scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Sunday football notes

How do teams really treat their players? The best nuggets from the NFL Players Association’s anonymous survey.

Several Chiefs players said head trainer Rick Burkholder, who has been with Andy Reid since they joined the Eagles together in 1999, doesn’t treat players “fairly or consistently, or with personal care.”Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

Occasionally the NFL pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of teams, through carefully curated productions such as “Hard Knocks” and “Mic’d Up.”

But this past week, the NFL Players Association ripped open the curtain, poured gasoline on the floor, and lit a match.

The players’ union on Wednesday released the results of a season-long, anonymous survey that grades each team on how it treats its players. The NFLPA said 1,300 players contributed to the survey, which gave each team a final grade after evaluating eight categories — treatment of families, nutrition, weight room, strength staff, training room, training staff, locker room, and travel.


In 15 years as an NFL reporter, I heard rumblings that teams such as the Bengals and Cardinals didn’t treat their players well, but it was always theoretical. Now comes tangible evidence and a few eye-popping anecdotes.

We already wrote this past week about how the Patriots finished 24th in the study, which surely had to rankle the Krafts. Here are the top takeaways from the other 31 teams:

▪ The Bengals’ thrifty reputation under owner Mike Brown apparently is well earned. The Bengals are one of three teams (along with the Buccaneers and Saints) that don’t provide players with three meals a day, skimping out on dinner. The Bengals also encourage players to work out at the facility on Tuesday offdays, but don’t open their cafeteria, “so players can’t even grab a banana when working out.”

The Bengals are one of two teams that don’t provide vitamins (Broncos), and the only team that doesn’t provide supplements. Players say the toilets and showers don’t consistently work. The Bengals are the only team that doesn’t provide electrical outlets in individual lockers.

Most alarmingly, some players reported that their wives had to sit on the floor of a public restroom to nurse their babies during games. The Jaguars were another team where players reported the same problem, which is unacceptable. Note to all NFL teams: Look up the term “lactation pod” and install several in your stadiums, pronto.


▪ The Chiefs may be Super Bowl champions, but the players aren’t happy with the facilities or training staff, ranking the team 29th overall. Some of the complaints are small — players want chairbacks at their lockers instead of stools and more space on flights, and the Chiefs are one of six teams that make young players have roommates on the road.

But the complaints about the training staff were piercing. Several players said head trainer Rick Burkholder, who has been with Andy Reid since they joined the Eagles together in 1999, doesn’t treat players “fairly or consistently, or with personal care.” The Chiefs also reported that they feel “discouraged from reporting their injuries” and “fear retribution for speaking up.” Only three teams gave their training staffs a grade lower than B, and the Chiefs were the lowest with a D-minus. I’d be surprised if the Chiefs moved on from Burkholder, so there could be some awkward moments ahead between trainer and players.

▪ Two former Patriots coaches found themselves taking hits. The Raiders mostly aced their report card thanks to a new training facility that is the envy of most teams. But players knocked coach Josh McDaniels for being less likely to listen to players and keeping them for longer hours than other head coaches around the league. The NFLPA claims that seven of the top eight teams who were “most efficient with the players’ time” made the playoffs in 2022.


Raiders players complained that coach Josh McDaniels' isn't efficient enough with their time.Abbie Parr/Associated Press

Current Patriots assistant coach Joe Judge also isn’t missed in New York. Giants players responded that Brian Daboll is respectful of their time and willing to listen to collaborate, “a stark change from former HC Joe Judge’s tenure and an example of how quickly things can improve if the club prioritizes the well-being of players.”

▪ The 24th-ranked Patriots finished last in the AFC East. The Dolphins came in No. 2 and received nearly straight A’s for their new training facility and coaching staff, with the only knock being the lack of a family room at Hard Rock Stadium. The Bills finished No. 9, with the only complaint that the team’s nutritionist splits time with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, who are also owned by the Pegula family. And the Jets ranked 19th, with nothing too great or too bad about their facility and staff.

▪ The Commanders finished No. 32 and their facilities sound like right out of the movie “Major League.” The players feel the training room is understaffed; the facility is cramped; they don’t have enough bathrooms; the warm water and shower drainage don’t work; they are one of six teams that require some teammates to have roommates on the road, and one of seven teams not to offer first-class seats to players. There also was one line without any context: “Many players reported that they do not want to do their rehab there.”


▪ Only two teams gave their strength staffs a grade less than B. The Falcons’ players gave their staff a D-minus because they don’t feel they get a personalized plan. The Ravens gave their staff an F, and the Ravens recently fired trainer Steve Saunders, who had been with the team for seven years. The feedback on Saunders was “markedly negative,” and players including Matthew Judon and Derek Wolfe have publicly criticized Saunders in the past. Saunders also earned a one-month suspension in 2020 for not properly wearing his mask or tracking device or reporting his own COVID symptoms when treating players.

▪ Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill gives the Bengals stiff competition for the thriftiest team. If a player wants dinner, the Cardinals will box it up and deduct the cost from the player’s paycheck, the only team that does this. They are also the only team that charges players for meals when working out at the facility in the offseason. And “the consistent sentiment was that ownership does not provide high-quality workplace facilities,” including a weight room that some players believe is a safety hazard.

▪ Quick hits: The Jaguars had a rat problem in the locker room and laundry hampers for 3-4 weeks last season . . . The Vikings and Chargers also recently fired their athletic training staffs before the survey was released . . . The Saints were graded with the fourth-worst food in the league, which is a travesty in New Orleans . . . The Panthers complain about a slippery pool room, but they have a golf simulator in the locker room . . . The Chargers say the hot and cold tubs at their temporary facility are “gross,” and they are one of two teams (Texans) that don’t provide a sauna or steam room. They move into permanent digs in 2024 . . . The food is so bad in Indianapolis that some players bring their own from home . . . The Texans were praised for letting their veterans sleep at home and not a team hotel the night before regular-season home games (of course, they are 7-26-1 the last two years) . . . The one team that doesn’t have a private, billionaire owner (Packers) ranked No. 6 and had A’s and B’s across the board . . . No star treatment for Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers feel their locker room is small and outdated, and they were one of eight teams not to offer first-class seats on flights.



Troubling signs with the Ravens

The Ravens appear a team in turmoil this offseason, and quarterback Lamar Jackson is days away from becoming a free agent.Nick Wass/Associated Press

The Titans were 7-5 and looked like they were cruising toward a playoff berth in early December. But general manager Jon Robinson was unexpectedly fired, revealing an alarming amount of dysfunction behind the scenes, and the Titans sputtered to a 7-10 finish.

A similar situation is playing out in Baltimore. The Ravens made the playoffs at 10-7, and coach John Harbaugh defended Lamar Jackson’s injury until he was blue in the face. But the Ravens are looking surprisingly dysfunctional this offseason.

We learned in the NFLPA survey that the players really dislike trainer Steve Saunders and his staff. Then on Thursday, second-year receiver Rashod Bateman took a swipe at GM Eric DeCosta in a since-deleted tweet. DeCosta said at a news conference this past week that it was “disappointing” that the Ravens haven’t found an “All-Pro type of guy” at receiver, and Bateman, the team’s first-round pick in 2021, was not pleased.

“How bout you play to your player’s strength and & stop pointing the finger at us and #8 [Jackson],” Bateman tweeted. “And keep us healthy … care about US & see what happen … ain’t no promises tho … tired of y’all lyin and capn on players for no reason.”

Then, of course, there is the mess with Jackson, who is set to be a free agent on March 15. Jackson wants a fully guaranteed contract like the $230 million deal Deshaun Watson got. The Ravens treat the Watson contract like an anomaly and refuse to go there. The Ravens have the franchise tag at their disposal — $32 million for the non-exclusive tag, $45 million for the exclusive one — but have to be wary of Jackson not signing and holding out into the regular season.

The Ravens could give Jackson the non-exclusive tag and allow him to shop himself to other teams. But Jackson is wildly popular in Baltimore, the Ravens don’t have a good backup plan at quarterback, and any scenario that results in Jackson leaving could be a death knell for Harbaugh and DeCosta.

The Ravens may want deep down to play hardball and move on from Jackson if he doesn’t come off his demands. But that is incredibly risky given all the dynamics. Their best play is probably to give Jackson the $45 million exclusive tag and put the ball in Jackson’s hands as far as showing up and being a Raven.

“There’s no bigger question right now, no bigger decision, there’s no bigger challenge for this organization moving forward than this contract,” DeCosta said.


Snyder under even more fire

Daniel Snyder's tenure as owner of the Commanders has been wrought with controversies.John McDonnell/The Washington Post

It’s already well established that Daniel Snyder of the Commanders is unfit to own an NFL team. He turned cheerleaders into borderline call girls, fostered a culture of sexual harassment, and ran his once-proud team into the ground.

Now come allegations that Snyder is a crook, too. Per ESPN, Snyder’s former minority partners believe he committed bank fraud as part of a questionable $55 million loan, and the inquiry is being investigated by the FBI and IRS after allegedly being swept under the rug by commissioner Roger Goodell.

“Three billionaires — not a few whistleblowers — alleged to the NFL arbitrator that their partner had possibly committed bank fraud,” a source told ESPN. “This is jail time type of fraud . . . And the league had no interest in finding out what happened.”

Snyder’s three minority partners, who at the time owned 40 percent of the team, allegedly found Snyder was using the team as his “personal piggy bank,” including charging the team to staff and cater Snyder’s yachts for parties with Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft, and $4.5 million to put its logo on his personal jet. The partners eventually sold their stakes to Snyder in 2020.

These allegations come after Jason Friedman, the team’s former longtime vice president of sales, testified before Congress that the team kept two sets of books so as to underreport the ticket revenue that is shared among all 32 teams.

Snyder is nothing but bad news for the NFL, and the owners need to give him the boot when they meet in Arizona at the end of March. It would require a vote of 24 of 32 owners, plus the long-overdue release of the NFL’s investigation of the Commanders led by Mary Jo White. Of course, the litigious Snyder won’t go down without exhausting every fight available, so kicking him out of the club will create a lot of headaches. But the fight is worth it. Every day Snyder remains an NFL owner is a stain on the league.

Extra points

George Toma is the NFL’s “sodfather,” having worked on the turf for all 57 Super Bowls. But the 94-year-old is done with the NFL after the disaster from last month’s Super Bowl, in which players couldn’t get their footing on the slick turf. Toma criticized NFL field director Ed Mangan for overwatering the turf but not putting it back in the sun; that a tarp laid over the field to protect it from show rehearsals led to the field emitting a “rotten” odor; and that Mangan sanded the field both too late and not enough. “He wouldn’t listen to anybody,” Toma told ESPN. “I can’t take it anymore.” . . . The Cowboys moved on from offensive coordinator Kellen Moore despite finishing No. 4 in points, and apparently it’s because coach Mike McCarthy wants to return to the leather-helmet days. “Kellen wants to light the scoreboard up, but I want to run the damn ball so I can rest my defense,” McCarthy said this past week in Indianapolis. “I don’t desire to be the No. 1 offense in the league. I want to be the No. 1 team in the league with a number of wins and a championship.” The Cowboys finished 27th in average drive length (2:35), but slowing down your offense for the sake of the running game is an outdated approach and not a great way to win . . . Appearing on the Kelce brothers’ “New Heights” podcast this past week, Patrick Mahomes thanked Bill Belichick for teaching him the importance of preparation. Mahomes cited a 2018 Patriots-Chiefs game (it’s unclear if he was talking about the regular season or the AFC Championship game) in which Belichick showed Mahomes exotic defensive schemes. “I remember being back there like, ‘I have no idea what to do to get these five guys blocked,’ ” Mahomes said. “Thanks, Coach Belichick. Ever since then, if the blitz protection plan isn’t perfect, and I don’t feel perfect going into the game with it, I don’t feel prepared.” . . . One league source said Josh McDaniels and the Raiders want Brian Hoyer in Las Vegas to be a veteran mentor, but that Hoyer, whose 2022 season ended because of a concussion, is leaning toward retirement. On Saturday, it was reported the Patriots plan to cut Hoyer by March 15 . . . How important is quarterback depth? More teams started three or more quarterbacks in 2022 (13) than had one quarterback start all 17 games (10) . . . Bills pass rusher Von Miller came to the Combine in Indianapolis this past week, but not to watch the drills. Instead, he was networking to get his foot in the door in personnel, with a dream of becoming an NFL general manager. “This is what I want to do,” Miller told Denver’s 9 News. “I know what a winning football team looks like. A great staff, great equipment guys, great athletic trainers. I know what that looks like, I know what it takes to build those teams, but that’s it. So I’m here to meet with guys, for the guys to give me instructions on what to do.”

Ben Volin can be reached at