The Biggest Mistakes NFL GMs Tend to Make

Wes StueveContributor IIIAugust 8, 2012

The Biggest Mistakes NFL GMs Tend to Make

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    In the NFL, general managers don't always take center stage, but they are the men behind closed doors orchestrating everything.

    A general manager builds his team, hires his coach and is often the top dog in the building. He has almost total control.

    And many general managers fail with their power. They make mistakes, causing their teams to lose games and eventually write their own tickets out of town.

    The mistakes aren't always so obvious, but here are the 10 most frequently made blunders.

Not Recognizing a Sunk Cost

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    Essentially, a sunk cost is an investment or past cost that cannot be recovered—a first-round draft pick, for example.

    Often, NFL general managers continue to give draft picks or free agent acquisitions chances because of the team's prior investment. This is foolish.

    Once a team has a player, the size of the investment made is irrelevant. All that matters is play on the field.

    Not realizing a mistake and holding out hope can cost a team years.

Being Too Loyal

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    Almost anyone could see that Jim Caldwell was an incompetent head coach. But the Indianapolis Colts were winning with him in charge, and Bill Polian was loyal to him.

    This was a terrible, terrible mistake on Polian's part.

    General managers frequently refuse to fire the man they put in charge as head coach despite the coach's obvious failings. A good general manager recognizes a bad coach and moves on.

    Continually putting faith in a terrible head coach has cost many a GM his job.

Relying on Free Agency

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    For years, Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins were the posterboys of spending in free agency. The Redskins tried buying their team akin to the New York Yankees.

    That may work in baseball (to an extent), but it doesn't in football. NFL teams are built through the draft.

    The Redskins' many free agent acquisitions cost the team tons of money and led to serious salary cap issues. It also didn't add any more wins, which is the most important part.

Not Using Free Agency at All

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    While some teams have relied much too much on free agency, others haven't taken advantage of it nearly enough. This strategy had worked out pretty well for Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers, but Thompson should probably be a little more active.

    Not all free agent signees have to be starters. They can be a backup, a rotational player or even a special-teamer. There is no minimum spending amount per player.

    This added depth can be key at times. Beyond depth, though, there are some starters available. In 2011, the Patriots added two 10-sack defensive ends in Andre Carter and Mark Anderson.

    They were both quite cheap too.

Drafting for Need

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    It's not a good idea to draft to always draft with a "best player available" approach, but drafting purely for need is a far worse ideology.

    Remember when the Kansas City Chiefs took Tyson Jackson No. 3 overall in 2009? How'd that work out?

    Jackson wasn't seen as a top-five pick by any analysts, but he addressed a big need for Kansas City. Now, in 2012, Jackson is a borderline average starter.

    Need picks are often reaches and lead to busts. The No. 1 goal of an NFL team in the draft should be to add a good player. Need picks undermine that cause. 

Trading Future Draft Picks

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    How often has a team trading a future draft pick worked out? Recently, the Cleveland Browns did it for Brady Quinn in the first round, and the Carolina Panthers did it twice in the rounds two and three—for Everette Brown and Armandi Edwards.

    Boy, those moves sure paid off.

    Trading future picks is often a knee-jerk reaction and frequently attempt at winning now. Knee-jerk reactions are always bad, and mortgaging the future for the present is also a terrible idea.

    General managers should try to win in the short term, but the future must be a constant consideration. 

Placing Too Much Blame on the Coach

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    Now, Steve Spagnuolo isn't the best example, as he went out from St. Louis along with general manager Billy Devaney, but the point holds here.

    Spagnuolo had almost nothing to work with on the Rams' roster. His offensive line was horrible, and his wide receivers were worse. His defense was without a strong unit.

    Yet Spagnuolo got fired. He had little talent to work with, but he took the blame. Sometimes a general manager has to recognize that he himself needs to do a better job and that the coach's hands are tied.

    Unnecessary change is yet another way to set back a franchise. 

Ignoring Work Ethic Issues

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    When the Washington Redskins gave Albert Haynesworth a huge free agent contract, they knew all about his work ethic problems. The move backfired, and Haynesworth was gone from the team two years later.

    Sure, Haynesworth was talented, but he was lazy and unwilling to work, and many speculated that his play would falter upon receiving a long-term deal. 

    This happens in the draft as well as free agency. There were concerns about JaMarcus Russell's weight and work ethic, but Oakland still drafted him No. 1 overall. Now he's one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.

    A talented player who is unwilling to work may as well be you or me.

Drafting "Safe" or "Pro-Ready" Players

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    Someone like Andrew Luck was considered safe and pro-ready, but he has the talent to go along with those two classifications.

    Players like Brian Robiskie? Not so much.

    Analysts praised Robiskie for being pro-ready, citing his reliable hands and route-running ability. He didn't have the highest upside, they opined, but he was going to be a decent player.

    They ignored that Robiskie lacked the physical ability to get open.

    Former top-five pick A.J. Hawk was considered incredibly safe, and he's still in the NFL. But does a team really want a merely average inside linebacker when picking in the top five?

    Avoid safe picks without the physical ability to make it in the NFL.

Crossing off Players Because of Character Issues

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    Character is a factor in the evaluation process, no doubt. But should it override talent as it often seems to?

    Aaron Hernandez was too talented to go in the fourth round. We all knew that in 2010, and it's even more obvious now. But Hernandez had failed a few drug tests at Florida.

    Is failing drug tests for marijuana—and admitting to it—such a big deal that a first or second-round talent should fall to the fourth round?

    Cam Newton's character fiasco was even worse. Newton was caught cheating on two tests and bought a stolen laptop. These were cited as reasons for him busting out of the NFL.

    They ignored how minor these incidents were—and how common place they are—and also neglected the simple facts that Newton loved playing football and was very, very good at it.