Dolphins, Vikings top players' survey of NFL teams; Chiefs 31st

ByDan Graziano ESPN logo
Wednesday, February 28, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS -- The two-time defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs were the second-lowest graded team in the NFL -- ahead of only the Washington Commanders -- in the second annual "report card" that ranks teams according to various categories based on the results of player surveys.

More than 1,700 players -- up from about 1,300 last year -- participated in the survey between August and November, which was released by the NFLPA on Wednesday. Players were asked to grade their teams on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from team facilities to coaching staffs to owners.

The top two teams in the overall survey were the same as last year, though they switched places, with the Miami Dolphins finishing ahead of the Minnesota Vikings this year.

But the Chiefs' ranking stands out, particularly since Andy Reid ranked first overall among 32 teams in the head-coach category, which is new this year and heavily weighted in the final grade.

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt ranked last out of 32 team owners. Those grades were based on what players perceived as a willingness to invest in the team's facilities. The Chiefs ranked 26th in the food/cafeteria category, 31st in the nutritionist/dietician category, 31st in training room and 32nd in training staff.

"To me, this is not a shaming exercise," NFLPA executive director Lloyd Howell said. "We want to highlight teams that are doing well but also highlight areas for improvement."

The Chiefs stand out because they ranked poorly in many of the same categories last year. One specific criticism that Chiefs players had was that they had stools instead of actual chairs in their locker room, and the team did switch to chairs, according to the NFLPA.

Chiefs players also said they were promised after the 2022 season that the locker room would be renovated, but it was not. According to the NFLPA, players were told their Super Bowl run extended the season so long that the team didn't have enough time in the offseason to make renovations.

"I think there's some frustration coming back that, 'Hey, we keep winning Super Bowls and nothing's coming back to us'," NFLPA president J.C. Tretter said.

Howell said there were a number of teams that ranked near the bottom last year who took the grades to heart and made improvements.

The Arizona Cardinals, for example, stopped charging players for meals, changed the floors and equipment in the weight room and added a small family gathering room for game days.

The Cincinnati Bengals, who were criticized following last year's survey for not providing players three meals a day, made a very slight change to that policy and now offer three meals at the facility on Wednesdays.

The team that made the biggest overall improvement from last year was the Jacksonville Jaguars, who opened a new training facility and jumped from 28th to No. 5 overall. Last year's survey included a complaint about rats in the Jaguars' team facilities.

"No more rats," was one of the things Tretter mentioned, with a wry smile, in discussing the areas in which teams showed improvement.

The team that suffered the most significant drop from last year's survey was the Dallas Cowboys, who dropped from fifth to 12th overall. Tretter said the main reason was the D-plus grade that players gave the Cowboys' training staff, which ranked 30th overall mainly because players felt the team doesn't have enough trainers.

"One of the things we're seeing is significant understaffing of training staffs around the league," Tretter said. "Teams should be incentivized to get their players on the field because it makes them better too. So that frustrates a lot of guys."

The CBA mandates a minimum of three trainers on-site per team, but Tretter said that number is far too low and that the players are talking to teams about increasing it.

Last year's survey rankled many of the teams that graded poorly and didn't set well at the league office, which felt it didn't get enough notice of the survey before its release. That appears to be the case again this year.

"The league and its clubs always encourage and solicit player feedback to help improve all facets of their NFL experience," NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said. "We look forward to getting the opportunity to review the union's questionnaire, and the data supporting it, after its release to the media. When we first learned of the survey yesterday, we took the opportunity again to invite the union to join the NFL in a rigorous and third-party scientific-based survey as we have previously done and is mandated by the collective bargaining agreement."

The survey featured more categories this year than it did in Year 1, and that affected some teams' grades. For example, the Las Vegas Raiders dropped from third last year to ninth this year mainly because the survey added head coach as a category. The Raiders have one of the best facilities in the league -- ranking in the top five in categories such as weight room, locker room, training room and cafeteria -- but they ranked 32nd in the head-coach category because the bulk of the surveys were conducted before the in-season firing of Josh McDaniels.

Travel issues were one of the interesting aspects of the survey. Some teams still require some of their younger players to room together in the hotel on the night before the game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offer players the option to "buy out" of the roommate requirement for $1,750 a year.

"One of the reasons this is a concern is that we're playing more international games," Howell said. "So if we can't get the domestic travel right, that's a concern."

Tretter said the Dolphins and Vikings were in "a class of their own," well ahead of the third-ranked Green Bay Packers. He also said the group from No. 3 to No. 7 -- the Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans -- were very tightly bunched in terms of overall grades.

The Dolphins finished in the top three in 10 of the 11 categories in the survey and eighth in the other (head coach). They ranked first in food/cafeteria, weight room, training room, training staff, team travel and owner. The Vikings ranked either first or second in eight of the 11 categories and no worse than ninth in any of them. Minnesota ranked first in treatment of families, nutritionist/dietician, locker room and strength coaches.

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