in late 2017 and Baker Mayfield’s early success bumped them into the middle class of the league. “The new regime in Cleveland is fantastic,” one agent said. Added another: “The players don’t know it yet, but John’s changing that place for the better.”
Other reps said the Browns still belonged in the Bottom 5, not simply for their long losing history, but for weather and the perception of living in Berea or Cleveland, too.
Rust Belt cities in general did poorly in our survey. Cincinnati, Detroit and Cleveland all made the Bottom 5, and Indianapolis, despite having a healthy Andrew Luck and a seemingly upward trajectory on the field, received just three votes for the Top 5. Agents said each city is judged to have a boring nightlife, according to the players. “Weather and [sex] are huge factors,” one agent said.
The fourth-worst destination, Detroit, has the added knock of a locker room that appears dysfunctional to players looking in from the outside. “Especially with Matt ‘I think I’m Belichick but I haven’t done s---’ Patricia,” one agent said. Cincinnati has a reputation for being “cheap,” according to four different agents. “It’s just a poorly run, low-budget operation,” another agent said.
The Raiders were judged the runner-up least desirable team, with a caveat: When they move to Las Vegas, agents said, they could vault into the Top 5. “The Raiders are rated consistently awful,” one agent said. “That will likely change once they get to Vegas with brand new facilities and no state income tax in Nevada vs. huge state tax in California.”
As for Buffalo, the least enticing free-agent destination in the NFL according to our poll, only three agents didn’t have the Bills in their Bottom 5. Weather and a recent history of losing were two big factors, but the city had at least one supporter among the agents polled. “I think they’re turning things around in Buffalo,” he said. “That regime is doing things the right way.”
Green Bay and New England were two of the three teams (along with the Giants) to have won a Super Bowl in the last decade to make the bottom 10 (each received three down-votes). Black players, agents said, believe Green Bay, with its 3.5% African-American population (the lowest of any NFL city), could be a hostile place for minorities.
“My guys, mainly from the South, go to Green Bay and always have apprehension for obvious reasons,” one agent said, “but they end up falling in love with everything about the place.”
New England’s unattractiveness has less to do with demographics and more to do with their way of doing business. Stingy contract offerings and Bill Belichick’s strict policies turn many players off. “New England is polarizing,” an agent said. “Some guys really want to be there. Others definitely want to stay away.” Said another, of Green Bay and New England: “I couldn’t decide which list those two belong in.”
Only two teams didn’t receive a vote for either category: Carolina and Chicago. And one member of last season’s final four playoff teams—the Kansas City Chiefs—failed to engender any strong feelings either way, ending up with just one vote (for most desirable).
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