NFL1000: Every NFL Team's Worst Offseason Move

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2017

NFL1000: Every NFL Team's Worst Offseason Move

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    Famed basketball coach John Wooden was fond of saying "Success is never final, and failure is never fatal." It's an adage that works for any sport, including the full-contact sport called life. When teams look to improve and refine their rosters, there are calculated risks involved, and it's not going to work out all the time.

    Offseason moves can blow up for all kinds of reasons.

    Perhaps that expensive player you just signed doesn't fit your scheme. Perhaps you waited one year too long to replace the beloved franchise cornerstone who has been showing his age for a while.

    Perhaps you're sticking with a position coach who isn't doing your team a lot of good. Or, maybe you let a player or coach go, who you thought could be easily replaced, only to discover that indispensable assets are indispensable for a reason.

    With three-quarters of the 2017 NFL season finished, it's time to reflect back on the moves that hurt each team the most before the season even started. Our NFL1000 scouts have their own considered opinions on this subject based on their copious tape study.

    Our team:

    Lead scout: Doug FarrarQuarterbacks: Mark Schofield; Running backs/fullbacks: Mark Bullock;  Receivers/tight ends: Marcus Mosher; Offensive line: Ethan Young; Defensive line: Justis Mosqueda; Linebackers: Derrik Klassen; Secondary: Ian Wharton

    Failure is ever fatal, but here's every team's most near-fatal move from the offseason.

Arizona Cardinals: Not Having a Carson Palmer Replacement Plan

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    The 2017 Arizona Cardinals went into the season with Carson Palmer as their starting quarterback, a situation they've had since 2013. It's worked well for the most part—when Palmer has been healthy, he's been one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history and a major part of the team's uprising on offense since head coach Bruce Arians took over that same season.

    But things started to come apart in 2016—Palmer's touchdown totals went from 35 to 26, his interception totals went from 11 to 14, and his adjusted yards gained per pass attempt went down from a league-leading 9.1 to 6.9. It should have been the time for Arians to find Palmer's long-term replacement through free agency or the draft, but that didn't happen. There was longtime Arians backup Drew Stanton, and former Jaguars and 49ers backup Blaine Gabbert, but those were stopgap options at best.

    Palmer's 2017 season started poorly and ended early. He showed little mobility in the pocket, which was exacerbated by a poor offensive line, and he struggled to make the deep completions that had come easy to him. More than ever, the vertical passing game Arians has always favored became a thing of the past; Arians' two options were to let Palmer take deep drops and get his brains beaten in, or shorten the drops and routes just to keep his quarterback and his offense alive.

    The seemingly inevitable happened when Palmer suffered a broken arm in Week 7 against the Rams and was placed on injured reserve, his season almost certainly over. Palmer's career might be over as well, and though Arians has made noises about Gabbert looking like a long-term replacement, it's hard to take that seriously. If Arizona's offense is ever to look again as it did when Palmer was in his prime, it will need to find the kind of mobile deep-ball thrower that can thrive in this system.

    Right now, that guy isn't on the roster.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

Atlanta Falcons: Replacing Kyle Shanahan with Steve Sarkisian

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    Kyle Shanahan was the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator for just two seasons—2015 and 2016—but he redefined that offense in short order and made it the most devastating group in the NFL in 2016. At least, of course, until a certain Super Bowl happened. Even in that 28-3 New England Patriots comeback, the Falcons were drawing stuff up all over New England's defense early in the game, and it was as hard for Bill Belichick to stop as it had been for anyone else.

    With Matt Ryan as his quarterback and an amazing array of skill players to work with, Shanahan perfectly deployed his chess pieces with pre-snap motion, route diversity and an inside/outside zone rushing game plan that set every defense on its heels. Shanahan also got Ryan using boot-action more than he ever had. Ryan isn't the most mobile quarterback in the NFL, and there were adjustment issues in 2015, but by 2016, the Falcons were using Ryan's new-found mobility, a devastating play-action pass game and a receiver corps that could align anywhere and everywhere on any given play to take over the NFL.

    Shanahan became the San Francisco 49ers' head coach after Atlanta's Super Bowl LI loss, and the team chose to replace him with Steve Sarkisian, whose last NFL experience came as the Oakland Raiders' quarterbacks coach in 2004. Sarkisian had success at USC, Washington and Alabama, but the NFL's most creative play-designer set a very high bar, and Sarkisian has failed to clear it.

    Right away, the Falcons offense became far more static pre-snap, with fewer route combinations that would provide Ryan with easy reads downfield. Forcing Ryan to make deep stick throws into tight windows hasn't worked—that's not the kind of quarterback he is—and the Falcons have fallen from first in the league in points scored to 11th. A little regression is to be expected the year after a team blows the league away, but this particular regression isn't by chance—it lays at the feet of a new offensive coordinator who has not yet figured out how to turn creativity into productivity.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

Baltimore Ravens: Balking on the Colin Kaepernick Signing

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    The following are true statements. The Baltimore Ravens are 6-5. They are in playoff position, holding the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC because of a tiebreaker over the Buffalo Bills. They have a favorable schedule down the stretch, playing the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals in their final three games.

    And, Joe Flacco is on the cusp of a historically poor season as a passer, with an adjusted net yards per pass attempt of 3.74, good for 35th out of the 36 qualified passers in the league. 

    The fact the Ravens are in playoff position with Flacco's playing this way is testament to a defense (the top defense in the league according to Football Outsiders' DVOA) and the fact the team has defeated the following quarterbacks: Andy Dalton, DeShone Kizer, Derek Carr, Matt Moore, Brett Hundley and Tom Savage. But the offense has struggled this season.

    Here is where we get to Colin Kaepernick. This summer it was reported that Flacco suffered a back injury while training and that the team considered signing the free-agent quarterback. In the end, they did not. Flacco came back to start the season and had a poor beginning to the 2017 campaign. He threw two interceptions over in London in a blowout loss to the Jaguars in Week 3. He threw two interceptions in a loss to the Steelers in Week 4. He threw two interceptions in an overtime loss to the Bears in Week 6, and he threw two interceptions in their recent loss to the Titans.

    Had the Ravens signed Kaepernick, Flacco could have been eased back into the lineup. You may disagree with Kaepernick's stances away from the game, but he is an upgrade over Ryan Mallett. Period. With Kaepernick on the roster, the Ravens perhaps flip one of those early-season losses to a win and are in much better position as we head into December. Even if they don't, they at least get Flacco back to 100 percent when he returns to the lineup, and it's likely he wouldn't be having a historically poor season. Finally, even if the Ravens are still 6-5 with Kaepernick on the roster, they have at least upgraded the backup spot over Mallett. Because right now they remain just one bad hit or twisted knee away from running Mallett out there to take the snaps. For a team on the edge between a playoff berth and sitting the postseason out, every game—every—down the stretch matters.

    — NFL1000 QB Scout, Mark Schofield

Buffalo Bills: Dismantling the Defensive Line

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    In 2011, the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Marcell Dareus with the third overall pick, only behind Carolina's Cam Newton and Denver's Von Miller. He was supposed to be a superstar defensive tackle for a franchise that doesn't often land high-priced linemen in free agency.

    From 2011 to 2014, during his rookie contract seasons, he recorded 57.5 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, ranking eighth among interior defensive linemen during the stretch behind just J.J. Watt, Calais Campbell, Ndamukong Suh, Muhammad Wilkerson, Geno Atkins, his teammate Kyle Williams and Jurrell Casey. Averaging just over 14 "premium tackles" a year, he earned the six-year, $96.6 million deal that he signed after his rookie contract.

    In 2016, he recorded an impressive 14.5 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in just eight games because of suspension and injury. It all came apart this season, though. He struggled to stay out of trouble in his time in Buffalo, but Dareus always showed up in the backfield up until 2017.

    The first time we learned about the potential Bills-Dareus divorce was when the team suspended him for its Week 3 preseason game this summer, the closest thing to a regular-season game that you're going to get before bullets are live. After returning to the field and battling through an ankle injury, Dareus recorded just two tackles in the backfield in the first half of the 2017 season before he was traded for a Jacksonville Jaguars sixth-round pick.

    From Week 1 to Week 7, before Buffalo traded Dareus, the Bills allowed 3.44 yards per carry on defense, the fourth-best mark in the league, while the Jaguars allowed 5.16 yards per carry on defense, the worst mark in the league. Since Week 8, the Bills have allowed 4.76 yards per carry on defense, the fifth-worst mark in the league, while the Jaguars have allowed 2.85 yards per carry on defense, the best mark in the league. While Dareus may not have been finishing plays in the backfield, it's hard to assume that he wasn't having a massive influence on Buffalo's run defense.

    The Bills' offseason decision to begin their distancing from their former star defensive tackle, without investing in a high-end replacement, has been one of the major reasons for their recent implosion in run defense. That is how you can go from being tied with the New England Patriots in the AFC East with a 5-2 record to quickly dropping to 6-5 record and looking at the AFC wild-card candidates from outside of the playoff picture.

    If the Bills knew they were going to move on from Dareus as early as August, then it's on management's shoulders that they didn't add anyone to take over his starting role in the long term.

    — NFL1000 DL Scout, Justis Mosqueda

Carolina Panthers: Drafting Christian McCaffrey Without a Plan

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    When the Carolina Panthers selected Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey with the eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft, it was thought that McCaffrey would be the epicenter of Carolina's offense. In this era, teams don't generally draft running backs in the top half of the first round unless they're seen as franchise definers. And with the versatility he showed in college, McCaffrey looked like an intriguing option for an offense that needed more per-play efficiency and drive consistency.

    McCaffrey is an outstanding outside runner with some ability to make things happen between the tackles, but his separating skill is as a receiver—out of the backfield, in the slot and outside. He runs a full route tree and can break loose on a swing pass as easily as he can take a 30-yard seam route to the house.

    But three-quarters into his rookie season, the Panthers are still struggling to find the best way to use him. McCaffrey is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry on 76 carries, primarily because the Panthers have inexplicably turned him into more of an inside runner than a guy who can bend the edge outside. And his receiving numbers—59 catches in 84 targets for 468 yards and three touchdowns—reflect a desire to get him the ball in the passing game, but with a paucity of big plays.

    The Panthers can look within their own division to see how best to use McCaffrey's skills. The New Orleans Saints have deployed third-round rookie Alvin Kamara everywhere from the backfield on inside zone plays to the slot and outside as an impact receiver. As a result, Kamara is blowing up the rest of the league as a force multiplier. It's the same paradigm they had with Reggie Bush years ago, and it should be the paradigm for McCaffrey. Right now, the eighth overall pick looks like a relatively wasted selection, and that's not the fault of the player. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula must think outside the box to get the most out of his first-round pick.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar 

Chicago Bears: Signing Mike Glennon to a Huge Contract

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    In early March, the Chicago Bears made the decision to move on from Jay Cutler. Now, that decision in a vacuum is understandable, given Cutler's performance over the past few years and his impending cap hit, which was $16 million for the 2017 season.

    But then they signed Mike Glennon, he of the 11 passing attempts since 2015, to a $45 million contract with $18.5 million of it guaranteed.

    The Bears made that move while in possession of the third overall pick in the 2017 draft, and they followed up the Glennon signing by trading up one spot to draft Mitchell Trubisky.

    Let's put those pieces together. It's clear the organization was ready to move on from Cutler. That's fine. It's also clear they viewed Trubisky as their guy, given how they moved up a spot to make sure they drafted him. Also an understandable position, and a position they likely held in March when they signed Glennon. So they needed to find a bridge from Cutler to Trubisky. Fine. But Glennon is a pretty expensive bridge, at least for the 2017 season. Both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown were available for less money, and both have played well this season, especially McCown.

    So while it seems the Bears had a plan, they erected the wrong bridge—one that came crashing down around them quickly. That forced them to move to the rookie—perhaps sooner than they wanted to—and it may impact how their first-round quarterback develops during the rest of his inaugural campaign.

    — NFL1000 QB Scout, Mark Schofield

Cincinnati Bengals: Believing That Andrew Whitworth Was Fungible

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    The Bengals have been preparing to move on from Andrew Whitworth and revamp their offensive line for a few years now. The problem? Two years into the Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher experiments, the guys they have invested in to replace Whitworth and the Bengals OL old guard, the duo had not showed progress.

    Yet when it came time to make a decision on Whitworth this offseason, the Bengals stuck with their new crew and let Whitworth walk. And the results have not been good. The new crew filling the shoes of this once potent Bengals OL has not developed at all, and the Bengals offense has suffered for it.

    While Todd Gurley runs toward an Offensive Player of the Year award and All-Pro nomination behind Whitworth, the Bengals have been forced to abandon the run game at times and become a one-dimensional team with how little push they get up front.

    Whitworth has changed the dynamic of the Rams offensive line, bringing the type of physical and sturdy presence the Bengals need. And while losing Whitworth hurts, the bigger issue going forward is Cincinnati’s talent evaluation process, as they have had several costly misses with offensive line draft picks the last few seasons.

    It may already be too late to fix, but if the current talent evaluators keep their jobs and don’t clean it up quickly heading into next year, Andy Dalton is once again going to be forced to shoulder a load that he isn’t built to handle.

    — NFL1000 OL Scout, Ethan Young

Cleveland Browns: Failing to Surround DeShone Kizer with the Talent He Needs

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    The Cleveland Browns haven't had receiver Josh Gordon on the field since 2014 because Gordon because of suspensions. Head coach Hue Jackson's excitement about Gordon's return to the field this Sunday reflects two things—the promise of the explosive abilities Gordon displayed at one time and the relative lack of star power in Cleveland's offense.

    It will make the biggest difference for rookie second-round quarterback DeShone Kizer if Gordon is able to approximate his former greatness. Right now, the 0-11 Browns have running back Duke Johnson as their leading receiver with 50 catches for 446 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie tight David Njoku has struggled to get targets, and speed receiver Corey Coleman, who has played in just four games because of a hand injury, has 15 catches on 32 targets for 206 yards and one score.

    Coleman has the most potential of any of Cleveland's receivers, but it's been a real hindrance to Kizer's development that he hasn't had a reliable outlet receiver outside of Johnson and only Coleman as a vertical threat. Ideally, Gordon would fill the role of the big receiver who could win one-on-one matchups against the game's best cornerbacks, opening things up for other targets and easing Kizer's workload.

    If the Browns are ever going to work their way out of their current winless status and present any kind of challenge, they must surround Kizer with playmakers—and soon.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

Dallas Cowboys: Letting the Ezekiel Elliott Situation Get Out of Hand

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    The Cowboys season has been heavily disrupted with the on-again, off-again six-game suspension given to running back Ezekiel Elliott. He was originally suspended before the season but had been allowed to play while appealing the suspension through the courts. Just about every week there was a question to be answered about whether Elliott's suspension would be enforced, reduced or rescinded.

    Elliott's game on the field clearly suffered. For the first five games of the season, he wasn't the same dynamic back he had been in his rookie campaign. In Week 2, he had his career-worst performance, taking nine carries for just eight yards. That isn't all on him, as the offensive line had a few issues and the play-calling was questionable, but Elliott didn't play well. He had a brief two-week spell after the bye week where he looked like the same player that took the NFL by storm last year. Against the 49ers and Redskins, Elliott amassed a combined 297 yards and four touchdowns on 59 carries at five yards per carry.

    Overall, though, he's down from 5.1 yards per carry in his rookie year to 4.1 yards per carry this season. Clearly the suspension has been a distraction. There are some who say Elliott should have taken the suspension to be back in time for an important playoff push. I don't subscribe to that because if he's innocent, then there's no reason to accept any punishment. But if he's guilty of domestic violence, which the league clearly believes he is, then he should have had a much longer suspension.

    With all the uncertainty hanging over their best player, the Cowboys have been unable to find a rhythm. Outside of the games against the Redskins and the 49ers, they've struggled to get their running game going, which is the foundation of their offense. They've too often been behind the chains this year, facing 3rd-and-long situations that they're unlikely to convert regularly.

    — NFL1000 RB Scout, Mark Bullock

Denver Broncos: Banking on Bad Quarterbacks

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    When John Elway finished his roster construction for the 2017 season, he knew one thing: He had a great defense with a ton of All-Pro talent (though the decision to move on from defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was questionable at best). Everything else was up in the air, as Denver's running game had been inconsistent and its offensive line had several spots in need of improvement.

    Most of all, Elway knew he had to make a decision on a starting quarterback. The Broncos had waded through the 2016 season with the unremarkable Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch at the position, and they had a 9-7 season to show for their efforts as neither Siemian nor Lynch impressed.

    Still, Elway and Denver's new coaching staff made the call to go with Siemian as the starter. That lasted halfway through the season until Siemian was benched for poor performance following a Week 8 loss to the Chiefs. Broncos retread Brock Osweiler was up next, and he was no better than he had been during his previous stint in Denver, though he was mercifully a bit more effective than he had been during his disastrous turn with the Houston Texans in 2016.

    But Osweiler soon lost the starting role to Lynch, who had been recovering from a shoulder injury. And against the Oakland Raiders' usually porous defense Sunday, Lynch was embarrassingly bad, completing just nine of 14 passes for 41 yards and an interception before a third-quarter ankle injury paved the way for Siemian, who was marginally effective in mop-up duty, throwing two touchdown passes in a 21-14 loss.

    The Broncos, currently 3-8 under first-year head coach Vance Joseph, won't find their way anywhere near the playoffs until Elway realizes that this three-headed quarterback monster is most dangerous to his own team. 2017 will be a lost season for the Broncos because of that miscalculation.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

Detroit Lions: Failing to Acquire a Power Running Back

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    Detroit has had issues running the ball effectively for a number of years. The Lions are 30th in rushing yards, averaging fewer than 80 yards per game on the ground. Only the Bengals and the Cardinals are worse. Fortunately, they've had Matthew Stafford and the passing game to rely on to keep them competitive, but any time Stafford doesn't play well, the offense struggles mightily.

    Ameer Abdullah is the Lions' starting running back. He had a promising rookie season and won the starting role outright going into his second year but only played two games before tearing a ligament in his foot that would end his season. While he's back on the field this season, he hasn't quite looked like the same explosive player he was before the injury. He's shown flashes of dynamic cuts, but he's lacked any consistency. Behind the Lions offensive line, one that struggles with run blocking and has been hit with a few injuries, a few flashes aren't enough.

    The Lions don't have a backup option, either. Theo Riddick is their third-down back, and he sees plenty of the field with the Lions' favoring the passing game, but more as a pass-catcher than runner. Riddick is a similar style of runner to Abdullah, too. Both are great athletes that win with a quick burst and sharp cuts. While both are more sturdy than their size might suggest, the Lions still lack a bigger, more powerful back that can make the hard yards and give them a little more variety.

    When the offensive line struggles to consistently block runs up front, it's tough to blame the running backs, but Abdullah has looked a step slow, which perhaps should have been expected in his first year back from the Lisfranc injury. Having a backup option, and someone that could both give them a bit of variety and take on a bigger role if need be, would have been a wise move by the Lions.

    — NFL1000 RB Scout, Mark Bullock

Green Bay Packers: Letting Micah Hyde Jump to the Bills

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    The Green Bay Packers have been plagued with inconsistent secondary play over the past two seasons as their attempted youth movement has been derailed by injuries and stagnated development. The 2016 secondary was the first group since 2013 to drop out of the top half of the league in passing yards allowed per game, which was more about cornerbacks Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter struggling than the safety play. Instead of retaining Micah Hyde, the Packers chose to sign familiar veteran Davon House for less as a stopgap option.

    House has been decent enough in his second Packers stint, but the loss of Hyde has proved large as safeties Morgan Burnett and especially Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have declined without Hyde as a nickel back. Rookies Kevin King and Josh Jones have shown promise in their roles and look to continue growing in the future, but allowing Hyde to walk for a relatively modest $6.1 million-per-year contract was taking two steps backward despite adding to the unit in the draft.

    In Buffalo, Hyde has put together an All-Pro-caliber season. His five interceptions and nine pass breakups are already career highs, and he’s been the glue in a rebuilt Bills secondary with journeymen and a rookie corner. The 27-year-old doesn’t have dominant traits, but he doesn’t have major weaknesses, proving to be above average in all areas. Losing a jack-of-all-trades who was developed from within is a painful, regrettable move for a franchise that emphasizes building a winner from within.

    — NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

Houston Texans: Letting the Duane Brown Situation Get Out of Hand

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Houston's offensive line has easily been the worst part of its team this year, and that is saying a lot on a team with Tom Savage at QB, the most banged-up front seven in the league and a secondary that is falling apart at the seams with coverage busts galore as a result.

    The Texans protection unit has been a disaster, and without Deshaun Watson to bail the offensive linemen out and extend plays when they get beat, those struggles have become more damaging. And while the Texans' struggles have come against both quick interior penetration and outside pressure this year, the tackles are what Houston should have put more time and effort into addressing.

    As bad as Xavier Su'a-Filo and Jeff Allen have been at guard, it's understandable that the Texans wanted to give them one more shot this year given their high respective investments in each guy. What isn't understandable is opening up the season with Kendall Lamm and Breno Giacomini as your tackle duo, especially when you have a Pro Bowl left tackle sitting out voluntarily.

    While I don't know the specifics of the Duane Brown situation enough to blame the Texans for not paying him, the optics of the whole thing were bad, and their depth as well as the plan to fill his void were even worse. It's not easy to replace Pro Bowlers, but it's not like this was an injury the Texans brass was blindsided by; they knew for months that they may not have Duane Brown at all, and all they could do in that time to address it was bring in Giacomini, who had been out of football for a year?

    That wasn't close to enough, especially with the Texans' lack of tackle depth, and we are seeing the results of that neglect.

    — NFL1000 OL Scout, Ethan Young

Indianapolis Colts: Mishandling Andrew Luck's Shoulder Injury

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Let's start with a timeline, courtesy of Jenny Green from the Indianapolis Star.

    On Sept. 27, 2015, Andrew Luck leads a comeback victory over the Titans for the Colts' first victory of the season. But there were signs of injuries to Luck in the locker room after the game. Luck is then inactive for the Colts' next two games, and reports emerge that he suffered a "subluxation" of his throwing shoulder.

    Luck finally returns to the lineup for a Sunday night loss to the Patriots, but in his fourth game back in the lineup, a 27-24 victory over the Broncos, Luck is hit and suffers a lacerated kidney and a partial tear of an abdominal muscle. His season finally ends, and in December it is reported he also suffered torn cartilage to two ribs, in addition to the shoulder and kidney injuries, and needed pain-killing injections to even take the field.

    In 2016, Luck only misses one game.

    Then in January of this year, owner Jim Irsay lets the world know that Luck underwent surgery to fix a right shoulder injury that had "lingered since 2015." Irsay expresses confidence that the quarterback will be ready for the season.

    As we now know, he was not.

    The organization knew of the damage to Luck's shoulder and knew about it for a long time. Here's the moves they made at the quarterback position during that time. All of these are taken from the "transactions" listed on

    March 11, 2016: Scott Tolzien signed. (Tolzien would start one game in the 2016 season).

    In a 2016 draft that included late-round picks such as Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, Jacoby Brissett and, yes, Dak Prescott, the Colts did not address the backup quarterback position. They sign Josh Woodrum off waivers May 10, 2016.

    On Sept. 8, 2016, Stephen Morris was signed to the practice squad. He would bounce between the practice squad and the active roster the rest of the 2016 season.

    In the 2017 draft, the Colts again do not address the backup quarterback position. They sign Patrick Walker as an undrafted free agent.

    On Sept. 2, 2017, the Colts acquire Brissett in a trade with the Patriots, sending wide receiver Phillip Dorsett to New England.

    That's it; that's the list.

    Now, this is not intended to downplay what Brissett has done this season. Since becoming the Colts' starting quarterback, he has performed beyond expectations. While his statistics place him as a mid- to lower-tier quarterback, that still is not bad given his late addition to the team and the general disarray in Indianapolis.

    But the situation should never have progressed in the manner it did. The organization knew for a long time that Luck was injured and was negligent in addressing the backup spot until right before the season, pinning their hopes on Tolzien.

    Backup quarterback is like any other position: You need to be constantly looking to upgrade there, because you are just one twisted ankle or knee away from a lost season if you do not. That goes doubly for teams that are dealing with a quarterback with an injury history like Luck's.

    This organization may have stumbled its way into finding a new quarterback, it never should have been handled this way.

    — NFL1000 QB Scout Mark Schofield

Jacksonville Jaguars: Picking Up Blake Bortles' Fifth-Year Option

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    The Jaguars have the look of a Super Bowl contender. They have the NFL's best defense, a dynamic rushing attack and an offensive line that is performing better than expected. With receivers Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, Dede Westbrook and the currently injured Allen Robinson, not to mention productive veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis, there's enough on the roster for the right quarterback to take this team over the top.

    But as he's proved over and over since the Jaguars made him the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, Blake Bortles doesn't seem to be that guy. It made it all the more curious that the team chose to exercise Bortles' fifth-year option in May, promising the quarterback $19 million in 2018 should he get hurt and is unable to pass a physical.

    At the time, general manager David Caldwell told PFT Live the move made financial sense because it paid Bortles as one would an average quarterback over a two-year period. While it's true that Bortles has a base salary of $3,236,565 this season, his prorated bonus makes his cap hit $6,571,983, per Over The Cap, and that $19 million in 2018 looms large if an injury guarantee kicks in.

    That's the financial side. What the football side shows is Bortles is a woefully inconsistent quarterback, capable of a four-touchdown performance against the Ravens' top-notch defense one week, and a game against the Jets the next week in which he completes 15 of 35 passes. Bortles still gets balky under pressure, his mechanics are inconsistent, he's more prone to bail out of the pocket than he should be, and it's tough to count on him for all those reasons.

    The Jaguars have a great young team whose window is just opening. Aligning the franchise's future with Blake Bortles could put a few heavy cracks in that window.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

Kansas City Chiefs: Failing to Have a Contingency Plan for Eric Berry

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    Finding quality, impactful safeties isn't as difficult as identifying a franchise quarterback, but it's one of the more challenging tasks for front offices because of the mental aspect of the position.

    The Chiefs possess arguably the top strong safety in the league, Eric Berry. After 2015, the Chiefs weren't sure they'd be able to re-sign Berry long term, instead choosing to franchise-tag him. This led them to draft safety Eric Murray in the fourth round of the 2016 class.

    Despite taking Murray as a potential successor, he rarely played as a rookie. Though Berry was retained on a six-year deal this past offseason and the Chiefs didn't need to invest again at the position, the Achilles injury Berry suffered exposed Kansas City's poor preparation for a potential injury. This led to Daniel Sorensen becoming an underqualified starter, which was been exploited along with the cornerback depth across from Marcus Peters.

    Murray hasn't consistently seen the field this year, and Sorensen's skill set is similar to other starter Ron Parker's. Without Berry, the unit lacks athleticism and playmaking. While a major free-agent signing wasn't necessary, the Chiefs were overconfident in their secondary depth.

    The position's lack of production is one of the biggest reasons the team has collapsed after a hot start.

    — NFL1000 DB Scout Ian Wharton

Los Angeles Chargers: Neglecting to Beef Up the Linebacker Corps

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    Finding stability at inside linebacker has been a journey for the Chargers.

    Last season, they appeared to have something in Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown. Perryman, a second-round pick in 2015, came on strong as a reliable run defender who could handle zone responsibilities in coverage. Brown was a late-round rookie who was adept in playing a run-and-chase style of football. He is a short, wiry linebacker with impressive athleticism. Space is his natural friend.

    That duo came unraveled this season. Perryman entered the season on the injured reserved list with an ankle injury. He did not return until Week 10. Injuries happen, though, and sometimes that can be tricky to prepare for. The more troubling development is Brown's devolution.

    Brown has experienced a rough sophomore season. In 2016, he was able to shoot gaps and fly around behind an overachieving interior defensive line. That luxury is no longer there this season, and Brown's play has dropped off.

    Additionally, Brown does not appear nearly as comfortable in coverage. He loses the ball downfield and does not match up quite as consistently as one would hope. In his defense, he suffered a foot injury versus the Eagles in Week 4, though he was struggling up until that point.

    The Chargers' problem is they were not prepared for injury or regression from a late-round pick. Hayes Pullard, a Jaguars castoff, and Korey Toomer back up Perryman and Brown. Neither Pullard nor Toomer are disastrous, but they should not be pulling in nearly 50 percent and 30 percent of the team's defensive snaps, respectively.

    Heading into next season, the Chargers can knock out two birds with one stone. By replacing Brown with a more legitimate starter, he can slide down the depth chart into a backup role. Though Brown may not be a high-quality starter, he can serve as a better backup than what the Chargers have right now.

    That being said, the Chargers have tried to treat linebacker as a Band-Aid position for years, and it is possible that does not change next season. It may haunt them if they go that route again.

    — NFL1000 LB Scout Derrik Klassen

Los Angeles Rams: Failing to Sign Trumaine Johnson to a Long-Term Deal

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Building a sustained winner takes multiyear planning, sharp execution with the salary cap and a little luck.

    The Rams hit on hiring head coach Sean McVay and drafting quarterback Jared Goff, among other moves, but they must be regretting their decision to not sign cornerback Trumaine Johnson to a long-term deal this past offseason.

    Coming off consecutive franchise tags, the Rams have spent approximately $30 million in two years. Had they hammered out a long-term deal this past offseason, they could already be through at least one-third of the guaranteed money Johnson will likely get as a free agent.

    Johnson, like the rest of the Rams roster, had a down season in 2016 as the secondary played more conservatively to protect the rest of the unit outside of the star corner. That led to a season with just one interception and 11 pass breakups, and Johnson was neutralized by the scheme as teams took the underneath routes against him. Under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Johnson has been more aggressive at the line of scrimmage.

    The result hasn't led to another seven-interception season like in 2015, but the quality of his play has been at a similar level. He's set to be the best free-agent corner on the market at 28 years old, and the Rams still have to address the contract situations for Aaron Donald, Sammy Watkins, Lamarcus Joyner and Nickell Robey-Coleman.

    Although they're set to have about $50 million to work with, getting contracts done for three elite players is almost unprecedented, let alone fitting in a draft class and two other starters. Signing Johnson last offseason would have saved the Rams quite a bit of money.

    — NFL1000 DB Scout Ian Wharton

Miami Dolphins: Signing Jay Cutler

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    That a quarterback "knows the system" is one of the most potentially dangerous evaluative tools NFL teams fall prey to. Though familiarity with a coach's scheme can obviously be beneficial, performance is the ultimate indicator. If a player isn't able to perform, it doesn't matter how many hours he's already spent with the playbook in question.

    When the Dolphins signed Jay Cutler to a one-year, $10 million contract in August despite the fact he had retired the season before to go into broadcasting, the reason given was that Cutler had familiarity with Adam Gase's offense.

    Gase was looking to replace Ryan Tannehill, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL, and this seemed like the safest port in a storm. Cutler had one of his best seasons in Chicago with Gase as the offensive coordinator, but that was in 2015, and in the NFL, two seasons can be a lifetime.

    So it has appeared with Cutler, who suffered a concussion in Week 11 against the Buccaneers and hasn't played since. Before he went down, Cutler had completed just six of 12 passes for 83 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions against one of the NFL's worst pass defenses.

    That game was the worst-case scenario, but Cutler hasn't been effective all season. His most prevalent negative tendencies as a quarterback—random mechanics and a rogue sense of play that cuts into his efficiency—had been evident all season. Matt Moore, the backup who should have been the starter all season, has been more consistent in Cutler's stead, especially with the deep ball.

    Moore isn't the team's long-term answer, and it's not clear that Tannehill is, either. But it became evident quickly that Cutler wasn't. When the veteran decided to make his future in the broadcast booth, the Dolphins should have listened.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

Minnesota Vikings: Moving Pat Elflein to Center Too Quickly

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    It's tough to come up with an offseason mistake the Vikings have made.

    Injuries to their top two quarterbacks in Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater haven't mattered, because backup Case Keenum has performed in a fashion that made him the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November.

    Jettisoning Adrian Peterson and losing second-round running back Dalvin Cook to a torn ACL four weeks into the season hasn't mattered, either, because former Raiders back Latavius Murray has picked up the slack admirably.

    No matter what issues are thrown at Mike Zimmer's team, it deals with them, and that's why the Vikings are a prime Super Bowl contender at 9-2.

    If we were to pick nits with any of the team's moves, we might look at one switch on the offensive line. The Vikings selected Ohio State offensive lineman Pat Elflein in the third round of the 2017 draft and made him their starting center from Week 1.

    It's not that Elflein is a bad player, or that he lacks potential; the reigning Rimington Trophy winner (given to the top center in the nation) showed a great ability to run-block in short areas. Though he also showed that he would lose defenders when mirroring them through gaps, and he wasn't always accurate when moving to the second level.

    Elflein has played better of late, and he could be the team's answer at that position for a number of years. The move to put him in from the start didn't hurt the team, and it could be argued that seeing what Elflein had right away got the growing pains out of the way.

    It's more a reflection of how everything has gone right for the Vikings.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

New England Patriots: Stephon Gilmore's Contract

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    When free agents sign with the Patriots, they generally do so for two reasons: First, there's an opportunity for a Super Bowl ring every year. Second, Bill Belichick's coaching staffs generally put their players in the best schematic positions to succeed. Most former Patriots who go to other teams tend to struggle to find the same relevance.

    That said, no team is immune to schematic mistakes and misfits. When the Patriots signed former Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million contract with $31 million guaranteed in March, one imagined that Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia would do with Gilmore what the Bills didn't do enough—let him use his athleticism in aggressive press coverage against the best opposing receiver. 

    Early on, it hasn't worked too well. Gilmore has not been nearly as dominant as expected, in part because he's still getting the hang of New England's coverage concepts, which rely more on cornerbacks and safeties working in tandem than straight-up man coverage principles.

    Then, Gilmore missed three midseason games with a concussion. Though he's played slightly better of late, one could argue that slot man Jonathan Jones, he of the $540,000 base salary in 2017, has been the team's most effective pass defender.

    That's not to say Gilmore won't eventually be the kind of No. 1 cornerback the Patriots paid for—he has the base attributes to be such a player—but it's going to require more time and tweaks from the coaching staff before that happens.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

New Orleans Saints: Paying A.J. Klein Like a Starter

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    The Saints defense has undergone a revival this season. After a shaky first two weeks, it quickly emerged as a top unit.

    Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley, when healthy, lead a secondary that is one of the best in the league. They are aided by a defensive line getting production from unheralded players, most notably Alex Okafor before his injury. However, even at full power, the Saints defense is incomplete.

    There is a logjam at linebacker. Heading into the season, the Saints had Craig Robertson and little else. They went out to attain Manti Te'o, a cheap free agent, and Alex Anzalone, a midround pick, to add depth with the hopes one could be a starter.

    Additionally, the Saints brought in A.J. Klein from the Panthers. Klein was no cheap get like the other two, though, signing a four-year, $24 million deal.

    Klein is a decent option who plays with aggression versus the run and has enough athleticism to make it as a coverage player. The problem is he does not show the awareness and sharp decision-making to complete plays.

    As a run defender, Klein is hit-or-miss, as most midtier linebackers are. He flashes with plays at or behind the line of scrimmage, but he is not consistently in the correct run fit at the right time. At a position like linebacker, where structure is key, not being able to consistently be in position is a problem.

    Likewise, Klein can get lost trying to match and flow in coverage. Once he's locked in, he has the athleticism to keep up, but it is the process of getting to that point that he struggles with. A veteran is not going to get much better in doing so.

    Klein is not a poor player. He does not necessarily hinder the Saints defense, but he does not provide a defining or overwhelming trait that one might expect of someone with his pay. Despite a flow of investment this offseason, the Saints will likely be looking again to beef their linebacking corps.

    — NFL1000 LB Scout Derrik Klassen

New York Giants: Refusing to Accept Reality Regarding a Shaky Offensive Line

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    The season has been a disaster for the Giants. The team, an 11-5 playoff participant one season ago, now stands at 2-9 with just about everyone to blame: an injured receiver corps, an underwhelming running game, and a defense that has done an uncharacteristic disappearing act.

    The decision to bench Eli Manning in favor of backups Geno Smith and Davis Webb is the most public and obvious manifestation of the franchise's state of dysfunction. Head coach Ben McAdoo must take a helping of criticism for failing to put his quarterback in anywhere near the ideal position to succeed.

    But if there's one thing above all else that has seen the Giants fall apart on the field, it's an offensive line that had issues in 2016 and has regressed far from that average state in 2017. The clearest issue has been left tackle Ereck Flowers, who has managed to allow fewer pressures at times this season but still has major issues moving his body to deal with speed-rushers.

    Injuries to guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg, the line's two best players, hasn't helped. But general manager Jerry Reese hasn't done enough to enhance the depth overall, and both tackle positions remain a problem even when everyone is healthy.

    There are multiple reasons for Reese and McAdoo to be worried about their jobs when this season is over. Reese's inability to put a capable front five on the field may be what gets him his walking papers.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

New York Jets: Waiting on the Salary Dump, and Having to Do It All at Once

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    Jerome Davis/Getty Images

    From February through June of this year, the Jets underwent a roster purge that, per ESPN's Rich Cimini, freed up $67.9 million in salary and claimed 11 veteran players, including receiver Eric Decker, center Nick Mangold, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker David Harris.

    In some cases, the moves were overdue—Mangold had been showing his age for a while, and Revis' regression as a cornerback was well-documented. But the extent to which the Jets dumped money spoke to two things: a desire to hang on to players long after their expiration dates and a lack of understanding to timing.

    Players such as Decker and Harris were still productive and didn't cost enough to make their exits necessary. Though Cimini estimates the Jets could have as much as $80 million in salary-cap room in the 2018 league year, it's a bit much to ask Todd Bowles and his staff to do anything of note in 2017.

    The Jets have stayed competitive despite the bloodletting, which will hurt come draft time.

    Quarterback Josh McCown has enjoyed a career year, players such as receiver Robby Anderson and pass-rusher Kony Ealy have been pleasant surprises, and a 4-7 mark for a team that some prognosticators thought might not win a single game this year is a credit to Bowles and his cohorts.

    It's just a shame the front office delayed the inevitable and made their jobs harder than they should have been.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

Oakland Raiders: Hoping 2016’s Free-Agent CBs Would Finally Pay off

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The Raiders were desperately looking to upgrade their secondary in 2016.

    They selected West Virginia safety Karl Joseph with the 14th overall pick in the draft, signed 2015 interceptions leader and former Bengal Reggie Nelson to a two-year deal, and gave lucrative deals to two cornerbacks: Sean Smith and David Amerson.

    Amerson had played a bit with the Raiders after the Redskins cut him during the 2015 season, and he performed well enough to merit consideration. It was thought that Smith was the kind of aggressive and intelligent defender who would fit perfectly in Oakland's defense.

    While Joseph and Nelson have been net positives, neither Amerson nor Smith have lived up to their deals. It's a primary reason the Raiders didn't rack up a single interception until they faced rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch last Sunday. Amerson has been a liability in particular.

    As for Smith, he's been relegated to the role of very expensive backup, while the underrated T.J. Carrie has been getting more well-deserved snaps. Both Amerson and Smith have suffered lapses in coverage, and neither seems to be able to trail deep receivers consistently.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

Philadelphia Eagles: Letting Alternating Guards Rule the Roost

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    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    There is no more complete team than the Philadelphia Eagles, and that's why, at 10-1 and with a ridiculous point differential of plus-160 through 11 games (the Los Angeles Rams are second at plus-123), the Eagles are also the best team in the NFL.

    Carson Wentz has showed every necessary attribute required of a franchise quarterback. The run game is diverse and effective, the receiver corps is outstanding, the defense has been fantastic and there's enough depth along the offensive line to make up for the loss of left tackle Jason Peters, who suffered a torn ACL in late October. An injury that would have been a killer for other teams isn't for the Eagles, because they have Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who can step in decently.

    So it's tough to find anything to fault this franchise for in a decision-making sense, either before or during the season. But if there's one thing that bucked convention and had people wondering what the Eagles were thinking, it was the revolving door at left guard.

    The team started with second-year man Isaac Seumalo, but that unsuccessful experiment lasted just two games. Then, there was a rotation between Chance Warmack and Stefen Wisniewski, which probably should have gone in Wisniewski's favor sooner than it did. Warmack has always been a powerful run-blocker and a relative liability in pass protection, while Wisniewski is lighter on his feet and a more than adequate road-grader.

    Wisniewski eventually got the nod, and that happened just in time for the offensive line to absorb the loss of Peters. But one wonders why Wisniewski wasn't handed the job sooner—the offense really started to take off once he was installed as the full-time starter.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

Pittsburgh Steelers: Letting the Receiving Core Get Thin Around Antonio Brown

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have most of the makings of a great offense in 2017. They have a future Hall of Fame quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who has played significantly better in the second half of the season. They also have two All-Pro skill players in Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown who can single-handedly win games. And maybe most importantly, one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

    But as good as the Steelers offense is (at times), they have a few holes that could cost them a chance at a Super Bowl. One of their biggest problems is their entire passing attack is built around Brown. After 11 games, he has 126 targets, according to Pro Football Reference. No other Steelers wide receiver or tight end has more than 51.

    Brown has 80 receptions, but the rest of the team's receivers and tight ends have a combined 109 catches. While Brown is fantastic, this could become a problem against playoff opponents.

    The Steelers drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round in 2017, but that hasn't made up for the lack of depth. Pittsburgh's biggest offensive weakness is it lacks a reliable target in the middle of the field, specifically at tight end. The three tight ends on the roster (Jesse James, Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble) have combined for just 35 receptions on 55 targets this season. Together, they have just 338 yards and are averaging 9.7 yards per reception.

    While the Steelers can win on offense with just Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown in the regular season, will the lack of secondary targets be a problem for the team come playoff time? Pittsburgh will go as far as the "Killer B's" take it. If the Steelers had the chance to do it over again, though, you can be assured they would've tried harder to get a bigger threat in the middle of the field.

    —NFL1000 WR/TE Scout, Marcus Mosher

San Francisco 49ers: Going into a Franchise Rebuild Without a Quarterback Plan

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    Don Feria/Associated Press

    When the San Francisco 49ers hired head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch before the 2017 season, they gave each man six-year contracts for a reason. The roster, decimated by several bad drafts and free-agency cycles under former GM Trent Baalke, would need a long-term rebuild.

    Shanahan, on the strength of his status as one of the best offensive minds in the game as the architect of Atlanta's Super Bowl offense, came to the job with a well-deserved reputation for bringing out the best in quarterbacks. Which is why the decision to jettison Colin Kaepernick and put the franchise's faith in veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer was questionable, at best. Hoyer has always been limited, equally known for the occasional big play as he is for the bad decision.

    True to form, he played a series of uninspiring games until he was benched for rookie C.J. Beathard in San Francisco's Week 6 loss to the Washington Redskins. Beathard proved to be equally unprepared for prime time, frequently looking overwhelmed under pressure, slow on his reads and releases, and prone to putting himself in bad situations. It didn't help that San Francisco's line was struggling and the receiver corps was undermanned, but those realities made Beathard's insertion into the starting lineup even more baffling.

    Then, the 49ers traded for Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on October 30, just before the recently released Hoyer returned to his first NFL home and signed a three-year deal to be Tom Brady's backup.

    Garoppolo has more franchise quarterback characteristics than either Hoyer or Beathard, but the 49ers sat on their newest acquisition as Beathard continued to struggle. It was only when Beathard suffered a leg injury late in San Francisco's Week 12 loss to the Seahawks that Garoppolo saw action, and he quickly threw a touchdown pass.

    Garoppolo is now the starter by default, and whether through a long-term deal or the franchise tag, he'll most likely be the team's starting QB in 2018. It could be the right decision in the end, but the 49ers made some strange choices along the way.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar      

Seattle Seahawks: Going with the Tom Cable Plan (Again)

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks named Tom Cable as the assistant head coach and offensive line coach in 2011, and in that time, Cable has gone with a few plans to assemble his starting five. He's spackled the lineup with veterans at times, and he most controversially decided he could convert collegiate defensive linemen to professional offensive linemen after he gave them a few basic adjustments and little time to adapt.

    As one might imagine, this theory has not worked and may have cost the Seahawks a Super Bowl run in 2015. That was the season Cable threw former Western Michigan defensive tackle Drew Nowak in at center despite the fact Nowak, a former Jaguars offensive guard, hadn't played the position or made line calls.

    The Seahawks went 4-3 in the seven games Nowak started and turned their disastrous line around when Texas A&M alum Patrick Lewis, who mercifully had played the position in college, replaced him. The Seahawks finished the season strong and went 10-6 but couldn't muster a home playoff game after that slow start, and lost to the eventual NFC champion Carolina Panthers in the divisional round.

    During and after that debacle, Cable spent a lot of Seattle's draft capital on linemen, but his evaluative methods have been questionable at best. 2014 second-round pick Justin Britt washed out at right tackle and right guard before backing into a home as a decent center in 2016. 2016 first-round pick Germain Ifedi allowed a ton of pressure in college and hasn't advanced to an acceptable level as an NFL right tackle.

    The November 1 trade for former Houston Texans left tackle Duane Brown has helped the line when he's been healthy, but Brown was already an established player; Cable has been given free rein to fill out his lineup, and he hasn't come close to an acceptable hit rate. It's likely that Seattle's offense will underperform as long as that's the case, and if quarterback Russell Wilson wasn't such a compelling escape artist, Cable's misses would be far more damaging.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar    

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Failing to Upgrade the Pass Rush

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The biggest mistake the Buccaneers made this offseason was failing to add a significant defensive end to their roster. The team's highest-paid defensive end is Robert Ayers, the 23rd-highest paid defensive end in the sport. He has two sacks in 2017.

    Second-round 2016 draft pick Noah Spence, who recorded 5.5 sacks in three starts and 16 games last season, recorded one sack before going on injured reserve. William Gholston, who signed a $27.5 million contract worth $5.5 million per year this offseason, has recorded 10 sacks in 66 games.

    Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald are the team's top sack artists. That is not close to the NFL norm. When Ayers, who has recorded just 34.5 sacks in nine seasons since being drafted as a first-round pick, is by far your best option at defensive end, you're in a tough spot.

    Going into next offseason, defensive end is one of their biggest needs, as it has been since Michael Bennett left town.

    Hopefully, their next defensive end signing goes better than the signing of defensive tackle Chris Baker, who came on in 2017 at a price of $5.25 million per year but is currently only playing 40.8 percent of defensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders. Only three teams are paying two defensive tackles more than Baker: Jacksonville, Philadelphia and Tennessee.

    — NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda

Tennessee Titans: Betting Long on DeMarco Murray’s Outlier Season

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    For a team that is supposedly running an exotic smashmouth offense, the Tennessee Titans have an average running game. It ranks 13th in the NFL in yards per game (115.2), which is right around the middle of the pack. The offensive line hasn't performed as expected, but it's been made to look worse by the curious playing-time decisions regarding the two main running backs.

    The split of carries between DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry has been fairly even this season. Murray has 15 more carries through 11 games, but Henry averages 1.1 yards per carry more than Murray. The 29-year-old Murray has only been able to take what his offensive line has given him, which at times hasn't been much.

    Henry, on the other hand, has made yards for himself. There have been a few occasions where the 23-year-old has looked to bounce his run outside when perhaps he shouldn't have, but there have been far more instances where he's broken or eluded multiple tackles in the backfield and turned what should have been a negative play into a positive one.

    At his current yards-per-carry average, if Henry had all of the opportunities Murray has taken, the Titans would jump from 13th to sixth in average rushing yards per game. That is just a projection, but it shows how much more effective Henry has been this year than the 2014 rushing leader. 

    After they traded for Murray from the Philadelphia Eagles, they revised his contract to a four-year, $25.3 million deal. Perhaps this investment and his reputation explain why they persist with him, but they invested a second-round pick in Henry, which is no small price. It's time the Titans made Henry the lead back.

    —NFL1000 RB Scout, Mark Bullock     

Washington Redskins: Refusing the Long-Term Deal on Kirk Cousins

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Kirk Cousins has been the Washington Redskins' full-time starting quarterback since 2015 after he leapfrogged an injured, ineffective Robert Griffin III. Head coach Jay Gruden has always shown a great deal of faith in Cousins as the type of player who would execute the game plan as it was designed.

    Through his first two seasons as the main man in Washington, that didn't always work. Cousins has needed time to deal with the kinds of mechanical inefficiencies that led to inconsistent play and frustrating bouts of mistake-plagued football. His Pro Bowl season in 2016 was as much about receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon's ability to create easy openings as anything Cousins accomplished.

    When Jackson and Garcon departed in free agency before the 2017 season, it was thought Cousins would be exposed as the average quarterback he had always been, and that appears to be why the team balked on giving him the lucrative contract he's always wanted.

    Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reported Cousins rejected a five-year offer in May; basically, Cousins decided to gamble on himself with a franchise tag designation that guarantees him $23.94 million for the 2017 season and absolutely nothing after that if he suffers a serious injury.

    If he makes it through the season and tests the free-agent market, it's highly likely Cousins will be the No. 1 player on that market, as he should be. After years of development, Cousins has finally become the kind of quarterback who can be trusted to transcend a spotty offensive line, receivers who have underwhelmed and a running game that hasn't been up to par.

    All of those things have plagued the Redskins this season, and it's Cousins who has maintained a high level of play, completing 66.2 percent of his passes for 3,038 yards, 19 touchdowns and just six interceptions through Week 12.

    Just as the Redskins have hatched themselves a legitimate franchise quarterback, they may find themselves outbid for his services. That's the kind of personnel hit franchises find it tough to survive.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar    


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