NEW YORK - The top dozen teams making picks in today's NFL draft earned that right by being bad. And not just during the 2006 season.
Many of them got their spots near the top of the draft by also having instability over a bunch of seasons. Take away Tampa Bay, choosing fourth this year, and you have 11 clubs with very little, if any, stability in the front office.
And while the Buccaneers won a Super Bowl under Jon Gruden after the 2002 season and still have him as head coach, they've also gone through several changes off the field, most notably losing general manager Rich McKay to Atlanta. McKay and former coach Tony Dungy put together much of the roster that won that NFL title, too.
Still, the Bucs are a model of continuity compared to the other teams who will go on the clock early at Radio City Music Hall. For instance:
• Oakland has had four head coaches since Gruden left for Tampa in 2002. Sure, owner Al Davis still runs the shop, but he's given little indication he's keeping up with the game lately.
• Cleveland, which returned to the NFL with an expansion team in 1999, seems to have a permanent reservation on a high pick. The Browns have had flux everywhere, from the highest executive positions to the assistant coaches' assistants. When they choose third today, it will be the fifth time since their resurrection that the Browns have owned one of the first three selections, and the sixth time they've picked in the top six - with a variety of people making the choices.
• Detroit GM Matt Millen has had a stranglehold on his job despite an NFL-worst 24-72 record since he took charge in 2001. He's working with his third coach, Rod Marinelli, who went 3-13 in his debut season.
"The way to get rid of it and take care of it is to win," Millen said. "That handles the whole thing. It's not difficult. The equation is not difficult, the winning part is difficult."
And not only for the Lions.
Arizona, which picks fifth, last had a winning record in 1998. It also has a new coach, Ken Whisenhunt, who comes from the winning environment in Pittsburgh. Will that help in the desert - and in the draft?
"I think he's going to bring a different attitude to this football team," quarterback Matt Leinart said, "an attitude that's been missing for a while. I think he's going to make us mentally tougher."
Among the other teams selecting in the first 12 spots, Houston (No. 10 after trading down two spots) never has had a winning record in five seasons. Miami has set a franchise mark with five straight years out of the playoffs. San Francisco is trying to reverse a trend of six losing seasons in eight years, including the past four. Buffalo has been outside the postseason seven consecutive seasons, matching the longest drought in franchise history.
Washington, which goes sixth, enters the fourth season of Joe Gibbs' second regime with a modicum of success on the field and mediocre draft results.
Still, none of the top players is concerned he might wind up on a perennial loser. The players' mind-set is clear - that they can make the difference.
"I expect to come out of college being like I was in college, the same kind of player," said Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, generally considered this draft's best athlete. "You have to think you will do just as well (in the NFL).
"I will work hard to live up to all the hype out there."
LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the odds-on favorite to be the top pick by the Raiders, brings a similar level of confidence to the pros. He believes he will lead a turnaround wherever he winds up.
"I'm a playmaker," Russell said. "I go on the field in every situation as if every play is the same and I have to make a play and put my teammates in positions to make plays.
"You've got to be the same. If you take the game for granted, it will hurt you in the long run."
So many of the teams who will go on the clock early today have been hurting for a long time. If they mess up again this year, they'll be right back in the same spot in 2008.