Every NFL Team's Biggest Mistake of the Past Decade
Head to Google and you'll find approximately 43 million pages of cliches about everybody making mistakes, including a hit from Hannah Montana. And while it's true that nobody is perfect, there's little room for error in the NFL.
That's why shelf lives are so short in this league, whether we're talking about players, coaches or general managers. You're practically spinning a wheel in the NFL draft, free agency is a game for suckers that nevertheless can't be ignored and every trade has a winner and a loser.
Of course, some mistakes are larger than others. And we've gone back 10 years to find the largest. While doing so, we focused on several (probably obvious) types of damning moves in particular:
- A bad draft decision that might have changed the course of the franchise
- A bad signing that might have done the same
- A bad trade that might have done the same
- Letting a player walk who went on to have immense success elsewhere
- A bad personnel decision (hiring, firing, failure to act) that might have caused the franchise to regress
Got it? Good. Let's get gloomy.
Letting Calais Campbell go in 2017
You might have expected 2013 No. 7 overall pick Jonathan Cooper to land here, because if you're going to swing and miss that early in the draft, at least do it on a player at a premium position. If you're going to take a guard in the top 10, you'd better be damn sure he'll pan out. And Cooper did not, starting just 11 games for the Cardinals over a two-year span.
But the first round of the 2013 draft has become a joke anyway, and the Cards didn't miss out on anything special within that range. And the main reason this wasn't too much of a mistake is Arizona redeemed itself in 2016 by trading Cooper and a second-round pick to the New England Patriots for Chandler Jones, who has been one of the most productive pass-rushers in football.
If not for Cooper, they probably wouldn't have the league's reigning sack leader on their roster.
So instead let's go with the decision to let Calais Campbell walk as a free agent in 2017. The Jacksonville Jaguars paid the defensive end handsomely (four years, $60 million), but a mediocre Cards defense sure could have used him alongside Jones last season. The Arizona D surrendered 30-plus points six times, while Campbell put together a first-team All-Pro season.
Not drafting Aaron Donald in 2014
The Atlanta Falcons weren't the only team to pass on superstar defensive lineman Aaron Donald early in the 2014 draft. Eleven other general managers went elsewhere before the St. Louis Rams took Donald 13th overall. But at least the Texans still got a special talent in Jadeveon Clowney, while the Raiders landed 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, the Buccaneers and Giants added stud receivers Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr., and the Vikings and Titans drafted Pro Bowlers Anthony Barr and Taylor Lewan.
The Falcons could have had Evans, Barr, Lewan, Beckham or Donald, but instead they took offensive tackle Jake Matthews, who has become a half-decent blindside protector for Matt Ryan but lacks consistency and has yet to come close to a Pro Bowl.
Passing on Donald wouldn't have been so egregious if it weren't for the fact that Lewan has become a much better left tackle than Matthews. I get that the Falcons drafted a left tackle because they needed better pass protection and they had just signed defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson to join veterans Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Kroy Biermann up front, but they also drafted the wrong left tackle.
Giving bust free agent Ray Edwards a five-year, $27.5 million deal in 2011 was a mistake, too, but going with Matthews over a wide variety of eventual stars—and Donald in particular—takes the cake.
Giving Joe Flacco a six-year, $120 million contract in 2013
The Baltimore Ravens probably felt they had no choice at the time. After all, Flacco had just thrown 11 touchdowns to zero interceptions in four playoff games while leading the team to victory in Super Bowl XLVII. Can't imagine a better way for a quarterback to ride into free agency in his prime.
So general manager Ozzie Newsome made Flacco the highest-paid player in NFL history (at the time), despite his 86.3 career passer rating, and despite the fact that he'd never been to a Pro Bowl.
Five years later, Flacco's career passer rating has dropped to 84.1, and he's still never been to a Pro Bowl. That's saying a lot, considering they now hand out Pro Bowl invites like participation trophies.
Beyond that, the Ravens have won just one playoff game with Flacco at the helm the last five seasons. And because his contract (among other albatross deals like those given to Eugene Monroe and Eric Weddle) put the Ravens in a tough salary-cap situation, they were essentially forced to give him a new three-year deal in 2016. Now they owe the 33-year-old Flacco $75 million over the next four years.
Do the Ravens wish they drafted Landon Collins instead of Breshad Perriman in 2015? Probably. Do they wish they had taken LeSean McCoy rather than Michael Oher in 2009? Almost certainly. But more than anything, Newsome probably regrets that he didn't just hit Flacco with the franchise tag in the 2013 offseason.
Trading up for Sammy Watkins in 2014
With hindsight on our side, it's fair to conclude the Buffalo Bills' trade of a 2015 first-round pick and a 2014 fourth-round pick to Cleveland to move up from the ninth pick to the fourth pick for Watkins was one of the worst draft moves in NFL history.
As yours truly noted in piece breaking down this comically bad mistake earlier this offseason, few active superstar receivers are worth two first-round picks and a fourth-round selection, and yet Buffalo was willing to part with all of that in exchange for an unpolished, inconsistent, immature 20-year-old with potential off-field issues.
The Bills fell in love with Watkins and forgot that the draft is essentially a crapshoot. They sacrificed several rolls of the dice to add him, even though there was always a chance he wouldn't pan out.
And hell, even if he had panned out, there was a chance he wouldn't have been worth that. Star receivers don't typically push teams over the top, as we've seen recently with Beckham, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson.
But the icing on the cake is that Evans and Beckham were both available in that No. 4 spot, and that the Bills could have stood pat, drafted OBJ ninth overall and kept their 2015 first-round selection.
Instead, they mortgaged their future for a player who four years later is on his third NFL roster.
Former GM Doug Whaley's reputation might never bounce back.
Using a first-round pick on Kelvin Benjamin in 2014
The Carolina Panthers haven't made many haunting mistakes in the last decade, which is why they've managed to get to the playoffs five times in a 10-year span despite heavy competition in the NFC South. But there was an important decision in 2014 that they'd probably like to take back.
When they were on the clock with the 28th pick of that year's draft, the receiver-needy Panthers had plenty of high-potential targets to choose from. Marqise Lee, Davante Adams, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, Paul Richardson, Cody Latimer, Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry were all on the board.
The Panthers selected Benjamin, who went over 1,000 yards and scored nine touchdowns as a rookie but hasn't been the same since tearing his ACL prior to his sophomore season. He missed that year, caught just 53.4 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2016 and was traded at the 2017 deadline.
At least the Panthers got third- and seventh-round picks from the Bills in exchange for Benjamin, but it's gotta be tough for Carolina fans to think about how much better quarterback Cam Newton could have been with a Pro Bowler like Adams, Robinson or Landry in that receiving corps.
By the way, this could soon be trumped by the team's decision to give bust left tackle Matt Kalil a five-year, $55 million contract last March, because Kalil was horrible on Newton's blind side in 2017. But Kalil blames those struggles on a hip injury he suffered in 2016, so we'll give the 2012 No. 4 overall pick one more season to prove former GM Dave Gettleman didn't screw the pooch on that one as well.
Trading for Jay Cutler in 2009
The Chicago Bears almost have too many miscues to pick from.
They traded Greg Olsen to the Panthers in exchange for a mere third-round pick in 2011, and it looks as though they wasted a top-10 selection on wide receiver Kevin White in 2015. Former GM Jerry Angelo has even admitted the Olsen deal was a mistake. Meanwhile, Angelo's successor, Phil Emery, probably knows he erred in hiring failed head coach Marc Trestman, and John Fox didn't fare any better as Trestman's replacement under the purview of current GM Ryan Pace.
No wonder the Bears haven't been to the playoffs since 2010.
But another reason the Bears haven't been successful in the last decade is Jay Cutler, who quarterbacked the team to a 51-51 record over eight seasons after Angelo acquired him from the Broncos in 2009.
Because the Bears gave up two first-round picks, a third-rounder and quarterback Kyle Orton for Cutler and a fifth-round pick, and because they swiftly gave him a two-year, $30 million contract extension through 2013, the organization had no choice but to be committed to Cutler. But the 2006 No. 11 overall pick never delivered in Chicago, posting an 85.3 passer rating. He took them to the playoffs just once, and while he was on the roster, the Bears didn't draft a single quarterback in the first four rounds.
Throw in that they traded two third-round picks before breaking the bank for Cutler's favorite weapon, Brandon Marshall, and you begin to get the feeling the Bears wasted a silly amount of time, resources and money catering to a quarterback who never gave them much in return.
Letting Andrew Whitworth go in 2017
Because the Cincinnati Bengals are one of the NFL's most frugal franchises, the majority of their mistakes relate to inaction with in-house free agents. It happened when they lost T.J. Houshmandzadeh in 2009, Johnathan Joseph in 2011, Frostee Rucker in 2012, Manny Lawson in 2013, Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins in 2014, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Reggie Nelson in 2016 and Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth in 2017.
But Whitworth has to be the walker causing the most regret, because after signing a reasonable three-year, $33.8 million deal with the Rams, the four-time Pro Bowl left tackle was a first-team All-Pro in Los Angeles in 2017. He's aging like an exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon.
Meanwhile, his replacement in Cincinnati, Cedric Ogbuehi, was a mess for much of his first full season on quarterback Andy Dalton's blind side. Ogbuehi's fifth-year option for 2019 wasn't exercised after the 2015 first-round pick ranked in the bottom 10 among qualified offensive tackles in terms of pass-blocking efficiency the last two years, according to Pro Football Focus. That's far from ideal, considering Dalton has always struggled under pressure.
An argument could be made that the Bengals continue to make a huge mistake by employing head coach Marvin Lewis despite the fact that Lewis hasn't won a playoff game in 15 seasons there, but the penny-pinching nature of the front office has arguably been an even bigger issue in Cincinnati, and Whitworth’s departure epitomizes that.
Trading the No. 2 overall pick of the 2016 draft, rather than holding the pick and taking Carson Wentz
That's where we have to begin with the Cleveland Browns, since they've been searching for a franchise quarterback since the Civil War era. Wentz is already a bona fide franchise quarterback, and he was selected with the pick they sold to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Browns could have made up for that by using the 2017 first-rounder they received from Philadelphia on the sensational Deshaun Watson, but, alas, they also sold that selection on draft night.
Again, that's where we have to begin. The Browns surely regret selecting bust running back Trent Richardson third overall in 2012 and Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel in the top 25 in 2014 (especially with Derek Carr still on the board). Barkevious Mingo shouldn't have been a sixth overall pick, Joe Haden shouldn't have been a seventh overall pick, Phil Taylor shouldn't have been a 21st overall pick and Brandon Weeden shouldn't have been a 22nd overall pick.
It's no wonder the Browns have been through six general managers and five head coaches in the last decade. But the biggest mistake of them all came when the now-fired Sashi Brown missed out on Wentz two years ago.
Trading for WR Roy Williams in 2008
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Morris Claiborne sixth overall in 2012 even though Luke Kuechly was on the board, but in their defense, Sean Lee was emerging. They also probably regret signing Greg Hardy in 2015, but it's not as though that cost them a lot of long-term cash. Those were regrettable moves, but they don't hold a candle to the Williams trade, which cost Dallas a ton of draft capital.
Ahead of the 2008 trade deadline, the Cowboys gave the Lions first-, third- and sixth-round draft picks in exchange for Williams and a seventh-rounder. At the time, Williams was a year removed from a 1,310-yard Pro Bowl season, but he caught just 19 passes in 10 games down the stretch in Dallas that year and pulled in just 50 percent of the passes thrown his way in the ensuing two seasons.
That led to his 2011 release, and the 2004 No. 7 overall pick was out of football a year later.
Not drafting Russell Wilson in the second round in 2012
The Denver Broncos went to two Super Bowls with Peyton Manning at the helm, so they're probably not too broken up over the fact that they made two major gaffes in efforts to find a franchise quarterback in the early part of this decade.
But they were large mistakes nonetheless.
The first one came in 2010, when they traded second-, third- and fourth-round picks in exchange for Baltimore's No. 25 overall selection, which they used on quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow helped Denver win a playoff game, but he started just 16 regular-season games before his career ended in 2012.
The second mistake came in 2012, just weeks after they signed Manning, when they selected Brock Osweiler 57th overall. Not a bad risk considering Osweiler's measurables, but the next quarterback off the board was Russell Wilson at No. 75. Osweiler has become a punchline, while Wilson is a Super Bowl champion and franchise quarterback in Seattle.
Missing out on Wilson takes the cake because the Broncos considered drafting him. They hosted the Wisconsin product at their complex in the lead-up to the draft, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold, who suggested GM John Elway may have gone with the 6'7" Osweiler because the size advantage he had over the 5'11" Wilson.
We don't know where Wilson would be now if he had spent the first few years of his career backing up Manning, but I'm sure the Broncos would have loved a chance to see that happen.
Using a top-10 pick on Eric Ebron in 2014
Tight end Eric Ebron's tenure in Detroit is already over after four unimpressive seasons with the Lions. Meanwhile, the player selected one spot later (Lewan) has become one of the league's best offensive tackles, the player selected two spots later (Beckham) has become one of the league's best wide receivers, and the player selected three spots later (Donald) has become arguably the league's best defensive player.
At the time, the Lions felt they were shored up in those spots with left tackle Riley Reiff, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh all on the roster. But Suh was gone one year later, Johnson retired two years later and Reiff lasted just two more years on the blind side.
With Lewan, Beckham or Donald on the roster, the Lions would be in substantially better shape than they are now.
Green Bay Packers
Using a first-round pick on Damarious Randall in 2015
The Green Bay Packers don't gamble often, which usually means fewer home runs as well as fewer strikeouts. Still, they'd probably like to have that Randall pick back.
Giants safety Landon Collins is a different player, but both he and Randall were highly ranked safeties coming out of college in 2015.
The Packers took Randall 30th overall, converted him to cornerback and eventually traded him to the Browns last March after three inconsistent, injury-plagued seasons. They got next to nothing in return.
Three picks later, the Giants took Collins, who became a first-team All-Pro with five picks, four sacks and 125 tackles as a sophomore and made the Pro Bowl again in his third season.
It's not a sexy mistake, but it's a mistake nonetheless. And it's not as though they can chalk it up to the draft's being a crapshoot, because Collins was widely projected to be a first-round pick. He slid, and Green Bay failed to take advantage.
Paying Brock Osweiler in 2016
Houston is another team that probably regrets not giving Wilson a shot in the third round of the 2012 draft. The Texans still had Matt Schaub at the time, so you can understand why they wouldn't have spent an early pick on a quarterback. Still, in Round 3 that year they selected wide receiver DeVier Posey seven spots before Seattle took Wilson.
Had former GM Rick Smith taken Wilson there, he probably wouldn't have made the even bigger mistake of giving Osweiler a four-year, $72 million with $37 million guaranteed in the 2016 offseason.
At that point, the Texans had become desperate for a franchise quarterback, and Osweiler was the hottest thing on the market. But the 2012 second-round pick lasted just one abysmal season in Houston, completing 59 percent of his passes and throwing more interceptions (16) than touchdown passes (15).
To get his contract off the books the following offseason, the Texans essentially had to bribe the cap-rich Browns with a second-round draft pick (they also sent Cleveland a sixth-rounder but received a fourth-rounder), and they still paid Osweiler $9 million to "play" for another team in 2017.
Quarterback hunger makes teams do funny things.
Hiring Ryan Grigson in 2012
Yes, Ryan Grigson selected Andrew Luck with his first draft choice as GM of the Colts. But my grandma could have made that pick, and she still asks me how the Houston Oilers are doing. Grigson doesn't deserve much credit for that, but he does get much of the blame for one of the worst trades of this era.
That came on September 18, 2013, when Grigson sent a first-round pick to the Browns in exchange for running back Trent Richardson, who was coming off a horrendous rookie season in which he averaged 3.6 yards per carry. T-Rich was even worse in Indianapolis, averaging 3.1 yards a pop while rushing for six touchdowns during nearly two full seasons there. Indy waived him in the 2015 offseason.
Grigson also bombed the 2013 draft (six of the seven players he selected are out of the league, including first-rounder Bjoern Werner), wasted $24 million on LaRon Landry (played just 18 games in blue before performance-enhancing drug suspensions ended his career), and overpaid old men Andre Johnson and Trent Cole.
He was a terrible hire, and he only lasted five years there because he lucked into Luck.
Drafting Blaine Gabbert minutes before the Texans selected J.J. Watt in 2011
The Jacksonville Jaguars spent so many years picking in the top 10 that it's easy to find examples of selections they whiffed on. They took Tyson Alualu rather than Earl Thomas in 2010, Justin Blackmon ahead of Luke Kuechly in 2012, Luke Joeckel rather than Lane Johnson (or pretty much anyone but Joeckel) in 2013, Blake Bortles instead of Khalil Mack, Beckham, Donald or Carr in 2014, Dante Fowler ahead of Leonard Williams and Todd Gurley in 2015, and Leonard Fournette over Deshaun Watson in 2017.
But the miss that wins this prize is Gabbert rather than Watt in 2011, and you probably don't need much of an explanation there.
Gabbert lost 22 of his 27 starts with Jacksonville, completing 53.3 percent of his passes while throwing more picks (24) than touchdown passes (22). Three years after he was drafted 10th overall, he was traded to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick.
Watt won Defensive Player of the Year in three of his first five NFL seasons and is already a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame.
Again, that damn quarterback thirst. It got to former Jags GM Gene Smith, who lasted just two more seasons in Jacksonville.
Kansas City Chiefs
Hiring Scott Pioli in 2009
Eric Fisher hasn't come close to living up to the expectations that existed when former Chiefs GM John Dorsey selected him with the top pick in the 2013 draft (his first pick in that role), but that class has turned out so bad that it's hard to say Kansas City would be significantly better off had it taken someone else or traded down.
Instead, Dorsey's predecessor, Scott Pioli, gets the dubious nod here.
Sure, the Chiefs were one of the worst teams in football in the two seasons that preceded the Pioli regime, but they won just 23 games in his four seasons in that role.
Coming over from New England as a chic front office name, Pioli immediately handed a six-year, $60 million contract to former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel, who had performed well in Tom Brady's stead the previous season. But Cassel posted a passer rating of just 77.5 over four disappointing years in Kansas City.
Pioli's first draft pick (No. 3 overall selection Tyson Jackson) was also a bust, and both of the head coaches he hired (Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel) failed.
The Chiefs didn't start to turn things around until Dorsey jumped on board and added Fisher, Alex Smith and Travis Kelce in his first offseason.
Los Angeles Chargers
Not hiring Bruce Arians in 2013
The Los Angeles Chargers probably wish they had fired former head coach Norv Turner two years earlier than they did and promoted defensive coordinator Ron Rivera into that role before the latter escaped to Carolina and won two Coach of the Year awards in a five-season span.
But when they held on to Turner in 2011, Rivera bolted. Two years later, Turner was fired alongside GM A.J. Smith. And two weeks after that, new GM Tom Telesco chose Mike McCoy over Bruce Arians after interviewing both for the vacant head coaching job.
Arians had publicly expressed interest in the gig after Telesco was hired.
In four seasons with McCoy at the helm, a talented Chargers team went to the playoffs once and posted a 27-37 regular-season record. Meanwhile, Arians went to Arizona and won double-digit games in each of his first three seasons with the Cardinals, earning his second Coach of the Year award in 2014.
Rivera was on their payroll before taking his current job, and they could have hired Arians before he went to Arizona. Those two have won four of the last six Coach of the Year awards.
Los Angeles Rams
Hiring Jeff Fisher in 2012
I get it. Jeff Fisher was the hottest name on the coaching carousel in 2012, and it's not as though any of the other coaches hired that year—Mike Mularkey, Joe Philbin, Chuck Pagano, Dennis Allen, Greg Schiano—had a lot of success.
But the Rams might have been better off promoting 2011 offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels rather than allowing him to jump back to New England. Or maybe they wish they had given Mike Zimmer an interview two years before the Vikings hired him. They also interviewed Ray Horton. He might have been good?
What I'm getting at is: ABJF. Anyone But Jeff Fisher.
The Rams posted a losing record in each of Fisher's four full seasons as well as the partial year that led to his firing in 2016, and no team in football scored fewer points or gained fewer yards during Fisher's tenure in St. Louis/Los Angeles.
But what really cost the Rams is the fact that they held on for so long. The damage Fisher caused might have been limited had they recognized their mistake when everybody else did and fired him in 2014 or 2015. Instead, they let him bring his stale brand of football to a new market and allowed him to get within 100 yards of top 2016 pick Jared Goff.
A coach who got the absolute least out of Nick Foles and Case Keenum didn't fare much better with Goff, who bombed as a rookie after spending months under Fisher's tutelage. Thankfully, the Rams cut bait on Fisher late that season. Just over a year later, Goff was a Pro Bowler, the Rams had the highest-scoring offense in the league, Keenum was the league's seventh-highest-rated passer in Minnesota and Foles won Super Bowl MVP with the Eagles.
Had the Rams not hired Fisher and held on too long, they probably wouldn't have ended up with 2017 Coach of the Year Sean McVay. But hiring Fisher was still a tremendous error.
Drafting Dion Jordan third overall in 2013
Again, the 2013 draft class was horrendous, so you basically made a mistake if you didn't trade down (nicely done, Cowboys) or pick DeAndre Hopkins (congratulations, Texans). But the Miami Dolphins get a special shoutout here because they were the only team that decided to trade up into the top five.
After giving the Raiders a second-round pick to move up from the 12th spot to the third spot, they took defensive end Dion Jordan, who started one game and recorded three sacks during four years with the Dolphins.
He was hardly a factor in 2013 and 2014, was suspended the entire 2015 season for a third violation of the NFL's performance-enhancing substance policy and didn't play a down after being reinstated in 2016.
Jordan was a good-riddance cut the following offseason, but the Dolphins were left wondering about everything else they could have done with the two premium draft picks and $19 million they wasted on the guy.
It takes a hell of a mistake to trump the five-year, $60 million deal the Dolphins gave Mike Wallace the same year, but that 2013 draft decision does the trick.
Drafting Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011
This is a toss-up between two poor first-round decisions made by Vikings GM Rick Spielman in as many years. In 2011 he used the 12th overall pick on Christian Ponder, who was out of football after posting a 75.9 passer rating in four terrible seasons in Minnesota. And then in 2012 he used the fourth overall pick on offensive tackle Matt Kalil, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie but was a liability on the blind side for the remainder of his five-year tenure with the team.
In neither case were there substantially better options available. Spielman probably wishes he at least traded down in both spots, because nobody would have expected him to reach for fifth-round pick Richard Sherman in the first round in 2011 or a significantly lower pick such as Kuechly, Fletcher Cox or Bobby Wagner in 2012.
Kalil was taken with a more valuable pick, and there were better players in that range, but he also made a much less negative impact than Ponder did. The wasted Ponder pick took them out of the quarterback sweepstakes for a couple of years, which might have cost them a shot at drafting Wilson or Kirk Cousins in 2012.
So that one probably hurts a little more.
New England Patriots
Trading Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017
Obviously the Patriots regret drafting and then eventually re-upping tight end Aaron Hernandez, but that's related to tragic off-the-field developments. Instead, we'll give you a move the Pats might already wish they could have back, strictly for football reasons.
We may never know whether Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was on board with the trade that sent backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers last fall, but it already looks as though New England made the mistake of sending Tom Brady's heir apparent away in exchange for a mere a second-round pick.
To many, it was a weird move even before the 26-year-old Garoppolo tore it up and won all five of his starts down the stretch in San Francisco. After all, Brady is the oldest position player in the NFL, and Jimmy G had performed well as his backup. He was clearly the top option—maybe the only option?—to succeed Brady, but now he's one of the league's most highly touted young franchise quarterbacks and playing on the other coast.
Meanwhile, the only backup quarterbacks on the Pats roster are 32-year-old journeyman Brian Hoyer and rookie seventh-round pick Danny Etling.
Quarterbacks rarely remain effective beyond 40, and even Brady—who will be 41 this season—isn't immune to Father Time's effects. The Pats are in win-now mode, but without Garoppolo they don't have a suitable insurance policy under center.
They would have been better off keeping Garoppolo and hitting him with the franchise tag or even a long-term deal (it wouldn't have been as lucrative as his new contract with the 49ers because he wouldn't have started late in 2017).
It was a rare football mistake for a team that probably wishes it didn't trade Chandler Jones for Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick in 2016 but has generally possessed a Midas touch beyond that.
New Orleans Saints
Signing Jairus Byrd in 2014
The New Orleans Saints don't miss on many draft picks, and they rarely have a chance to miss in epic fashion anyway because they're usually picking late in Round 1. They've been consistently competitive with the same head coach/GM combo for well over a decade, so mistakes have been few and far between.
But the best way to find a relatively recent Saints mistake would be to look at the rut the team experienced when it went 7-9 in three consecutive seasons starting in 2014. One bad move wasn't fully responsible for that downturn, but it likely isn't a coincidence that the Saints struggled after GM Mickey Loomis threw a bunch of money at free-agent safety Jairus Byrd in the 2014 offseason.
The Saints entered that offseason with almost no cap space, which forced them to get creative to ink the highly touted Byrd to a six-year, $54 million contract. But that deal handcuffed the team when it lost key in-house free agents Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper, Lance Moore, Charles Brown and Brian De La Puente that spring.
A knee injury cost Byrd the majority of that 2014 season, and he struggled while intercepting a total of three passes in 2015 and 2016 before the Saints cried uncle and released him to save $7.8 million in the 2017 offseason.
He's out of football, but at least he milked the Saints for $28 million for three unproductive seasons.
New York Giants
Letting Jerry Reese linger
The New York Giants won the Super Bowl in Jerry Reese's first season as the team's general manager, and then they did it again four years later. That bought Reese a hell of a lot of rope. Too much rope, in fact.
Reese dropped the ball time and again in the seasons that followed that 2011 championship. He drafted just two Pro Bowlers (Beckham and Collins) in seven years, while first-rounders David Wilson, Justin Pugh, Eli Apple and Ereck Flowers have already either gone bust or are in the process of doing so.
He continually tried and failed to rebuild the offensive line and running game, didn't do enough to support quarterback Eli Manning, wasted money on Brandon Myers and Dwayne Harris when the team was taking a conservative approach in free agency (and then overcompensated by desperately overpaying Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins when the first strategy didn't work), and let Martellus Bennett walk in his prime.
Oh, and he hired Ben McAdoo as head coach. Enough said. Reese should have been gone after a second consecutive losing season in 2014, but he lingered until this past season.
New York Jets
Hiring John Idzik in 2013
It's not as though John Idzik took over a great team and made it bad, but he made so many mistakes in such a short period that he severely delayed the Jets' attempt to rebuild following a 6-10 season.
Not only did he let head coach Rex Ryan linger for two more seasons so that owner Woody Johnson was forced to fire both of them together, but he also wasted his first draft pick (a top-10 selection) on bust cornerback Dee Milliner. In addition, he swung and missed one round later with quarterback Geno Smith, and none of his first eight selections in the 2014 draft panned out.
He traded Darrelle Revis in his prime and used the pick he got from Tampa Bay for the cornerback to take Sheldon Richardson, who wasn't a bust but never quite lived up to expectations in New York.
Most importantly, when Idzik took the job, it was clear the Jets needed to start over at quarterback. He put all of his eggs in Smith's basket, and that strategy failed.
Idzik is long gone, but the Jets still haven't been to the playoffs since he took over for Mike Tannenbaum. And they entered the 2018 offseason still in search of a franchise quarterback.
Hiring Dennis Allen in 2012
When longtime owner Al Davis died during the 2011 season, the Oakland Raiders were to a large extent victims of circumstance. Davis served as the team's general manager, and in the previous offseason he hired Hue Jackson as head coach. Jackson did a fine job with a so-so roster that year, guiding a team that was terrible between 2003 and 2009 to an 8-8 record for the second season in a row.
But the Raiders needed a new general manager, and it's perfectly reasonable for a new GM to hire his own head coach. On January 5, 2012, Reggie McKenzie took over as GM. Five days later, Jackson was out. Two weeks after that, Dennis Allen was in.
Allen lasted two-and-a-quarter seasons. He won just eight of 36 games.
It didn't help that the previous regime traded a 2012 first-rounder and a 2013 second-rounder for quarterback Carson Palmer, who struggled under Allen in his only full season with the Raiders. The offense fell off a cliff with the defensive-minded Allen in control, and replacing offensive coordinator Greg Knapp with Greg Olson after the 2012 season didn't help.
Allen's Raiders were blown out time and again throughout his tenure, with a 38-14 loss in London at the hands of a mediocre Dolphins team serving as the straw that broke the camel's back.
He was fired during the team's Week 5 bye.
Three head coaches and several bad prime draft picks later, McKenzie somehow still has a job. He should have given Jackson one more season to put it together with Palmer under center, but instead he shot from the hip and extended the Raiders' rebuild.
Hiring Chip Kelly in 2013
The Eagles and their fans probably realize that if Chip Kelly hadn't ruined the team earlier this decade, Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson wouldn't have had the opportunity to build the roster that just won Super Bowl LII.
There are no regrets in Philly, because nobody wants to mess with the butterfly effect.
That being said, hiring Kelly as head coach in 2013 was a colossal mistake—even worse than throwing $60 million at an aging Nnamdi Asomugha in 2011 or picking Brandon Graham one spot ahead of Earl Thomas in 2010.
The Eagles would have been better off without Asomugha and with Thomas, but Kelly nearly ran the team into the ground with his stubborn approach to retooling a roster that didn't require much maintenance to begin with. He inherited a talented team from Andy Reid, but he wasn't willing to be flexible with his fast-but-often-predictable offensive scheme and didn't appear capable of handling egos. As a result, he wound up chasing away stars.
As former Eagles guard Evan Mathis wrote in an email to Mike Klis of 9News in 2016:
"There were many things that Chip had done that showed me he wasn't building a championship team. Two of the main issues that concerned me were: 1. A never-evolving, vanilla offense that forced our own defense to play higher than normal play counts. 2. His impatience with certain personality types even when they were blue-chip talents. The Broncos team I was on would have eaten Chip alive. I don't think he could have handled the plethora of large personalities."
LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles, DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick, Jeremy Maclin and Trent Cole were all gone within two years, leaving the roster in awful shape for 2015. Kelly was fired before the final game of the season after a 6-9 showing, and Roseman and Pederson were left to clean up the mess in 2016.
To think they could have gone with Bruce Arians instead.
Drafting Jarvis Jones in the first round in 2013
Not gonna lie, this was the toughest one to dig up. The Steelers take a calculated approach to free agency and usually get things right in the draft; head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert have delivered. They just don't make many mistakes.
But they'd probably like a do-over for their selection of Jarvis Jones in the middle of the first round of the 2013 draft. Xavier Rhodes, DeAndre Hopkins and Zach Ertz were on the board and in first-round range when they used the No. 17 overall pick on Jones, who is out of football at the age of 28 after recording just six sacks in four seasons with the Steelers and failing to catch on with the Cardinals.
It's hard to believe Pittsburgh hasn't screwed up any worse than that in the last decade, but that's a testament to how well the organization is run.
San Francisco 49ers
Hiring Trent Baalke in 2010
In his first draft as the head personnel honcho in San Francisco, Trent Baalke mined potential Hall of Fame linebacker NaVorro Bowman from the third round.
It was all downhill from there.
Sure, the 49ers became a contender soon after Baalke took over, but they were already ascending with players Baalke inherited such as Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Dashon Goldson.
Only three of the 68 other players Baalke drafted from 2010 to 2016 became Pro Bowlers, and one of those was flameout Aldon Smith (taken four spots ahead of J.J. Watt in 2011). Baalke drafted bust after bust in Round 1 (Anthony Davis, A.J. Jenkins, Jimmie Ward and Arik Armstead, and the jury's still out on Joshua Garnett and DeForest Buckner), he foolishly let Delanie Walker walk, and he continually employed players with questionable reputations off the field.
On top of all that, he traded the wrong quarterback when he sent Alex Smith packing in favor of Colin Kaepernick in 2013 and then inexplicably clashed with head coach Jim Harbaugh, which led to Harbaugh's departure. He then hired two coaches in as many years (Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly) who fell on their faces before he was kicked out the door alongside Kelly after a two-win 2016.
The 49ers sank as fast as they rose, and their rise had little to do with Baalke. They would have been a lot better off in the hands of somebody competent.
Trading for Percy Harvin in 2013
Oh boy, Seattle.
The Seahawks shouldn't have signed Matt Flynn in 2012, but they couldn't have known Russell Wilson would emerge quickly, and Flynn didn't hurt them too badly as an $8 million backup. They probably shouldn't have used a No. 4 overall pick on Aaron Curry, but the 2009 draft was weak, and they wouldn't have been much better off with Andre Smith, Darrius Heyward-Bey or Eugene Monroe.
They shouldn't have given the Saints Max Unger and a first-round pick in exchange for Jimmy Graham and a fourth-rounder in 2015, but at least Graham was relatively productive in Seattle, Unger was replaced easily by Justin Britt and the draft pick was in Round 1.
One mistake towers over those, however, and that's the Percy Harvin trade.
In exchange for Harvin, the Seahawks gave the Vikings first- and seventh-round picks in 2013 and a third-rounder in 2014. Over the course of the next year-and-a-half, Harvin scored one touchdown in six regular-season games as a member of the Seahawks. He caused trouble in the organization to boot, and when they traded him to the Jets in 2014, all they got in return was a sixth-round pick.
With Seattle's picks, Minnesota drafted two-time Pro Bowl corner Xavier Rhodes and running back Jerick McKinnon.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Hiring Greg Schiano in 2012
The Buccaneers might regret letting Michael Bennett get away in free agency in 2013 because he became a three-time Pro Bowler with the Seahawks. They also might regret releasing Darrelle Revis the year the four-time All-Pro cornerback helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl. And they might regret picking Mark Barron instead of Luke Kuechly in the top 10 in 2012.
But it would have been tough to predict Bennett would bloom late, the business decision on Revis didn't seem wacky at the time, and the Barron pick is just another reminder the draft is a crapshoot.
So instead, let's go with the team's decision to replace Raheem Morris with Greg Schiano in 2012.
The 2012 Bucs had Bennett, Gerald McCoy, LeGarrette Blount, Doug Martin, Lavonte David, Vincent Jackson, Donald Penn, Mason Foster and Adrian Clayborn. The 2013 team looked the same, plus Revis and minus Bennett and Blount. They had talent, and yet Schiano failed to deliver in his two seasons in charge.
He started 6-4 in 2012, but then it became obvious Schiano was already losing the roster. He lost 13 of the next 14 games and was fired at the conclusion of a four-win 2013 season.
While the ship was sinking in 2013, NFL.com's Michael Silver wrote it was "abundantly clear that Schiano and the NFL are as poor a fit as Yasiel Puig and the NLCS, on so many levels."
"Most glaringly, the autocratic Schiano operates with an inherent deficit of respect, both for America's preeminent sports league and for the men he's trying to lead. And yes, you'll notice I used the word men. That's because I've spoken to enough people who've played for Schiano during his two NFL seasons to conclude that he treats his players like children, which is a major reason he has lost his locker room."
Former GM Mark Dominik surely wishes he could have that one back, especially since he took the fall alongside Schiano.
Drafting Jake Locker eighth overall in 2011
How quickly do things move in this league? Jake Locker turned 30 on Friday, but the 2011 No. 8 overall pick hasn't thrown an NFL pass in three-and-a-half years.
Desperate for a franchise quarterback after Vince Young flamed out, the Titans were enticed by Locker's cannon arm and overlooked the fact said cannon often missed its targets. They drafted Locker, figuring they could coach him up, but that never happened.
The Washington product completed just 57.5 percent of his passes over four ugly seasons, starting just 23 games before his injury-plagued career came to an end when he was 26.
That was former GM Mike Reinfeldt's last chance to right the ship in Tennessee. He lost his job at the conclusion of Locker's rookie season, and he's probably still thinking about the fact J.J. Watt went off the board three spots after Locker.
Trading up to draft Robert Griffin III in 2012
Imagine writing this article five years ago. At the time, the blurb on the Washington Redskins would have been a no-brainer.
After all, the team's decision to give defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth a seven-year, $100 million contract in 2009 has become a cautionary tale for those who get excited about free agency. Haynesworth had been an All-Pro in each of the previous two seasons, but he played just 20 games in Washington and was out of the league just three years after signing that deal.
Yup, you'd have written this article five years ago and you wouldn't have remotely considered another mistake, let alone the Redskins' decision to trade up to select Robert Griffin III second overall in the previous year's draft.
In 2013, Griffin was coming off the highest-rated season for a rookie quarterback in NFL history. He was the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowler and one of the brightest young stars in the game.
But Griffin was also recovering from a major knee injury, suffered in a playoff loss to the Seahawks. And he never fully recovered, even if the doctors said so. He wasn't the same as a sophomore, his third season was derailed by injuries and poor play, and he didn't see the field at all in Year 4. That led to his release, a wretched one-year stint in Cleveland and then a one-year hiatus from the NFL.
He's back now and trying to earn a roster spot in Baltimore, but the Redskins lost the return on their investment long ago.
Washington surrendered three first-round picks and a second-rounder in exchange for one great season from RG3. And considering the Redskins didn't win a playoff game in that one great season, it's a mistake that casts a larger shadow than even Haynesworth.