The best rebuilds in NFL history
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The best rebuilds in NFL history

Nearly a quarter of the NFL hired new general managers this offseason, and some franchises are making no secret about starting over. This new crop of GMs will attempt to join a select fraternity by turning out-of-contention teams into Super Bowl threats. Here are the best examples of NFL rebuilding efforts panning out.

 
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Vince Lombardi reconstructs Titletown

Vince Lombardi reconstructs Titletown
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The 1959 board meeting that led to the Giants offensive coordinator coming to Green Bay went well. The Packers had fallen off since Curly Lambeau's heyday; Lombardi had them in the NFL Championship Game in his second season. Although a few of the Hall of Famers on the Lombardi-era title teams were already Packers when he arrived, the famed leader turned those troops into linchpins of iconic teams. Fifteen starters on the Packers' 1962 powerhouse were pre-Lombardi acquisitions. Bart Starr transformed from part-timer to Pro Bowler under Lombardi, who formed the unrivaled team of the '60s. Lombardi won five titles in nine Packers seasons.

 
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Silver and Black emerges in Oakland

Silver and Black emerges in Oakland
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Before Al Davis' 1963 arrival, the Raiders' famed color scheme did not exist. The Raiders closed out their three-year gold-and-black era with three total wins from 1961-62. From 1963-80, they were a sub-.500 team just once. Davis took over as Oakland's head coach before buying part of the team years later. By 1968, the Raiders had added five Hall of Famers (Fred Biletnikoff, Gene Upshaw, Willie Brown, Art Shell, Ken Stabler) and traded for QB Daryle Lamonica, who won an AFL MVP award after Oakland went 13-1, Super Bowl II-qualifying season. Mirroring the Cowboys' rise, with a darker edge, the Raiders made nine AFL or AFC title games from 1967-77.

 
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CFL coach elevates Vikings to NFL power

CFL coach elevates Vikings to NFL power
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Three days before Bud Grant's March 1967 arrival, the Vikings traded Fran Tarkenton, who had issues with previous coach Norm Van Brocklin. Minnesota replaced him with Grant, a four-time CFL champion HC. Despite Tarkenton's mid-career Giants stay, Grant had the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Grant's first draft produced Alan Page, completing Minnesota's famed "Purple People Eaters" D-line. Lacking QB consistency, that group drove the Vikes' 35-7 record from 1969-71. The team reacquired Tarkenton in 1972; he and Grant ventured to three more Super Bowls. The Vikings competed with the Cowboys for NFC supremacy for a decade.

 
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'Steel Curtain' forms, becomes problem for NFL

'Steel Curtain' forms, becomes problem for NFL
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Pittsburgh's NFL team launched in 1933. Between then and Chuck Noll's 1969 arrival, it played in one playoff game. Noll's first draft pick -- Joe Greene -- set the tone for arguably the greatest defensive run in league history. The Steelers drafted nine Hall of Famers from 1969-74, culminating with a four-Hall of Famer class, and eventually forced the NFL to change its rules to unshackle passing attacks. Even the "Mel Blount Rule" backfired, with Terry Bradshaw and troops thriving in the late '70s. The Steelers beat the Raiders to the punch, seizing command of the AFC and winning four Super Bowls before anyone else won three.

 
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Shula makes Dolphins instant contenders

Shula makes Dolphins instant contenders
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The previous Dolphins regime drafted Hall of Famers Bob Griese and Larry Csonka; the Dolphins also traded for Paul Warfield before finalizing what became a trade for Colts HC Don Shula in 1970. Under Shula, however, the team immediately became a contender. In Shula's first five seasons, Miami went 57-12-1. It ranked first in rushing from 1971-74 and rode that ground force to three Super Bowls and the only post-merger unbeaten season. Despite Shula arriving after Noll and John Madden took over the Steelers and Raiders, respectively, the Dolphins reached the NFL's mountaintop first. Shula did pretty well after this initial spurt, too.

 
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Oilers navigate AFC gauntlet to challenge Steelers

Oilers navigate AFC gauntlet to challenge Steelers
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The Oilers went 2-26 from 1972-73, despite employing multiple Hall of Famers. Promoting gregarious defensive coordinator Bum Phillips helped push the former AFL power back onto the radar. Houston went 10-4 in Phillips' first season, 1975, and drafted Hall of Fame linebacker Robert Brazile that year. In 1978, the Oilers moved from 17th to 1st without giving up a future Round 1 pick. The prize, Earl Campbell led the team to back-to-back AFC championship games. To reach the second of those, the Oiler defense dominated in a Campbell- and Dan Pastorini-less upset of the Chargers. In a brutal AFC era, the Oilers carved out a nice contention window.

 
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Defensive pieces awaken moribund Broncos

Defensive pieces awaken moribund Broncos
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Amid Steelers and Raiders dominance, the Broncos steadily built one of the era's finest defenses. From 1973-75, the John Ralston regime drafted "Orange Crush" regulars Barney Chavous, Tom Jackson, Randy Gradishar, Rubin Carter, and Louis Wright. Ralston was fired after a 9-5 1976 slate; successor Red Miller pushed Denver over the top. The Broncos beat the Steelers and Raiders to reach Super Bowl XII after the franchise started 0-for-17 in playoff berths. Buoyed by this defense and a 1977 trade for QB Craig Morton, the Broncos made two more playoff berths in the '70s. Some "Orange Crush" troops remained in place when John Elway arrived.

 
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New-age offense elevates Chargers

New-age offense elevates Chargers
Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The best post-merger era for the Chargers began with an in-season coaching hire. The Bolts traded for ex-Cardinals coach Don Coryell's rights in 1978. San Diego had not made the playoffs since 1965; the team immediately resurfaced under Coryell. The new coach's explosive passing attack -- "Air Coryell" -- made the Chargers must-see, turning Dan Fouts from a zero-time Pro Bowler into a Hall of Famer. The Bolts ranked first in passing from 1979-83, despite 1981's John Jefferson-Wes Chandler swap, and made two AFC title games. The Bolts could not keep up defensively and fell short of the Super Bowl, but their passing attack changed the game.

 
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Walsh-Montana duo transforms offensive football

Walsh-Montana duo transforms offensive football
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Prior to Bill Walsh's 1979 hire, the 49ers employed four head coaches in three years. Their 1976 Jim Plunkett trade gutted future draft capital. Walsh's first QB investment, third-rounder Joe Montana, went better. Bypassed for the Bengals' HC job, Walsh brought his quick-passing offense to the 49ers. While it changed football, San Francisco also drafted Ronnie Lott in 1981 and deployed perennially great defenses. The three-time Super Bowl-winning coach was a three-point Steelers loss from going 19-0 in 1984. He traded up for Jerry Rice months later and added Steve Young without giving up a first-rounder, setting up the 49ers through the '90s.

 
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Non-dynasty stands out among storied NFC period

Non-dynasty stands out among storied NFC period
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In an NFC arms race that featured three other franchises win at least two titles during Mike Ditka's Bears tenure, Chicago's 1985 squad remains the most celebrated. Other than two Walter Payton-buoyed pretender playoff teams in the late 1970s, the Bears had accomplished little in the 15-plus years before Ditka's 1982 arrival. Draftees from GM Jim Finks' tenure -- Hall of Famers Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton, Jim McMahon -- joined Payton and Ditka-era arrivals to form an all-time great team. The Bears went 36-4 in McMahon starts from 1984-88. Had the brash QB been blessed with better durability, this is likely a dynasty.

 
11 of 25

Parcells' first rebuild puts Giants back on map

Parcells' first rebuild puts Giants back on map
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Bill Parcells' first rebuild was his best. The Giants went from Y.A. Tittle's 1963 MVP season to 1981 without making the playoffs. Hall of Fame GM George Young drafted Lawrence Taylor No. 2 overall in '81, equipping Parcells -- then New York's defensive coordinator -- with an unrivaled tool. Taylor, Parcells, and Bill Belichick steered a defense that led the Giants to the playoffs in 1984; said defense KO'd Montana and stopped John Elway in the '86 playoffs. The Giants went 3-1 against the 49ers in the playoffs under Parcells, re-establishing their brand with two more championships. 

 
12 of 25

Jim Mora knew a bit about the playoffs

Jim Mora knew a bit about the playoffs
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Younger Millennials and Gen-Z fans probably associate Mora with that enduring 2001 presser, but in his pre-"playoffs?" life, several postseason berths commenced. After winning multiple USFL titles, Mora took the ultimate rebuilding gig in 1986. Mora and Finks, a Hall of Fame GM, led a Saints franchise previously 0-for-20 in playoff berths to four NFC brackets from 1987-92. Anchored by its "Dome Patrol' linebacking quartet, which combined for 20 Pro Bowl nods as Saints, New Orleans went 12-3 and booked a playoff slot in Mora's second season. This regime could not win a playoff game, but it completed a daunting rebuild in a tough era for such a task.

 
13 of 25

Bill Polian-Marv Levy reunion sparks Bills

Bill Polian-Marv Levy reunion sparks Bills
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The architects of the Bills' late-1980s resurgence worked together with the Chiefs and the USFL's Chicago Blitz. Levy and Jim Kelly -- following the USFL's demise -- joined Polian in 1986. By 1988, the Bills' AFC East vice grip formed. Polian was with the Bills when Bruce Smith and Andre Reed arrived in '85 and as GM added Cornelius Bennett via trade, James Lofton via free agency, and stopped Thurman Thomas' draft slide in Round 2. Buffalo's nucleus was the AFC's best for nearly a decade. While the Bills became famous for big-game agony, their no-huddle offense and conference supremacy left them a unique place in NFL lore.

 
14 of 25

Chiefs reawaken under Marty Schottenheimer

Chiefs reawaken under Marty Schottenheimer
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After nearly two decades of irrelevance, the Chiefs re-emerged in the early 1990s and managed to craft a near-decade-long run without a long-term quarterback. A disagreement separated Schottenheimer and the Browns in 1989; he and USFL champion GM Carl Peterson soon used their first draft choice on Derrick Thomas. The Thomas- and Neil Smith-led defenses buoyed a Chiefs team that cycled through QBs during Schottenheimer's 10 seasons. Aging QBs (Steve DeBerg, Dave Krieg, Joe Montana, and Steve Bono) piloted Kansas City to six straight playoff berths, keeping "Martyball" relevant into the late '90s -- even without a Super Bowl cameo.

 
15 of 25

Cowboys tear it all down, create 1990s kingpin

Cowboys tear it all down, create 1990s kingpin
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Jerry Jones unceremoniously fired Tom Landry, but the next hire orchestrated one of the best rebuilds in modern sports history. The Cowboys went 3-13 in 1988 and 1-15 in the Jones-Jimmy Johnson regime's first season. The storied Herschel Walker trade, which brought three first-round picks and change, kickstarted Dallas' climb. The Landry regime losing its final game also gave Johnson Troy Aikman. That helped. By 1991, when Walker's successor won the first of his four rushing titles behind a dominant O-line, the Cowboys returned to the playoffs. Johnson only lasted five seasons; his charges ruled the NFL for much of the '90s.

 
16 of 25

Favre, Packers end Cowboys-49ers rivalry

Favre, Packers end Cowboys-49ers rivalry
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When Ron Wolf became Packers GM in 1991, they were playing nearly half their home games in Milwaukee; all their games had gone largely unnoticed for years. The Packers had not won a non-strike-year playoff game since "The Ice Bowl," but Wolf fleecing the Falcons for Brett Favre in 1992 and winning modern free agency's first big prize (Reggie White) a year later set up the NFC's next great team. Green Bay withstood Sterling Sharpe's career-ending injury, and Favre won the next three MVPs. Although the Pack did not go through the Cowboys to win Super Bowl XXXI, their ascent shut down the Dallas-San Francisco rivalry's stranglehold on the NFL.

 
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Parcells' second rebuild revives NFL doormat

Parcells' second rebuild revives NFL doormat
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After two years in TV booths, Bill Parcells forged his reputation as an all-time great rebuild architect. Elite uniforms and Andre Tippett were about the only saving graces for the early-1990s Patriots; Parcells and several ex-Giants assistants changed that. Choosing Drew Bledsoe first overall in 1993, Parcells also drafted Ty Law, Willie McGinest, and Tedy Bruschi. Those three later helped Bill Belichick build a dynasty, but Parcells took over a much worse Patriot foundation. New England (2-14 in 1992) was a playoff team by '94 and the AFC champion by '96. Parcells took his act back to New York shortly after.

 
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Menacing defense changes woeful Bucs' fortunes

Menacing defense changes woeful Bucs' fortunes
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Few teams in modern sports can match the Buccaneers' futility run from the early 1980s through the mid-'90s. High draft picks could not save the poorly run franchise, but it received a managerial jolt in 1995. Tampa Bay's Rich McKay-Tony Dungy regime managed to land Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in its first draft, catalyzing one of the league's toughest rebuilds. The Bucs, who stuck with prior-regime draftee Trent Dilfer for Dungy's first five years, were in the playoffs by 1997. Additions of Simeon Rice and Brad Johnson, in Dungy's final season, would push the Bucs over the top. Jon Gruden enjoyed the spoils.

 
19 of 25

St. Louis witnesses unusual uprising

St. Louis witnesses unusual uprising
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The Rams returned to the NFL's peak in 1999, winning their first championship in 48 years. At the controls: an unretired coach known for tough practices and tearful outbursts, and an ex-Arena League quarterback. Going 9-21 in his first two seasons, Dıck Vermeil was on the hot seat by 1999. The ex-Eagles HC, who had GM powers with the Rams, put Kurt Warner in a promising spot by trading for Marshall Faulk and selecting Torry Holt on '99 draft weekend. The Rams remain one of the most surprising champions ever, riding Trent Green's one-time backup to a 16-3 season. Vermeil soon retired again, but OC Mike Martz kept the car on the road for a bit.

 
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Not exactly a rebuild, but new arrivals altered NFL

Not exactly a rebuild, but new arrivals altered NFL
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Pete Carroll took the Patriots to the playoffs in 1997 and '98, so Bill Belichick walked into a better situation than most coaches on this list. The legendary defensive mind did not waste his second chance. A Pats assistant under Parcells in 1996, Belichick reunited with several defensive starters and noticed his sixth-round quarterback outplaying Drew Bledsoe in practice. Belichick's defensive backing allowed Tom Brady to grow into this century's defining player, and the duo forged one of the best partnerships in sports history. Even with Brady yet to take off, Belichick's initial, defense-oriented Pats teams remain his best.

 
21 of 25

Marvin Lewis rescues embattled Bengals

Marvin Lewis rescues embattled Bengals
Michael E. Keating, Cincinnati Enquirer

The Bengals' frugal reputation has not escaped them, but their recent swoon cannot match the tumble the franchise took before Lewis's 2003 hire. Defensive coordinator for one of the great units in NFL history, the ex-Ravens assistant took over a Bengals team that compiled six 12-plus-loss seasons in the previous 10 years. Lewis restored Cincinnati to a playoff team. He built a promising core around Carson Palmer and repeated the effort around second-rounder Andy Dalton, doing so despite Mike Brown's constraints that chased off Palmer. This run is remembered for its zero playoff wins, but Lewis thrived in a difficult situation.

 
22 of 25

Saints win 2006 offseason, change fortunes

Saints win 2006 offseason, change fortunes
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Shortly after hiring Cowboys assistant Sean Payton, the Saints outmaneuvered the Dolphins for Drew Brees. The duo's impact on New Orleans and the Saints franchise has been immeasurable. A measurement attempt: pre-Payton and Brees, the Saints won one playoff game in 39 years. They now have 10 postseason victories and a Super Bowl conquest. Brees shook off his 2005 shoulder injury, which spooked the Dolphins, and led the Saints to the 2006 NFC title game. A strong O-line and a deep receiving corps headlined by seventh-round pick Marques Colston aided Brees in 2009. He stayed a while, using a few aerial nuclei to set records.

 
23 of 25

A few good drafts

A few good drafts
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Pete Carroll parlayed his USC renaissance into a third NFL head coaching chance. He and GM John Schneider ensured this one would work. Between 2010-12, the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson -- one of the all-time great picks, at 75th overall -- and four perennial Pro Bowl defenders. They supplemented the Legion of Boom and Bobby Wagner with bargain signings Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, while Wilson and 2010 trade get Marshawn Lynch drove a lethal run game. This was the first modern example of a rookie-QB contract creating a Super Bowl window; Seattle took full advantage by reaching two straight.

 
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A rebuild in two parts

A rebuild in two parts
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, the Chiefs went 2-14, despite six Pro Bowlers. Kansas City slogged through four seasons of 4-12 or worse from 2007-12. Andy Reid cleaned up shop immediately, greenlighting an Alex Smith trade and leading the Chiefs to an 11-5 2013 season. Reid and Smith partnered for four playoff berths, but that period came with a hard cap. The Chiefs' 2017 trade-up for Patrick Mahomes -- at a reduced cost compared to the 49ers' Trey Lance deal -- removed that ceiling, unlocking Reid powers Smith and Donovan McNabb could not. Chapter II of the Chiefs' ascent has already brought six postseason wins and the franchise's first Super Bowl in 50 years.

 
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Rams win big on Millennial head coach

Rams win big on Millennial head coach
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 Rams averaged 263 yards per game. The 1-15 Browns, who started Cody Kessler eight times, ranked 31st that year with 311 per contest. Sean McVay's first Rams offense led the NFL in scoring. The Rams hiring McVay, 30 at the time he signed his first contract, may have changed the league. Mistakenly approving a Chargers move to Los Angeles, the NFL needed the Rams to salvage the high-end market. McVay has done his best, ending a 12-season playoff drought in 2017 and taking the Jared Goff-quarterbacked Rams to the Super Bowl a year later. Will his rebuild have a clear-cut second act with Matthew Stafford?

Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.

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