The bulk of NFL legends know what it's like to play for a championship contender.
Think about it. When you think of the greatest quarterbacks that never win a Super Bowl, only a few names come to mind: Dan Marino, Warren Moon and Dan Fouts. Ask yourself the same for wide receivers; most of them won at least one Lombardi Trophy, with the exceptions of Terrell Owens and Randy Moss.
Throughout NFL history, most teams have succeeded in building around their franchise stars. The San Francisco 49ers brought in Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig to help out Joe Montana, and it produced a dynasty. What if the Dallas Cowboys didn't get Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith to complement the talents of Troy Aikman? Well, there simply wouldn't be a '90s dynasty in Texas.
We're seeing the remainder of Aaron Rodgers' prime years get wasted by the Green Bay Packers, but at least they have a Super Bowl championship, plus nearly a decade of dominance to go with it. If you think the Packers' wasting of Aaron Rodgers is bad now, just think about all the other NFL legends who had to spent almost their entire careers with very bad teams.
It's unfortunate when an NFL great doesn't get to experience a whole lot of winning, simply because the team was unable to build around him.
Here, we are taking a look at 10 NFL legends (past and present) who were stuck on bad teams. To make it more fun, we also selected the team they could have succeeded even more with.
20 Andre Johnson
Yes, the Houston Texans became a more relevant team near the end of Andre Johnson's tenure, but this was a very bad football club during the bulk of his prime years.
Drafted third overall by the Texans in 2003, Johnson grew into one of the most dominant and consistent wide receivers ever. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler who led the league in receiving yards twice. Johnson had seven 1,000-yard seasons in his career, but that's not the most impressive part.
Rather, it's the fact that Johnson produced such numbers without ever having a quality quarterback feeding him the ball. David Carr, Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Fitzpatrick are among the many quarterbacks Johnson had. None of those guys stand out.
The Texans only made the postseason twice in Johnson's 12-year tenure, never advancing past the second round.
19 Better Off Playing For: New Orleans Saints
Until Michael Thomas came along in 2016, Drew Brees never had a Pro Bowl wide receiver in his decorated career with the New Orleans Saints. Brees piled up the stats with Marques Colston being his most productive pass-catcher. What if Brees had somebody like Johnson to throw to?
Brees has been a consistent 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown guy in New Orleans. He led this team to a Super Bowl XLIV championship despite lacking Pro Bowl wide receivers and running backs.
Just imagine if the Saints found a way to land Johnson in his prime years. That would give Brees his first superstar wide receiver. And if Johnson could pile up impressive stats with mediocre quarterbacks, just think about what he could have done with Brees throwing him the ball? It would have been something legendary, let me tell you.
18 Adrian Peterson
No, the Minnesota Vikings were not a great team during Adrian Peterson's 10-year run with the team. Rather, Peterson made the Vikings look like a great team with his incredible and consistent dominance.
The only good quarterback Peterson had in Minnesota was Brett Favre, who played there in 2009 and 2010. Favre led Minny to the NFC title game in his first year, but he regressed significantly in the second year, which forced Peterson to carry the offense without a quality signal-caller.
Even when Minnesota made the playoffs with Peterson in 2008, 2012 and 2015, they didn't have very good quarterbacks. And yet, he won the MVP in 2012 and racked up the Pro Bowl selections and 1,000-yard seasons.
Vikings fans won't like to hear this, but Peterson was the reason they made the playoffs four times over his 10-year tenure there. Plain and simple.
17 Better Off Playing For: Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens have always built their offense around rushing game, even though the team hasn't had many quality running backs in its history. Jamal Lewis was a Pro Bowl talent, but not other many great RBs come to mind.
Well, imagine if the Ravens had a perennial Pro Bowler, MVP candidate and consistent 1,000-yard rusher in Peterson. This team made the playoffs five years in a row from 2008 to 2012, reaching three AFC Championship Games and while winning Super Bowl XLVII.
The Ravens liked using a running back-by-committee approach during their dominant run in the Joe Flacco-John Harbaugh. But if this team had a playmaker on offense like Peterson, it's safe to think they could have won even more Super Bowls. Peterson would have fit nicely behind that stacked Baltimore offensive line, and he'd have at least a ring by now.
16 Brandon Marshall
Future Hall of Famer Brandon Marshall has never played in a postseason game, despite being one of the most dominant and electrifying wide receivers of the 21st century. This man never made the playoffs in his four years with the Denver Broncos, who wasted his prime years. His quarterbacks there? Jay Cutler and Kyle Orton.
Marshall then played two seasons for the Miami Dolphins, who had Chad Henne and Matt Moore at quarterback. He wasn't able to make the playoffs during his three years with the Chicago Bears. Again, Jay Cutler just wasn't very good there.
Marshall then had the rest of his prime years wasted by the terrible New York Jets, and he has since made stops with the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks. The New Orleans Saints signed Marshall this year, only to release him before the playoffs.
So instead of playing for so many mediocre and terrible teams, imagine if Marshall played for onecontender throughout his career.
15 Better Off Playing For: Pittsburgh Steelers
Until the likes of Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace took over for Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger didn't have many great wide receivers in the first half of his career. Marshall was drafted just a couple of months after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks. What if the defending champions drafted him before the Broncos?
Marshall could have been an excellent fit with Roethlisberger and Ward. Heck, imagine if he was playing with Brown several seasons ago? This already potent Pittsburgh team would have been even tougher to stop.
The Steelers also won Super Bowl XLIII and made another appearance in the big game two years later. Had Marshall been in Pittsburgh, he would have seen plenty of postseason action - and he would have won a Super Bowl by now.
14 Curtis Martin
During his three seasons with the New England Patriots, Curtis Martin was one of the top offensive playmakers in the NFL. He had recorded a trio of 1,000 rushing yard seasons in Foxborough, and was on the '96 team that reached Super Bowl XXXI.
However, Martin entered the 1997 offseason as a restricted free agent, and he decided to sign a $36 million contract with the rival New York Jets. The Patriots decided not to match it, and Martin wound up in New York.
Martin produced 1,000-yard seasons every year from 1998 to 2004, earning a pair of Pro Bowl selections while leading the league in rushing during the 1994 seasons. However, the Jets only made the playoffs four times in Martin's tenure, and they never built a true Super Bowl contender around the Hall of Famer.
13 Better Off Playing For: New England Patriots
At the end of the day, Martin was simply better off playing for the team where his career began. You can't blame him for taking more money and joining another playoff contender, but just imagine if Martin stayed in Foxborough.
This was a team that became a dynasty after Martin had left. With Bill Belichick and Tom Brady leading the way, the Patriots won three Super Bowls in a four-year span, all while Martin was stuck on mediocre Jets team.
This was a New England team that won Super Bowls with running backs like Kevin Faulk and Corey Dillon, who were nothing close to Martin's level. Had he stayed with the Pats, Martin would have been part of a dynasty. It's that simple.
12 Dan Fouts
One of the most underrated quarterbacks of all-time, former San Diego Chargers legend Dan Fouts revolutionized the passing game in the '70s and '80s. Despite limited talent around him, Fouts always dropped the hammer on opposing defenses - leading the NFL in passing yards four straight years from 1979 to '82 and being named to six Pro Bowls.
Fouts spent his entire 15-year career with the Chargers, who simply weren't a very good team during his playing career. The Chargers only made the playoffs four times in the Fouts era, reaching two AFC Championship Games but coming nowhere close to a Super Bowl.
Just imagine if Fouts was on a team with more talent. We'd surely be talking about a multi-time Super Bowl champion.
11 Better Off Playing For: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals reached two Super Bowls in the '80s, both losses to the San Francisco 49ers. During this decade, Cincinnati also featured a pair of MVP-winning quarterbacks in Boomer Esiason and Ken Anderson.
Now, both Esiason and Anderson were Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks, but they each only had a handful of productive seasons. What if the Bengals had a Hall of Famer like Fouts behind center instead? What if he was the guy going up against Joe Montana and the 49ers in those two Super Bowls?
This isn't a knock against Esiason and Anderson, who both came this close to delivering a Super Bowl for the Bengals. But just imagine if they found a way to upgrade by trading for Fouts. You have to think he would have led them to at least one Super Bowl.
10 Merlin Olsen
The Hall of Famer defensive tackle spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Rams (1962-76), and there were few players who could take over a game like Merlin Olsen. This man was elected to an impressive 14 Pro Bowls. He was named to the '60s and '70s NFL All-Decade Teams and was a five-time First-team All-Pro selection.
The Rams were not a very good team during Olsen's prime years, however. It wasn't until the 1967 season where they made the playoffs with Olsen for the first time. They wound up making it just six times - and that included a trio of losses in the NFC Championship Game.
Los Angeles became a better football team when Olsen was nearing the end of his career. But if he played elsewhere during his prime years? We'd likely be talking about a multi-time Super Bowl champion.
9 Better Off Playing For: Green Bay Packers
If there was one team for Olsen to play for, it was Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers - who were the NFL's model organization in the '60s. With Bart Starr leading the way at quarterback, the Packers became the first dynasty in the Super Bowl era.
This team won a total of five NFL championships during the '60s, and the two very first Super Bowl games. While the Packers were ruling the football world, the Rams were struggling mightily, despite Olsen's talents.
You can't help but wonder how much better the Packers would have been if they had Olsen on that already stout defense. Five league titles and a pair of Super Bowls is already impressive, but it could have been even more with Olsen.
8 Tony Gonzalez
The greatest tight end in NFL history was selected to a whopping 14 Pro Bowls in his career. Nobody is going to break his record for most receiving yards by a tight end (15,127). Gonzalez was also a six-time First-team All-Pro selection, and only Jerry Rice hauled in more career receptions.
Gonzalez spent his first 12 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he unfortunately didn't have much of a supporting cast on the offensive side of the ball. The Chiefs only made the playoffs three times under Gonzalez's tenure, and they couldn't pick up a single postseason victory.
Gonzalez piled up the stats with numerous eh-okay quarterbacks, including Elvis Grbac, Trent Green and Brodie Croyle. You just wonder how much more Gonzalez could have done with a Pro Bowl quarterback for his prime years.
7 Better Off Playing For: Indianapolis Colts
A year after Gonzalez broke into the NFL, some guy named Peyton Manning was drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998. After a sluggish rookie year, Manning led the Colts to 13 wins in 1999, and he quickly developed as the game's top pocket passing quarterback.
Manning turned the Colts into a consistent playoff contender, leading them to double-digit win seasons and playoff berths every year from 2002 to 2010. This included a Super Bowl XLI championship and another trip to the big game three years later.
'The Sheriff' had some great weapons in Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Dallas Clark. But just imagine if Manning had a legendary tight end like Gonzalez at his side? That powerhouse offense in Indianapolis would have been on another level of excellence. As if Manning wasn't scary enough in his prime, just imagine if he had another Hall of Fame to throw the ball too.
6 Larry Fitzgerald
Sure, the Arizona Cardinals reached Super Bowl XLIII as well as the 2015 NFC Championship Game. But they wouldn't have accomplished either without the greatness of future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, who single-handedly breathed new life into one of the NFL's worst franchises.
The 11-time Pro Bowler sits second all-time in receiving yards and third in career receptions. There hasn't been a more consistent or dominant wide receiver of the past 15 years than Fitzgerald.
Too bad the Cardinals only made the playoffs four times in Fitzgerald's career. With the exceptions of Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer, he never had a half-decent quarterback through the ball his way. The Cardinals wasted his talents more often than not, plain and simple.
5 Better Off Playing For: New England Patriots
Bill Belichick has a long history of acquiring superstars in the midst of their prime, in order to load up for a championship run. It worked out nicely for the likes of running back Corey Dillon, wide receiver Randy Moss and cornerback Darrelle Revis.
But what if Belichick made a play for Fitzgerald somewhere between 2010 and 2012, when the Cardinals were awful, due to their inability to find a quality quarterback? The idea of Fitzgerald playing alongside Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski would have been a nightmare for opposing teams.
There was always mutual respect between Belichick and Fitzgerald. The latter could have racked up even more impressive stats in Foxborough, and his Hall of Fame career would have one or two championship rings to go with it.
4 Barry Sanders
If it weren't for Jim Brown or even Walter Payton, Barry Sanders would be recognized as the greatest running back of all-time. The 1997 MVP spent his entire career with the Detroit Lions, which spanned from 1989 to '98.
Sanders was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his 10 NFL seasons, leading the league in rushing four times. He never missed the 1,000-yard mark and rushed for a whopping 2,053 yards in the 1997 season. Sanders surprisingly retired after the 1998 season, despite rushing for 1,491 yards in what would be his swan song year.
The Lions made the playoffs six times under Sanders, but that only added up to one postseason win. And make no mistake: The Lions were Barry Sanders. That team would have been awful without him. I mean, Scott Mitchell of all people was the best quarterback to ever play with Sanders.
3 Better Off Playing For: Green Bay Packers
Sorry Lions fans, I know the imagination of Sanders in a Packers uniform is sickening to you. But really, this Green Bay team would have been a dynasty if they had a player of Sanders' caliber.
Think about it. Brett Favre turned the Packers into a perennial Super Bowl contender in the '90s. They reached the big game in the 1996 and '97 seasons, defeating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.
And Favre did this without having a game-changer at running back to complement his passing skills. What if the Packers had Favre and Sanders on the field together? Teams would have to account for the best quarterback and running back of the '90s.
Sanders would have won Super Bowls in Green Bay. This team could have won more than one Super Bowl if they had Sanders. But of course, there was just no prying him away from the only NFL team he'd ever play for.
2 Dick Butkus
Chicago Bears icon Dick Butkus was not only the greatest defensive player of his era, but you could make a case that he was also the NFL's most dominant player during his career, which spanned from 1965 to 1973.
Butkus' career wasn't long by any means, but he sure made the most of it anyway. Butkus was named to eight Pro Bowls and won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1969 and '70. The greatest linebacker of all-time was also named to the 1960s and 1970s All-Decade Team.
However, the Bears never made the postseason once in the Butkus era. They had just one winning season and consistently finished among the bottom of the league standings during his nine-year career.
And yet, Butkus took over games and revolutionized the linebacker position anyway. What if he was playing for a championship caliber team instead?
1 Better Off Playing For: Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings pummeled teams with their legendary "Purple People Eaters" defense, which consisted of Hall of Famers Alan Page, Carl Eller and other talents like Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen.
Those four superstars were perennial Pro Bowlers, and terrorizing teams with that unstoppable defensive line. This team won the 1969 NFL Championship and reached the Super Bowl four times between '69 and 1976.
But what if the Vikings had another unstoppable force in Butkus at linebacker? As if four monster pass rushers weren't scary enough, Minnesota would have the best defensive player of his era leading the unit.
That, folks, surely would have produced a Super Bowl championship or two in Minnesota. Their great defense - coupled with quarterback Fran Tarkenton - nearly became a dynasty. To think what could have been if they found a way to add Butkus to that team.