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Adam Hunger/Associated Press
Hundreds of personnel moves are made during an NFL calendar year. Some prove to be positive; others don’t go so well.
The latter can have a profoundly negative impact on a team’s roster.
The wrong coaching hire, free-agent signing, draft pick, trade or contract extension can set a team back even when it makes the decision with the best interests in mind.
No owner or general manager is perfect. Mistakes can and will be made. Even the league’s best-run organizations made poor choices this past offseason when building their 2018 squads.
The magnitude of the errors ranges from a blip on the radar some may not even remember to impactful long-term blunder.
Decision-making is a crucial aspect of running any business, especially professional football. Change is constant, but it’s not always beneficial. Every team’s worst offseason move has been on display during the regular season.
How much have these affected each franchise? More than most teams would have liked.
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Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Well-run NFL organizations aren’t supposed to casually release one of their best players. The Arizona Cardinals did, though, when the team and Tyrann Mathieu parted ways in April after the defensive back refused to take a pay cut.
“There’s many ways you could restructure a contract instead of just taking money out of my pocket,” Mathieu said at the time, per NFL.com’s Kevin Patra. “Taking money out of my pocket, I don’t like how that feels.”
Here’s the thing: The Cardinals could have easily paid Mathieu. Arizona is far from cap-strapped. Yes, the 2015 first-team All-Pro would have counted for $14.1 million against the Cards’ salary cap this season, but they have $75.9 million in available space right now, according to Spotrac.
Budda Baker has been fantastic in the Cardinals’ defensive backfield. He and Mathieu could have been paired together, though. Mathieu, meanwhile, is playing well for the Houston Texans as the league’s only safety with 60 or more tackles (61), three sacks and two interceptions, according to the Sports & Entertainment Research Center.
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Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Sometimes finding the right fit for certain roles within an organization can be difficult. The Atlanta Falcons are a shining example.
Steve Sarkisian hasn’t lived up to the lofty standard Kyle Shanahan set as offensive coordinator before leaving to become the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach. The unit became disjointed last season when the first-time NFL play-caller took the reins.
“Just another year of how to feature the guys,” head coach Dan Quinn said during the end-of-season news conference when asked where Sarkisian could improve, per CBS Atlanta’s Knox Bardeen. “I think that’s a better thing to understand. Some of that trust doesn’t happen overnight, and you have to really understand what nuances the guy has, how do we feature this player for this play, this one for that.”
To Sarkisian’s credit, the Falcons offense has been better this season. Atlanta ranks seventh overall in total offense and 11th in scoring. Yet, Julio Jones famously went half a season without scoring a touchdown. More importantly, he wasn’t regularly targeted in the red zone. This isn’t growth from the play-caller; it’s the opposite.
The Falcons offense is producing, but that doesn’t mean it is being coached well.
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The Baltimore Ravens’ skill positions were among the league’s worst last season.
General manager Ozzie Newsome signed wide receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown in free agency before setting his sights on tight end Hayden Hurst in the first round of April’s draft.
Hurst missed the first four games of the season with a fractured foot and hasn’t been a significant contributor upon his return. But neither issue explains why his selection with this year’s 25th overall pick was a mistake.
The problems with the choice are twofold.
First, Hurst’s age should have been an automatic disqualifier from first-round consideration. The former minor league baseball player is already 25 years old. Either he produces immediately—which he hasn’t—or the Ravens aren’t receiving optimal value in return.
Second, the Falcons drafted Calvin Ridley, whom many considered the draft’s top wide receiver prospect, one pick later. Ridley leads all rookie wide receivers with 47 receptions for 625 yards and eight touchdowns.
To make matters worse, the Ravens selected fellow tight end Mark Andrews two rounds later.
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The Buffalo Bills spent a lot of time worrying about the quarterback position this offseason, but they didn’t add the necessary ingredients around a young signal-caller to make him successful.
The Bills own the league’s worst wide receiver corps, the offensive line is a mess, and 30-year-old running back LeSean McCoy is the only constant threat.
Buffalo added wide receivers Kaelin Clay, Ray-Ray McCloud III and Austin Proehl this offseason. General manager Brandon Beane released the veteran Clay last month. McCloud, whom the team selected in the sixth round, has four receptions for 31 yards. Buffalo’s seventh-round pick, Proehl, didn’t even make the regular-season roster.
Eric Wood and Richie Incognito’s retirements, along with the Cordy Glenn trade, also depleted any depth the Bills had along the offensive line.
Instead, Buffalo decided to spend assets on the defense with the Star Lotulelei, Trent Murphy and Vontae Davis (now retired) signings. The draft produced linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and cornerbacks Taron Johnson and Siran Neal.
The Bills defense ranks second overall, while the offense is 31st and only better than that of the woeful Arizona Cardinals.
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Ben McKeown/Associated Press
Last season, the Carolina Panthers leaned heavily on two veteran safeties, Kurt Coleman and Mike Adams, to patrol the defense’s back line. Coleman signed with the New Orleans Saints during free agency, and Adams is now 37 years old.
How did the Panthers plan to improve their safety play? They didn’t.
Carolina went the entire offseason without adding a pure safety. General manager Marty Hurney chose a pair of cornerbacks, Donte Jackson and Rashaan Gaulden, in the draft’s second and third rounds. Gaulden did make the transition from corner to safety, but he hasn’t been a big part of the defensive game plan.
Carolina’s pass defense, meanwhile, ranks 22nd overall and has had several breakdowns.
“Again, I think we’ve got a group of young guys that we’re coaching up at every position, and they’re going through a development right now,” head coach Ron Rivera said of the Panthers’ critical mistakes, per the Charlotte Observer‘s Jourdan Rodrigue. “I think that’s the thing that we have to look at. … It’s about game experience.”
Due to a slow safety market (and possibly other things), the Panthers signed Eric Reid on Sept. 27 in an attempt to solidify the back end.
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Rick Osentoski/Associated Press
Roquan Smith, whom the Chicago Bears selected with the eighth overall pick in April’s draft, didn’t sign his first professional contract until August 14.
As a result, Smith lost precious training camp and preseason reps with the Bears’ first team-defense. He then suffered a hamstring injury and didn’t start the first regular-season contest. All of this could have been avoided.
The standoff between the linebacker and the team occurred over language found in his contract offer. The language would have allowed the organization to take some of Smith’s guaranteed money if he had been penalized by the league for its new helmet rule.
That’s it. That was the holdup.
Instead of prioritizing the newly acquired top-10 pick’s development, the Bears chose to draw a line in the sand. There was no need for it, and it proved to be foolhardy.
Now, the Bears are playing well and sit atop the NFC North standings. Smith leads the team with 81 total tackles. But the entire situation could have been handled much better and sets the tone for future negotiations with other top draft selections.
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Gary Landers/Associated Press
The Cincinnati Bengals organization is slowly deteriorating, and the regression could have been prevented if owner Mike Brown chose to infuse the franchise with a fresh new approach instead of the same old, same old.
Instead, Marvin Lewis signed a two-year contract extension this offseason after a second straight losing campaign.
“Marvin has made significant contributions during his time here,” Brown said in a statement after the team announced the extension, per the Associated Press (via USA Today).
What are they?
Taking a team from the league’s basement to consistent mediocrity isn’t much of an accomplishment. Four division titles are offset by the fact that Cincinnati hasn’t won a single postseason game during Lewis’ tenure (0-7).
Now, the Bengals are 5-6, feature a historically awful defense, just suffered a humiliating home loss to the rival Cleveland Browns and lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton to a season-ending thumb injury.
Lewis deserves credit for providing the franchise with a foundation, but he’s never been able to take the team any further. Another voice is needed to provide a new path.
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Frank Victores/Associated Press
Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam did the unthinkable by keeping head coach Hue Jackson after a 0-16 campaign. Imagine where the Browns would be right now if Haslam made the correct decision by firing Jackson when he deserved to be.
As dumbfounding as Haslam’s decision proved to be, the owner rectified the situation after Cleveland’s Week 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But the damage had already been done.
The team’s 2-5-1 record to start the season is holding back a squad with a 2-1 record since Jackson’s departure. The team clearly didn’t like playing for its former head coach.
Rookie standout Baker Mayfield responded to critics after being labeled immature when he answered a question during Sunday’s postgame press conference about why he gave Jackson the cold shoulder when Jackson approached him for a handshake.
“I didn’t lose 30-plus games, be fake and then do that [join a rival during the season],” Mayfield wrote on Instagram (via WKYC 3’s Matthew Florjancic).
Mayfield isn’t speaking entirely for himself, as the team’s actions Sunday indicated. Now, the Browns have a competent coaching staff and the squad is far more competitive. It’s amazing how that works.
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Dez Bryant‘s departure from the Dallas Cowboys proved to be shortsighted and had to be fixed with Amari Cooper’s midseason acquisition.
Yes, the Cowboys had salary-cap restrictions, and Bryant didn’t sign with another team until November and immediately suffered a torn Achilles when he did join the Saints. How the Cowboys approached the situation, though, considering the circumstances was quite perplexing.
“In my mind, every team doesn’t have a true No. 1 receiver,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in August, per the Dallas Morning News‘ Kate Hairopoulos. “When you put it in that class, those guys that just absolutely change the ballgame with where they are. And that hasn’t been our case with several years here that we’ve had a true No. 1, not a true No. 1.”
It’s a strange comment since Bryant left the Cowboys as the franchise’s all-time leader in receiving touchdowns—directly ahead of three current or future Hall of Fame inductees.
The team had no one to replace him as the X-receiver, and quarterback Dak Prescott struggled to establish a rhythm in the passing game. Cooper is a better long-term play, but the Cowboys could have had both considering Bryant acknowledged he would have taken a pay cut.
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Case Keenum is spectacularly average.
The Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback doesn’t rank better than 15th overall in any major statistical category.
Keenum was Denver’s attempt at making the most out of a bad situation.
The organization didn’t develop into serious suitors for Kirk Cousins during free agency. A future franchise quarterback didn’t seem to be a draft priority when general manager John Elway chose defensive Bradley Chubb over Josh Allen and Josh Rosen.
Keenum is the team’s signal-caller, for now.
“Case has played his best ball in the last three weeks taking care of the ball and still making plays,” head coach Vance Joseph said Monday, per Zach Pereles the team’s official site. “It’s a fine line between that. Sometimes to make some plays, you’re taking some chances, and he’s been good with the ball and still making plays for us.”
Even so, Keenum has a 58.8 completion percentage while averaging 230 passing yards during the aforementioned stretch. Wonderfully average.
The Broncos aren’t going to make a late-season playoff push if Keenum has to carry too much of the offensive burden. All he needs to do is refrain from making mistakes.
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Kudos to Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia for keeping an open mind and retaining offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter upon his hire. Most new coaches prefer to operate with a clean slate. Patricia saw the success Detroit’s offense experienced with Cooter calling the plays and thought continuity was the right choice.
Patricia was wrong. The Lions rank among the league’s bottom half in scoring, total offense, rushing yards per game and third-down conversion rate.
Unfortunately, Matthew Stafford regressed as well. The 30-year-old signal-caller is on pace to post his lowest passing yardage total since his injury-plagued 2010 campaign. His 7.0 yards per attempt is his lowest since 2012. The 2009 first overall pick has already thrown as many interceptions (10) this year with five games left to play as he did the entire previous season.
“It is my job to recognize certain things and sort of improve those,” Cooter told ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein. “If I’m not improving things with our offense as the year goes, we’re not really doing our job.”
Right now, Cooter doesn’t have any answers.
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Jeff Haynes/Associated Press
The Green Bay Packers stressed secondary improvement this offseason after allowing 7.9 yards per pass play last year.
The organization’s plan included signing free-agent cornerback Tramon Williams and drafting two more corners, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson.
Those plans didn’t include Damarious Randall, whom the Packers traded to the Cleveland Browns for backup quarterback DeShone Kizer.
Green Bay originally used a first-round pick in the 2015 draft to select Randall and immediately converted him from safety to cornerback, thus marking their first mistake. The second came when the organization chose, for whatever reason, not to play him at his natural position alongside Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Randall has helped turn the Browns around as an eraser along the back line. His 11 defended passes (three interceptions and eight pass deflections) would lead the Packers this season.
Signs of improvement were already evident with Randall playing at cornerback. The defensive back allowed only allowed 101 receiving yards during his final five games with the Packers, according to Pro Football Focus’ Nathan Jahnke.
Randall joins Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde as standout defenders Green Bay decided not to keep, with the Packers letting Hayward walk in 2016 and Hyde in 2017.
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Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Houston Texans general manager Brian Gaine knew he had to fix the team’s offensive line after taking over for Rick Smith.
“It’s certainly an area that we’re going to evaluate heavily here,” Gaine said in January, per the team’s official site. “As I get my feet wet here in the operation, knowing what we have and then studying what’s going to be available to us in the free agent market first and obviously with the draft right around the corner.”
Free agency provided some help; the draft didn’t.
Senio Kelemete, Zach Fulton and Seantrel Henderson signed. Kelemete and Fulton are starting at guard. Unfortunately, Henderson suffered a broken ankle and was placed on injured reserve. Kendall Lamm has been solid at right tackle, though.
Left tackle is the major problem area.
Houston used a fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft to select a raw yet physically talented tackle prospect. Julie’n Davenport moved into the starting lineup by the end of his rookie campaign. The Texans banked on natural improvement between his first and second season.
But Davenport is still a mess. He leads all offensive linemen with 13 called penalties and allows more edge pressure than any other blocker.
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Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Few wide receivers are more consistent than the Indianapolis Colts’ T.Y. Hilton. Hilton posted four straight 1,000-plus-yard campaigns before having the streak snapped last season due to quarterback Andrew Luck‘s injury.
What Hilton really needs is a little help.
His 45 receptions for 710 yards lead the team, of course. Chester Rogers ranks second among the team’s wide receivers with 37 receptions for 353 yards. His yardage is tied for 95th overall.
Luck does deserve credit for spreading the ball around since six different options have at least 245 receiving yards. But the Colts’ offseason moves show they were trying to get more out of their wide receivers beyond Hilton.
The organization signed Ryan Grant in free agency and drafted Daurice Fountain and Deon Cain. Grant is fourth on the team with 294 yards. Fountain is on the Colts practice squad, and Cain suffered a season-ending torn ACL before the regular season even began.
General manager Chris Ballard has done an exceptional job building the Colts roster, especially the offensive line. However, his focus should shift toward wide receivers next offseason.
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Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press
Jacksonville Jaguars executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin is ready to fight over quarterback Blake Bortles.
“We’re a whistle [and] we’re in the Super Bowl. And that’s my position, OK?” Coughlin told 1010 XL earlier this week (via the Associated Press’ Mark Long).
“So tell me, everyone out there, what they’re going to do in that circumstance about your football team. Aren’t you going to fill other pieces in and try to be as good as you can be? And we tried, didn’t we? Well, the nature of the game got us, so we go back to the drawing board. But I’ll put the gloves on with anybody that wants to talk about what [went wrong].”
Coughlin has to defend the team’s approach since he deemed Bortles worthy of a three-year, $54 million contract extension this offseason even though everyone outside of Jacksonville knew the Jaguars had a major quarterback problem.
The Jaguars coaching staff benched Bortles this week.
“I put myself in this position and I didn’t play good enough,” Bortles said, per ESPN.com’s Michael DiRocco.
No one wants to fight Coughlin. Everyone is just trying to understand the thought process behind the decision.
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Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press
Sometimes enough is enough even when it shouldn’t be.
The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t want to deal with cornerback Marcus Peters and his attitude any longer. So, they traded him to the Los Angeles Rams for a 2018 fourth-rounder and a 2019 second-round pick.
“The Chiefs decided they couldn’t trust his behavior anymore and, despite his playmaking ability, felt whatever they could fetch for him in trade would be better than Peters returning in 2018,” Peter King wrote for Sports Illustrated.
The Chiefs completed the deal without anyone who could replace the two-time Pro Bowler.
Sure, Kansas City acquired Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade, but he’s better covering the slot. Orlando Scandrick and Steven Nelson join Fuller as part of the league’s worst pass defense.
Peters hasn’t been spectacular for the Rams, either.
“With a good player and a productive player that’s had as much success as he has had and the confidence we have in him, we trust that he’ll improve,” L.A. coach Sean McVay said at the start of November, per the Los Angeles Times‘ Gary Klein.
Even a subpar Peters could have helped the Chiefs this season if the staff had any patience.
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Rich Barnes/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Chargers had to do something after 2017’s disastrous campaign in which the team converted a measly 66.7 percent of its field-goal attempts. In order to do so, it signed Caleb Sturgis to a two-year free-agent contract.
Sturgis won the competition between himself and Roberto Aguayo during the preseason, but he missed four field goals and six extra-point attempts in six games before the Chargers released the 29-year-old specialist.
Fortunately, general manager Tom Telesco had the foresight to keep another kicker, Michael Badgley, on the practice squad for just such an occasion.
The rookie has only missed one extra point this season, although it was a crucial miscue against the Denver Broncos in a one-point loss.
“Just look around this league, I mean, a lot of really good kickers will miss one every now and then, and he’s only missed one,” head coach Anthony Lynn said, per ESPN.com’s Eric D. Williams. “So I have a lot of confidence in him.”
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
Samson Ebukam’s breakout performance against the Kansas City Chiefs doesn’t offset the Los Angeles Rams’ inability to find two adequate edge-rushers.
Ebukam became the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after registering a sack and pick-six against Patrick Mahomes. The great performance can’t become an aberration, because the Rams desperately need a consistent edge presence.
Aaron Donald is a destroyer of worlds along the interior with a league-leading 14.5 sacks. Fellow defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is second on the team with 3.5. Ebukam is a half-sack behind Suh. Even the team’s top outside linebacker can do more.
Dominique Easley, Matt Longacre and John Franklin-Myers provided little opposite Ebukam. As such, general manager Les Snead traded for Dante Fowler Jr. to help create more of a pass rush. The 2015 third overall pick has one sack in the three games since being acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We felt like we needed an edge presence,” Snead said after the trade, per the Orange County Register‘s Rich Hammond. “I was knocking on their door.”
The Rams certainly did need the help. Fowler may not be enough, though.
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Gary Landers/Associated Press
The Miami Dolphins appear to be a year too late regarding quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“Haven’t discussed it,” Tannehill said of his status with the team beyond this season, per the Miami Herald‘s Adam H. Beasley. “And it doesn’t matter at this point. It’s a matter of going out for this team, winning games and making the playoffs.”
It does matter. The Dolphins have spent six seasons trying to decide whether Tannehill is worthy of being groomed.
Injuries ruined the last two seasons, and he never had a breakout year before that point. The 2014 and ’15 campaign were both solid, albeit unspectacular. Tannehill definitely didn’t establish himself among the league’s upper echelon at any point.
Financially, the Dolphins couldn’t make a move this past offseason because his release would have cost the organization $13.5 million more than his actual cap hit, per Spotrac. Next season is entirely different, because Miami can save $13.2 million with his release.
No succession plan is in place, though. The Dolphins spent a significant amount of time scouting quarterbacks in this year’s draft class, then didn’t draft one.
Expect Miami to start from scratch next offseason.
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Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press
The Minnesota Vikings’ season hasn’t gone according to plan, but they’re still in the playoff hunt after doing nearly everything possible to set the team up for success this past offseason.
General manager Rick Spielman went on a spending spree during free agency and addressed the team’s two biggest areas of need: quarterback and 3-technique, signing Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson.
Spielman also went after those already on the roster worthy of extensions. But while Danielle Hunter and Stefon Diggs got theirs, Anthony Barr didn’t.
Of course, organizations must prioritize their financial allotment. Talented pass-rushers and offensive playmakers take priority over linebackers. Barr may not be in the team’s long-term plans as a result.
“I don’t really get into the numbers,” Barr said during a June interview on NFL Network. “It’s more about feeling valued and respected than the actual dollar amount. … You can’t really go off what-ifs or this or that. Let the chips fall where they may. It’s not my decision; it’s on them, and I would like to get it.”
The Vikings won’t have much room to re-sign Barr or Richardson beyond this season, so two key defensive pieces could be gone due to salary-cap limitations.
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Somehow, wide receiver Brandin Cooks is on his third team in three seasons despite three straight 1,000-yard campaigns, with a fourth coming soon. He would be the first receiver in NFL history to record three such campaigns with three different teams, according to Tim Twentyman of the Detroit Lions organization.
Why did the Patriots give up on him so quickly?
Getting a first-round pick in return certainly helped the decision (even though it turned out to be offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, who is on injured reserve due to a torn Achilles). The 25-year-old receiver also wanted a long-term contract extension, and the Rams were happy to oblige with a five-year, $80 million deal.
However, the Patriots overestimated their available wide receiver talent.
Julian Edelman didn’t return to the lineup until Week 5 after being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett have been afterthoughts most of the season. In fact, running back James White leads the team with 67 receptions.
Of course, New England jumped at the opportunity to acquire Josh Gordon from the Cleveland Browns for a fifth-round draft pick. He’s the type of No. 1 receiver the Patriots needed after trading Cooks.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The New Orleans Saints are the NFL’s the best team, and almost everything has gone their way since the start of the offseason.
Even so, a missed free-agent opportunity could haunt the Saints in the postseason.
Five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Sun visited the Big Easy before signing with the Los Angeles Rams.
“What’s up, everybody?” Suh said on Twitter after the visit. “Was down South, super excited about the opportunity down there. Lots to think about, and on to the next one on the tour.”
However, the Saints couldn’t seal the deal.
The Rams and Saints appear to be a collision course for the NFC Championship Game. If that’s the case, Saints quarterback Drew Brees will look across the line of scrimmage and see Suh ready to tackle him.
At that moment, Brees might wonder why Suh isn’t his teammate.
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Chris Szagola/Associated Press
Unless they’re set at the game’s most important position, NFL teams should draft a top quarterback prospect over a top running back prospect every time.
The New York Giants didn’t abide by this rule.
Saquon Barkley is special. He’s third in the league with 1,410 total yards from scrimmage. He’s the front-runner for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Despite all of that, the Giants are floundering at 3-8. Barkley can’t make enough of a difference because Eli Manning is an anchor at quarterback.
The Giants continue to fool themselves into thinking the 37-year-old signal-caller isn’t finished. One team source told SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano that Manning could return as the starter next season.
The Giants screwed up their opportunity to select a quarterback with the second overall pick in April’s draft. General manager Dave Gettleman passed on the likes of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen.
New York might not be in position to select a quality quarterback prospect in the 2019 draft. As a result, the organization will fall even further behind in developing its next starter.
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Mark Brown/Getty Images
The New York Jets gave Trumaine Johnson a five-year, $72.5 million contract this offseason, making him the NFL’s second-highest-paid cornerback. They’ve gotten nowhere near that type of production in return.
“Thought he’d be better,” a Jets source told the New York Daily News‘ Manish Mehta.
Johnson had a strong start to the season, but a quad injury cost him five games. He hasn’t been the same in coverage since he opened the year with an interception and a pass deflection against the Detroit Lions.
“I think that he’ll put (together) a string of games and play a lot better than he has played,” defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson said Monday, per Mehta. “Right now, he’s coming back from an injury. I don’t think he was in the greatest shape. He’s getting himself back ready to go. He won’t waver. He accepts the challenge just like everybody else.”
These aren’t things fans want to hear about a player who signed a mammoth five-year contract.
Though Johnson is being paid like a shutdown cornerback, he has never quite been on that level and likely won’t develop into one despite his massive payday.
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Matt Marton/Associated Press
The Oakland Raiders’ hiring of Jon Gruden as head coach could prove to be a devastating mistake, but he deserves the benefit of the doubt for one season as he tries to build the team in his image.
However, the decision to trade Khalil Mack was inexcusable, even for a pair of first-round picks.
Elite pass-rushers in their prime are far too valuable to consider moving, yet the Raiders did so anyway. Even with those extra first-round picks, the odds of replacing the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year are slim to none.
“It’s hard to find a great [pass-rusher],” Gruden said in September, per Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith. “It’s hard to find a good one. It’s hard to find one.”
Either Gruden’s trolling level reached expert levels, or he’s intentionally ignoring the organization’s incompetency. Either way, Mack isn’t coming back, and the Raiders’ search to supplement the pass rush will continue, as they’re last in the league with only 10 sacks.
Meanwhile, Mack has eight sacks in nine games with the Chicago Bears.
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Michael Reaves/Getty Images
The Philadelphia Eagles had an opportunity to maximize backup quarterback Nick Foles‘ value after he was named the MVP of Super Bowl LII. Instead, they squandered their chances.
General manager Howie Roseman placed more value on an early-season stretch rather than keeping long-term goals at the forefront. The Cleveland Browns reportedly offered the 35th overall pick for Foles, according to Michael Silver of NFL.com, but Roseman turned it down.
“He’s still on the team because he’s an incredibly valuable member of the Philadelphia Eagles,” Roseman said at the owner meetings in March, per NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Dave Zangaro. “… We’re in the business of making sure we get the right value for the player. What our value is for a player is going to stick.”
The Eagles wanted to make sure Carson Wentz recovered from his torn ACL before they traded Foles, but that proved to be folly on two accounts. First, Wentz was always going to return as the franchise quarterback. Second, Nate Sudfeld could have played the role of the bridge.
Even after Wentz returned, the Eagles didn’t ship Foles out ahead of the trade deadline. Once they turn down his $20.6 million option after this season, they won’t get anything in return for him.
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Winslow Townson/Associated Press
The Pittsburgh Steelers committed the cardinal sin of drafting: They reached for a lower-rated player because of need.
Terrell Edmunds wasn’t a first-round safety prospect. He wasn’t even the best available safety when the Steelers chose him with the 28th overall pick. Jessie Bates III and Justin Reid were better options, and they’ve proved it during their rookie campaigns.
Edmunds is what he is: a physically gifted (6’1″ and 217 pounds with a 4.47-second 40-yard dash and 41.5-inch vertical jump), albeit overaggressive, defensive back who often gets lost in coverage.
“He’s a talented young guy, he’s hardworking, but at the same time he respects his lack of experience,” Tomlin said of his first-round rookie. “And you see that in terms of his preparation and the way that he leans on veteran players.”
There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but the Steelers needed an instant-impact defensive back to help a suspect secondary. A developing safety doesn’t fit the bill.
Edmunds is a long-term investment trying to fix a short-term problem on a team operating at a Super Bowl standard.
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Christian Petersen/Getty Images
On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers announced they were releasing linebacker Reuben Foster after he was arrested on a charge of domestic violence Saturday at the team hotel.
That was long overdue.
“We can promise you, if there’s someone that hits their significant other or girlfriend, that person is not going to be on our team,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said in April, per Robert Salongo and Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News. “I feel strongly about that. I know [general manager] John [Lynch] does.”
Earlier this year, the same woman, Elissa Ennis, accused Foster of dragging her downstairs by her hair, hitting her multiple times and throwing her out of the house, per Salonga and Inman. She later recanted her story, and the charges against Foster were dropped.
The 49ers knew of Foster’s legal history and still supported him, although they said they were unaware of the recently revealed domestic violence report Ennis also made against him in October.
“We knew Reuben had a string of making bad decisions,” Shanahan admitted, per Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams. “We knew that when we took him. We thought he would improve, and we were going to do everything we could to help him, and Reuben did improve in some things.”
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas made his intentions abundantly clear this offseason.
“I’m asking the Seahawks to do one of two things: Offer me an extension. Or trade me to a team that wants me to be part of their future,” Thomas wrote for the Players’ Tribune.
Thinking they had leverage, the Seahawks did neither. Thomas proved to be a professional and reported to the team before the start of the regular season.
However, no one won this standoff.
Thomas’ season-ending broken leg proved exactly why he wanted an extension, and it left the Seahawks without their game-changing safety.
The three-time first-team All-Pro will be a free agent this coming offseason, and he’s isn’t expected to re-sign after his unflattering gesture toward the team and previous trade demands.
“I know there’s been a lot of talk about it,” head coach Pete Carroll said, per USA Today‘s Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz. “People that are criticizing whatever happened don’t understand. This was an earth-shattering moment for the kid. He knew exactly what had happened to him.”
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Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press
Jameis Winston may be the NFL’s most infuriating player.
He’s a spectacular passer, yet he’s prone to poor decisions. He can be a leader in the locker room, but he has a litany of off-the-field concerns.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must decide who they believe Winson is before making a long-term investment. To complicate matters, the organization picked up the $20.9 million fifth-year option on his rookie contract—which becomes guaranteed if he’s injured this season when the Buccaneers can’t even decide if he’s worth starting.
The NFL suspended Winston for the first three games of the season for violating its personal conduct policy, and he temporarily lost his starting gig to journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick after a four-interception meltdown against the Cincinnati Bengals. This past Sunday, however, he hung 312 yards, two touchdowns and no picks on the San Francisco 49ers.
Can the Bucs rely on him moving forward? According to Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo, Winston is tied for third-worst with 15 turnover-worthy throws.
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Silas Walker/Getty Images
The Tennessee Titans placed a lot of faith in Corey Davis to become a dominant wide receiver after selecting him with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft. He alone isn’t enough help for Marcus Mariota, though.
Davis is still developing, but he flashed premium potential this season with a pair of 100-yard games against the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. The second-year target leads the Titans with 49 receptions for 702 yards and three touchdowns.
“The most important thing is that Marcus and Corey are on the same page,” head coach Mike Vrabel said in August, per the Tennesseean‘s Erik Bacharach. “… I haven’t done a good enough job making sure that both of those guys know where each other’s going to be on every single route. And I’ll make sure that that happens.”
The duo is on the same page now. It’s the rest of the receivers who are the problem.
No other Titans wideout has more than 259 receiving yards. Running back Dion Lewis is second on the team with 43 receptions for 311 yards.
Tennessee’s passing game is all or nothing with Davis. Otherwise, Mariota can’t push the ball down the field. Far too often, he’s checking down to underneath targets.
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Mark Lennihan/Associated Press
The Washington Redskins allowed the unimaginable to happen: They let a franchise quarterback in his prime hit free agency.
After two straight franchise tags, Washington and Kirk Cousins couldn’t reach a long-term solution. Cousins became arguably the biggest-name free agent in NFL history and signed a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings.
Washington already responded by trading a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Kansas City Chiefs for Alex Smith knowing Cousins wasn’t going to re-sign. The 34-year-old suffered a gruesome leg injury in Week 11, and his return to football remains uncertain, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Even before the injury, Smith hadn’t played well. His 62.5 completion percentage was his worst since the 2013 campaign. He wasn’t on pace to eclipse 3,500 passing yards, either, which Cousins did in each of the previous three seasons. While 14 quarterbacks have already thrown for 20 or more touchdowns, Smith finished with 10 in 10 games.
Contract negotiations often become contentious, but an organization must put that aside and do what’s best for business. Washington didn’t, and as a result, it downgraded at the game’s most important position.