In The Lion King, Mufasa tells his son Simba about the Elephant Graveyard. The graveyard is a desolate, barren wasteland of the bones of the great elephants outside of the Pride Lands. In the film, Mufasa warns Simba to never go to the Elephant Graveyard because of the dangers which lie there. His jealous uncle Scar, knowing he would be next in line for the throne, entices Simba to go to the graveyard, where the hyenas would kill him. Simba is rescued by his father while in the graveyard and Simba learns his lesson.

In the National Football League, there are elephant graveyards. These franchises are in cities that have not seen the light of the playoffs in many a season. In an attempt for relevancy, these franchises sign players past their prime to make them competitive or their draft selections flop. Those decisions backfire and sets those franchises back further. Let’s look at which five franchises are the Elephant Graveyards of the NFL.

5. New York Jets

At number five of the Elephant Graveyards of the NFL is the New York Jets. The Jets haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2010 season. The Jets have tried to get back into playoff contention since then. Between 2011 and 2021, a combination of bad draft selections and bloated free agency signings have kept the Jets out of the playoffs. Ownership has also made terrible decisions with management and coaching. After Rex Ryan was dismissed in 2014, the Jets hired Todd Bowles and in 2019, hired Adam Gase. Some of the notable players that didn’t quite make it in the Big Apple are Percy Harvin, Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chris Ivory, Jermaine Kearse, Le’Veon Bell, and Trumaine Johnson. General manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh are now tasked to turn the fortunes of the franchise.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

The fourth team on the list of Elephant Graveyards of the NFL is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Surprisingly, the Jaguars were once a franchise on the rise. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Jaguars were in the hunt of a playoff berth whether it be winning the AFC Central or making a Wild Card. Following years of instability of ownership, Shad Khan purchased the franchise in 2012. Like the Jets, the Jaguars have also tried to stop the bleeding by drafting poorly and making bad free agency signings. Some notable players who failed in Jacksonville: Nick Foles, Jalen Ramsey, Prince Amukamara, Blake Bortles, Justin Blackmon, Blaine Gabbert, and Tim Tebow. Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson will be the seventh head coach in the Shad Khan Era.

(For more of the Clown Show that are the Jaguars, click here for a synopsis I wrote back in January.)

3. New York Giants

The number three team in the list of Elephant Graveyards of the NFL is the New York Giants. Since winning Super Bowl XLVI, the Giants have made the playoffs only once. Fans saw the deterioration of the offensive line, which led to the decline of quarterback Eli Manning. Following the resignation of Tom Coughlin in 2015, the Giants hired Ben McAdoo, who guided them to the playoffs in 2016. Ever since then, the Giants have had their share of bad drafts, but also terrible trades. The most notable trade was sending Odell Beckham, Jr. for a first and third-round pick in 2019 and safety Jabril Peppers. Former general manager David Gettleman had his share of swings and misses, including Saquon Barkley, Andrew Thomas, and Daniel Jones. Gettleman was let go after the 2021 season.

2. Cleveland Browns

The number two team on the list of Elephant Graveyards of the NFL is the Cleveland Browns. When the Browns began again in 1999, fans hoped for a competitive team. New ownership hired former San Francisco executive Carmen Policy to run the team. The Browns have gone through 12 head coaches (including interim head coaches) since coming back into the league. They’ve also had 32 quarterbacks start for the team, including Tim Couch (who was drafted first overall in 1999), Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, Robert Griffin III, DeShone Kizer, and – most recently – Baker Mayfield. The Browns have had messy drafts, given up too much on trades, and overpaid for past-their-prime free agents. The last time the Browns won an NFL title was 1964. Although the Browns have been bad, there’s only one team that has been worse.

1. Detroit Lions

And taking the crown as the number one team on the Elephant Graveyards of the NFL is the Detroit Lions. The Lions haven’t won an NFL title since 1957 and have never been to the Super Bowl. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1991 and have only been to the playoffs three times since 1999. The hiring of Matt Millen as president and CEO of the Lions led to years of ineptitude and the Lions were known for draft flops. The list includes Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, and Roy Williams. If six consecutive losing seasons wasn’t enough, there was the infamous 0-16 season in 2008. There was promise of a turnaround after drafting Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson, but the duo never delivered a Super Bowl. Johnson retired in 2015 and Stafford was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 2021, where he won a Super Bowl in 2021.

I’m Ryan McCarthy and I usually cover the New York Jets beat for Belly Up Sports. We have a lot more to offer in our NFL coverage. If you want to chirp at me regarding the NFL, life, or other topics, hit me up on Twitter: @whoisryanmcc. Thanks for reading.  

About Author

Ryan McCarthy

Ryan is a veteran of sports blogging since Al Gore invented the Internet. He has spent time with SportsHungry, e-sports.com, and ArenaFan. Ryan is a 2020 graduate of Regent University as a Journalism major. He is also the host of the No Credentials Required podcast.

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