Monday Morning Digest: Tough Decisions Loom as NFL Trade Deadline Approaches
Week 8 left Digest with so much to talk about, it's hard to figure out where to start. We saw:
• Quarterback meltdowns in New York, Denver and elsewhere
• The Eagles conquer their own fourth-quarter demons, barely
• Kareem Hunt prove he's more of a Mighty Thor than just another Guardian of the Galaxy
• The Seahawks, Panthers and others reveal their true identities
• The Rams survive Phase 1 of their month-long gauntlet
...and much more!
But we begin with a look ahead, to Tuesday's trade deadline. Who will be buying? Who will be selling? Will there be 22 players left in Oakland when Jon Gruden is done wheeling and dealing?
Digest investigates in the way only Digest can.
Priming for Tuesday's Trade Deadline
The Chiefs need to do some shopping before Tuesday's trade deadline.
They are 7-1, coming off a convincing 30-23 win over the Broncos and cruising toward a playoff berth. But there is no place for complacency among the top contenders. The Chiefs are a defender away from standing toe-to-toe with the Patriots or Rams.
Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins could be that player: a boom-or-bust cornerback for a team that can live with the bust in exchange for a little more boom. Or Cardinals hybrid defender Deone Bucannon, who can slide all over the field in coverage or on the blitz. He fits the Chiefs system, and with the Cardinals headed nowhere, he's been a staple of trade rumors for weeks.
There was already some trade deadline action last week, and there will almost certainly be more now that NFL teams are more daring about in-season deals than they were a few years ago.
With most of Week 8 in the books, here are some of the other buyers, sellers and players to keep an eye on as contenders jockey to get better...and bad teams start to cut their losses.
Receivers will fetch a premium if they hit the market
One reason the Raiders netted a first-round pick for Amari Cooper is that starting-caliber wide receivers are nearly impossible to find in midseason. (Another reason is that the Cowboys historically bid against themselves when trading for receivers, but that's not a tale for today.)
Demaryius Thomas of the Broncos caught just three passes for 30 yards Sunday and has been in the process of ceding his role in the offense to rookie Courtland Sutton all season. The trade deadline would be the ideal time for John Elway to find a team that thinks it's a possession receiver away from the playoffs. (That assumes Elway realizes that his Broncos should be in rebuilding mode, which is a big assumption.)
Most playoff contenders who might be in the receiver market—the Texans (who lost Will Fuller on Thursday night), Eagles, Dolphins (if they still think they're contenders) and so on—need an explosive speedster, not a possession target like Thomas. DeSean Jackson has asked for a trade, and while the Buccaneers reportedly told D-Jax they were in "win-now mode," that was before they lapsed into "Lose to the Bengals" and "Here we go again with Ryan Fitzpatrick" modes.
Pierre Garcon is 32 years old and was inactive for the 49ers on Sunday with minor injuries. That he's a hot name in the rumor mill indicates just how little talent there is on the receiver market.
The Eagles and Rams need a cornerback
Jalen Mills suffered a foot injury against the Jaguars. The extent of the injury was unknown at press time, but since Mills was toasted more often than a bridegroom in the first half of the season, the Eagles should be in the cornerback market even if Mills is healthy.
At 4-4, the Eagles are still in prime position to win the NFC East, which is practically an FCS conference full of medical colleges this season. Say what you will about what they gave up in the Cooper trade, but the Cowboys upgraded their receiving corps, and the Eagles must keep up in the arms race.
Jenkins and Oakland's Gareon Conley are the two most likely cornerbacks to hit the trading block, though the Giants might not want to trade Jenkins inside the division, because that's totally something a 1-7 team with a ballistics dummy at quarterback should be worrying about.
The Rams appear unstoppable until you study the deep touchdowns they gave up against the Packers on Sunday and other opponents and notice the third-degree burns all over Marcus Peters. With Aqib Talib still shelved, the Rams are thin in the secondary.
Bringing back Jenkins might be one prickly personality and contract too many for the Rams, but an affordable youngster like Conley is feasible. Again: No team can afford to be complacent.
The Browns should be sellers, again
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported Sunday that the Browns could fire offensive coordinator Todd Haley because of the team's offensive woes and the communication rift with head coach Hue Jackson.
You know how medieval villagers thought the bubonic plague was spread by cats, so they killed them all, making it easier for the flea-ridden rats who really did spread the plague to roam freely? The Browns are medieval villagers, and Jackson is, let's say, the spreader of a contagion.
Anyway, the Browns are now 2-5-1, so it's time for yet another rebuilding year in Cleveland. Trading the youth in the starting lineup makes no sense, but there are assets on the bench, starting with Tyrod Taylor, who could fetch a mid-round draft pick from a team (Jaguars, Broncos, Raiders) either seeking a short-term quarterback solution or someone to cause a little intrigue.
Tank, Raiders, Tank!
If Jon Gruden was in fire-sale mode last week, imagine the mood he will be in after Sunday's 42-28 loss to the lowly (but pesky) Colts.
Conley and safety Karl Joseph are among the most likely assets for Gruden to slough off as he puts his own spin on Moneyball (keeping old guys and getting rid of young ones). Joseph and Conley are both holdovers from the past regime, which is about all it takes to get you on the outs with Gruden these days.
Derek Carr is also a holdover, but the Raiders gave him a vote of confidence after a tumultuous week, and Carr played well Sunday (244 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers). Plus, the cap ramifications just don't add up. Look for Gruden to continue his policy of trading other assets while eroding Carr's self confidence.
Quarterbacks Could Move
Taylor isn't the only quarterback who could switch jerseys in the next 36 hours. Andrew Luck's resurgence has made backup Jacoby Brissett both expendable and enticing: young enough to be a future option, experienced enough to spot-start, affordable enough to stash on the bench.
On the other side of the cost-potential spectrum from Brissett is Sam Bradford, whose name keeps popping up in trade deadline rumors because everyone assumes that some other team wants to be the fifth one to overpay for him.
Remember the Bengals and Browns tried to work out a deal for AJ McCarron at last year's deadline before tripping over their shared ineptitude. Teams do funny things when they feel desperate at quarterback.
All's Quiet on the Le'Veon Bell Front
Any trade scenario involving the conscientious Steelers objector is too convoluted to speculate about here. We just wanted to remind everyone that he is still out there, somewhere.
Quarterback Catastrophe Digest
This may be a record-shattering year for passing statistics, but several quarterback situations around the NFL are about to leave massive, steaming impact craters. Digest is here to help you brace for the collisions.
The problem: Case Keenum threw a pair of touchdowns to wide-open (there was barely a defender in the screen) receivers, but he also threw a pick, lost a fumble and endured five sacks. The Broncos' signature passing play this season is Keenum getting flushed from the pocket and throwing five yards out of bounds.
The solution: Unfortunately, the Broncos were forced to release Chad Kelly after his real-life reinterpretation of Midnight Cowboy. And since John Elway would rather cause a supervolcano than consider Colin Kaepernick, the Broncos must either lump it with Keenum, make a bold deal for someone like Jacoby Brissett or give a shot to Kevin Hogan, who is basically Taysom Hill without the fun factor.
The problem: The Jaguars are so worried about Blake Bortles losing the game with turnovers and bad decisions that they barely play offense at all until they fall behind by two scores.
The solution: Inserting Cody Kessler and hoping to salvage the season with quarterback mediocrity wouldn't be the worst idea. Trading for Eli Manning would be. (But gosh, it would make the trade deadline fun.) But for the Jaguars, like the other teams on this list, the true worst idea was backing themselves into this predicament in the first place.
New York Giants
The problem: No one gets sacked more easily or creatively these days than Eli Manning, who can be brought down by his ankle, crumples into the fetal position when the pocket hasn't collapsed yet and will hold the ball and take a coverage sack instead of challenging a safety covering Odell Beckham Jr. deep while trailing late in the fourth quarter.
Combine the sacks with one-yard completions on 3rd-and-long, and Manning's weekly performance makes you want to give anyone who brings up his 69 percent completion rate this year a swift slap upside the dome.
The solution: The Giants might as well see what Kyle Lauletta can do so they know just how committed they must be to enter the Justin Herbert draft sweepstakes.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The problem: Jameis Winston had another one of those games in which underneath defenders were invisible to him and wide-open receivers 20 yards downfield were invitations to throw the football 30 yards. Winston threw four interceptions but could have thrown six if Bengals defenders had better hands.
Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Winston, shrugged off a dropped interception of his own and threw two touchdowns in a near-comeback, starting the clock for when Fitzgerald has his own multi-interception meltdown in a game or two.
The solution: Winston and Fitzpatrick are the same guy with different biorhythms. Head coach Dirk Koetter's best bet may be to yank them in and out of the lineup for the rest of the season to see if he can ride their hot streaks into the playoffs. It's unconventional and slightly bonkers, but admit it: You don't have any better ideas.
Game Spotlight: Rams 29, Packers 27
The Rams prevailed on the first stage of their four-part Gauntlet of Worthiness, though it wasn't easy. (Then again, a "Gauntlet of Worthiness" shouldn't be easy.)
The Packers took a 10-point lead early, and Aaron Rodgers provided his usual peppering of highlights during a late comeback. But the Rams did all of the little things:
• Converting third downs (the Rams were 8-of-18).
• Stopping third downs (the Packers converted just two of nine).
• Managing field position (the Rams turned the game around by pinning the Packers at the 1-yard line and forcing a safety).
• Making big plays on special teams (fake punt, forced fumble, the punt-and-pin play, game-winning field goal).
• And controlling the pace of the game (down to Todd Gurley's decision to forgo a final touchdown in the name of killing the clock).
The Packers didn't depend quite as heavily on Rodgers as usual, with Aaron Jones (33-yard rushing touchdown) and Kenny Clark (two sacks) pitching in with big plays. But it may be impossible to beat the Rams when they are doing so many things well, even if they start slowly.
What it means
The four-part Rams Gauntlet of Worthiness consists of this game, next week's visit to the Saints (who used jujutsu to make the Vikings beat themselves, 30-20, on Sunday night), a Week 10 effort to complete a sweep of the Seahawks (still not an easy feat) and a November 19 showdown against the Chiefs we're already drooling for.
The Vikings don't have to win all four gauntlet games—the potential Super Bowl preview against the Chiefs, ironically, is the least important one, tiebreaker-wise—but each stage of the journey will teach us more about just how Super Bowl-worthy the Rams are.
Right now, they look so solid in all three phases, plus coaching, that there's only one clear weakness: Cornerback Marcus Peters is struggling. But Peters has a habit of playing possum and going on an interception binge once teams starting attacking him.
The worst thing about this loss for the Packers is that they played about as well as they are capable of playing. On their best day, they're a clear notch below the best.
Speaking of Gauntlets of Worthiness, the Packers travel to New England next week. That would be billed as a Super Bowl preview in most years. But right now, the Packers just aren't worthy.
Player Spotlight: Kareem Hunt, Running Back, Chiefs
Kareem Hunt took a 4th-and-1 shovel pass, tapped the classic Nintendo B-button twice to hurdle over safety Will Parks and then barreled through the rest of the Broncos defense for a 23-yard touchdown to give the Chiefs the breathing room they needed for a 30-23 win.
It was Hunt's second hurdling touchdown in two weeks and his fourth receiving touchdown of the past three weeks. Not bad for a guy who gets—depending on who is hot in any given week—third to fifth billing in the Chiefs offense.
What it means
After just eight games, the Chiefs offense suffers from Marvel movie fatigue.
Remember when you first saw the Avengers standing in a circle on screen and thought, "What a golden age for fantasy adventure and wonder"? That was only a few years ago, but now you are like, "Meh, Infinity War was bloated and failed to follow a satisfying story structure, and what's the point of the Ant-Man series?"
That's the problem the Chiefs now face: Just one breathtaking highlight to punctuate a season sweep over a divisional foe? Ho-hum. They must be cooling off. Let's watch those red-hot Texans!
Hunt has just one 100-yard rushing game this season, in part because he only has one 20-carry affair. His impact in the passing game and ability to pull off every combo move on the game controller are big reasons the Chiefs are among the NFL's elite and Patrick Mahomes is in the MVP conversation. Don't take him for granted as some second-tier superhero.
A visit to the lowly Browns, who live in the DC Universe.
Eagles Fourth-Quarter (and Overtime!) 'Random Play Generator'
Last week, Digest introduced the Random (or Rare, or Ridiculous) Play Generator, an old-school dice simulation to save fans the trouble of watching Bears football. The RP generator was so popular that it returns this week to save fans the aggravation and tension of watching the ends of Eagles games.
Philadelphia held on to defeat the Jaguars 24-18 in the London breakfast game but not before giving the Jaguars multiple opportunities to come back and beat it the way the Panthers and Titans did in past weeks.
Why are Eagles fourth quarters and overtime periods so perilous this season? No need to watch the games to find out! Just spot the defending champs a 17-6 lead and keep rolling two dice and consulting the following chart until you get a final result.
If the roll is:
2: Cornerback Jalen Mills bites on a double move for an opponent's touchdown.
3: Mills gets injured, and his backup gets beaten so badly that it's hard to tell if he even bit on a double move or not.
4: The Eagles abandon the run. Repeat: The run has been abandoned.
5: But at least Nelson Agholor just caught a 1-yard pass.
6: An opposing quarterback who hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in his last 23 quarters threads a needle to the back of the end zone.
7: Opponent has a successful fourth-down conversion! (The most common result.)
8: The Eagles get a break on a turnover review, which only increases the sense of creeping dread for fans.
9: Carson Wentz ends a drive by deciding he needs to score 24 unanswered points with one throw, ignores a safe pass along the sideline and fires into triple coverage instead.
10: Some ticky-tack penalty against the Eagles, like an illegal blow to the quarterback's head, is called when a defender taps the quarterback's thigh.
11: The Eagles allow a big run from the opposing quarterback. (Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota and Cam Newton are capable of scrambling for big gains if you don't shadow them with a defender? Who knew?)
12: If facing even a semi-competent quarterback, lament another Eagles loss in a frustrating season. If facing Bortles, be glad the team got out of London with a win and wonder how long it's been since you have needed a designated driver at 12:45 p.m. Eastern.
Week 8 featured a weird, random slate of non-divisional early games. It's not often you see the Seahawks at 1 p.m. on the East Coast or a Bears-Jets game.
Unusual matchups are great opportunities to learn a team's true identity: There's no divisional familiarity or rivalry baggage for a squad to hide its true face (or weaknesses) behind. It's like the two teams meet as strangers.
Here's what we learned from this week's uncommon meetings:
Bengals 37, Buccaneers 34
Bengals' true identity: A team that has mastered the craft of beating opponents exactly like the Buccaneers in games exactly like Sunday's as a means of preserving the coaching staff's job security.
Buccaneers' true identity: If you ever wondered what it would be like to assemble the NFL's best receiving corps and then saddle it with a pair of quarterbacks who appear to close their eyes before every third throw, just watch a Buccaneers game.
Panthers 36, Ravens 21
Panthers' true identity: Genuine contenders, thanks to their willingness to let Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey do what they do best, the NFL's surest-tackling defense and...smart, modern game plans by offensive coordinator Norv Turner? (Checks notes again.) Yep, that's what it says here.
Ravens' true identity: The freakin' Ravens.
Bears 24, Jets 10
Bears' true identity: What the Chiefs would be if Blake Bortles replaced Patrick Mahomes.
Jets' true identity: The team that dithered for four years before finding a quarterback, finally drafted Sam Darnold and then rushed him into the lineup just as everyone else on the roster got injured, forcing him to try to develop by throwing to people named Deontay Burnett, Neal Sterling and Trenton Cannon.
Seahawks 28, Lions 14
Seahawks' true identity: When the team floated the idea in the offseason that it would actually be better without all of its big-name talent because the squad was hungrier and more unified, we laughed because we've heard that one about 500 times before. And while the Seahawks may not be better without the Legion of Boom and others, they look more like a football team and less like a bunch of really talented guys who aren't speaking to each other playing parking-lot pickup.
Lions' true identity: None. The Lions are the football equivalent of a Japanese horror movie ghost, an ill-defined void with no clear powers or motivations—The Spirit of Barbecued Cap Space, or something. Lions games evaporate from memory seconds after they end, with their victories best explained by their ability to mesmerize some opponents into beating themselves.
Defender of the Week: Aaron Donald had two more thunderous sacks to lead the Rams past the Packers, but we cannot give the award to Donald every week. (Or can we...? Nah.) Let's split it instead between Washington teammates Matt Ioannidis, who recorded 2.5 sacks by collapsing Eli Manning's crumple zone up the gut, and D.J. Swearinger, who picked off Manning twice. If Ioannidis and Swearinger finally ended the Eli epoch, they also deserve a ticker tape parade down Broadway.
Offensive Line of the Week: Last time we heard from the Steelers offensive line back in September, they were ripping absent teammate Le'Veon Bell and getting little personal with their paycheck comparisons. Bell is still absent, but the Steelers offensive line earned every penny on Sunday, helping James Conner and others rack up 168 rushing yards while holding the Browns pass rush to just one sack. Let's shower appreciation upon Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Matt Feller.
Special Teamer of the Week: Adam Vinatieri earns this week's award for breaking Morten Andersen's all-time NFL points record. In most sports, the all-time scoring record is one of the most-coveted records in the book. Only in the NFL is it just some old kicker accomplishment. But let's remember that not just any old kicker can climb to the top of the scoring leaderboard. Sebastian Janikowski is in his 18th NFL season but is more than 700 points behind Vinatieri. Janikowski and Adrian Peterson combined don't add up to Vinatieri, even counting Peterson's two touchdowns Sunday.
Non-Lifetime Achievement Special Teamer of the Week: Sam Shields of the Rams not only caught a fake-punt pass from Johnny Hekker but also fielded a Hekker punt and tightrope-walked along the goal line to pin the Packers at the six-inch line. The Rams defense tackled Aaron Jones for a safety on the next play, and the Rams marched down the field after the safety kick for a touchdown. Long live field-position football!
Just Like We Drew It Up Award: You probably saw the highlight of Christian McCaffrey leaping for a pass that Eric Weddle batted high into the air for a touchdown that looked more like a long rebound. What you may not have seen was the play which set that tip-drill up: D.J. Moore let an option pitch bounce off his hands, but gobbled it up in stride and ran for 28 yards. "Yep, the Panthers should call that D.J. Moore fumble play more often," writes someone who has completely erased the Washington game from his memory.
Mystery Touch Award: The Panthers wanted to run a Hail Mary play before halftime, but Cam Newton told coaches that he did not want to throw one because it was, um, a "feel" thing. Maybe he didn't feel like getting sacked or criticized for throwing an interception, or maybe Newton's just a jazz trombonist now. Anyway, Taylor Heinicke subbed for Newton and opted for a check down to Greg Olsen instead. Olsen got out of bounds in time for a long field goal. Maybe Newton should just run the plays as called; but then, maybe someone should have offered him the "throw to your favorite receiver to set up a field goal" option.
Self Catch of the Week: Carson Wentz caught a 4 yard pass from himself (deflected by Calais Campbell) on the third play of the game. Sunday morning before 10 a.m. Eastern is too early to think about self-catches. Wentz later ducked under a Campbell sack to throw a pass, prompting the veteran Pro Bowl defender to engage Wentz in a little game-recognize-game on-field chatting. Watching Wentz and Campbell play 1-on-1 basketball and trash-talk each other would be 500 times more interesting than watching Blake Bortles do anything with anyone.
Backdoor cover lovers
If you took the Broncos +9.5, you were thrilled with Vance Joseph's decision to kick a field goal to cut the Chiefs' lead to seven when the Broncos had one timeout left and less than two minutes to play.
The Chiefs were undefeated against the spread entering Sunday, but they were no match for a conservative, ineffectual head coach hoping his team would score the game-tying touchdown after an onside kick—after it showed it couldn't score on a conventional drive.
Of course, Digest fell in love with a Broncos-and-over parlay +270 and needed one more touchdown to clear the over/under at 57.5. Come to think of it, there aren't many scenarios when the offensively challenged Broncos could both cover and clear the number.
Heartbreaker of the week
Digest took the Bengals -3.5—they were at home in a low-stakes early game, a situation that usually turns them into the Lombardi Packers—and was feeling comfy right up until a rebooted Ryan Fitzpatrick entered the game. The Bengals needed a last-second field goal to preserve a non-covering 37-34 win.
The Buccaneers are now 0-2 ATS as favorites this year but 3-2 as dogs, making them a great team to avoid: If you don't believe in them, you are underestimating them—but once you believe in them, it's too late.
Lines on the move
The Saints opened as -2.5 road dogs against the Vikings at some books but were up to +1.5 favorites on Sunday morning; chalk the move up mostly to the public still trying to get a handle on the NFC hierarchy. The Saints open +1 at home against the Rams next week after taking care of the Vikings; after that game, we'll all have a handle on the NFC hierarchy.
The Rams plummeted from -10.5 opening favorites at some books to around -7.5 late Sunday morning; chalk it up to an encouraging injury report for the Packers and the public's bargain hunting for Aaron Rodgers and points. The public was on to this one, with the Packers easily covering in a 29-27 loss. If Todd Gurley had scored that final touchdown instead of going down on purpose to kill the clock, the moving spread would have really mattered.
The Colts and Raiders blew past the over of 51 early in the fourth quarter of the 42-28 Colts win. The Colts have cleared the over four times in the last five games; the house and public are still catching up to their ever-improving offense (and porous defense).
The 49ers and Cardinals could not clear a lowly 41 in the 18-15 Cardinals win. But then, who on earth would bet this game?
Monday Night Action: New England Patriots (-14) at Buffalo Bills.
Fun fact: The Bills are the last team to be playing their first divisional game. That means the second half of the NFL season schedule will be full of Bills-Jets and Bills-Dolphins games. Try to contain your enthusiasm.
The Patriots have covered their last five two-touchdown-favorite spreads, dating back to 2015, but failed to cover three straight before that.
Digest leans Patriots but hates two-touchdown NFL spreads and hates the over/under at 44 (the Bills could easily lose 37-3). But DraftKings offers a +140 prop on Derek Anderson throwing over 0.5 touchdown passes or, if you like the Powerball, a +600 prop on Anderson throwing more touchdown passes than Tom Brady! Remember that garbage time counts. Sadly, pick-sixes do not.
Digest's weekly issues-and-answers segment. It's like Face the Nation but less soul-crushing.
Backup quarterback Chad Kelly is released by the Broncos after he is arrested for trespassing; per police reports, Kelly allegedly wandered into a strangers' home wearing a cowboy costume from a team party and was chased off by a resident wielding a vacuum-cleaner hose.
Point: Boy, this season of Westworld really jumped the shark in a hurry.
Counterpoint: John Elway released Kelly because he does not want anyone embarrassing the Broncos organization—while Elway takes part in a pro-fracking political campaign?
Merril Hoge, who once won a concussion-related lawsuit, co-authors a book titled Brainwashed: The Bad Science Behind CTE and the Plot to Destroy Football.
Point: Thanks but no thanks, Merril. If we wanted to hear lots of science-bashing and zany anti-media conspiracy theories motivated by self-interest, we'd just follow mainstream politics.
Counterpoint: Now that we've dunked on Merril Hoge, let's return to our regularly scheduled, totally consistent media position on CTE: Football at all levels is a death sentence tearing apart the fabric of society...and...and...Click Here for This Week's Fantasy Start-Sits!
Dak Prescott reveals that he often uses smelling salts during games.
Point: So that's what it takes to stay awake when the Cowboys have the ball!
Counterpoint: Smelling salts have been traditionally used on the sideline to ward off concussion symptoms. We're not sure whether to downplay this fact and risk appearing in Hoge's next deposition or sensationalize it and risk ending up in his next bestseller.
NFL.com's online store blocks users from purchasing custom Rae Carruth jerseys after the former Panthers receiver was released from an 18-year prison term for conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend.
Point: Digest harbors the hope that the "fans" attempting the purchase were actually journalists and activists testing the NFL's website to see if it was possible. You know, just like how all of the people who subscribed to Flat Earther newsletters years ago were scientists and skeptics keeping tabs on them. And then the NBA went flat-Earth. Sigh. Perhaps we're being a little too hopeful.
Counterpoint: You cannot get a Carruth jersey, but the First Amendment protects your right to cut felt letters and stick them on a Panthers jersey if you really feel compelled to cosplay this individual. Just make sure you spell the name correctly before leaving the house: "I M A LOSER."
The 5 Awful Strategies You Meet at the Trade Deadline
The approach of Tuesday's trade deadline brings out both the best and the worst in NFL front offices, with shrewd execs plucking players from flailing organizations trapped in never-ending rebuilding cycles (or, in the case of Raiders-Cowboys trades, a pair of preschoolers swapping Digimon cards).
One reason the NFL achievement gap is so large is that so many bad decision-makers fall into one of five bad-decision-maker archetypes. Use the following chart to see if your organization is in the hands of someone who adheres to a failed football philosophy. If so…you may just want to start scouring mock drafts. For the year 2021 or so.
The Culture Changer
This coach/general manager wants to overhaul the roster and create a "winning culture," which means bringing in "his guys"—players from past stops who are less talented than the players on the current roster but are "winners." The culture changers also either remove the pool table from the locker room to signal that they're no-nonsense or add a pool table to the locker room to signal that they treat players "like men."
Examples: The McBeane Bros in Buffalo, Jon Gruden's Raiders.
Net result: A team of hardworking, hungry veterans that finishes 5-11 or worse.
The QB Procrastinator
There's no sense in drafting a quarterback until an exact clone of Tom Brady appears! The rebuild really won't begin until then, so ownership just has to give this coach/GM another few years of absolute job security to sort things out.
Examples: The Sashi Browns, Mike Maccagnan's Jets for three years, soon-to-be Jon Gruden's Raiders.
Net result: After finally drafting a quarterback, the QB Procrastinator justifies a disappointing rookie year by citing the need to spend a few years building a supporting cast.
The Pump-Fake Contender
Hey, a quick turnaround is always possible in the NFL, so let's grab some veterans and aim for a wild-card berth and a General Manager of the Year award! That buys a year or two of good press and vibes before everyone gets old and expensive; then the brain trust reveals it was secretly a QB Procrastinator or Culture Changer all along.
Examples: Mike Maccagnan's Jets, the Giants (on and off) for the last two years, Jon Gruden's Raiders.
Net result: Memories of that glorious year you almost made the playoffs with a 36-year-old quarterback to carry fans through a half-decade of rebuilding cycles.
The Authority Asserter
Who's in charge here? The new exec or head coach, that's who! How does he prove it? Wildly trading everything that's not nailed down so the organization is on notice. The Authority Asserter is like the Culture Changer on powerful hallucinogens, willing to make the boldest, dumbest moves simply to prove that he's the one making the moves.
Examples: Hue Jackson's tenure with the Raiders, Chip Kelly's Eagles, Jon Gruden's Raiders
Net result: After ownership kicks in the office doors and liberates the survivors of the coup, the next regime is left to wander amid the rubble, quoting Ozymandias and wondering what to do with Sam Bradford.
The Moneyball Dabbler
All a Culture Changer, QB Procrastinator or Authority Asserter needs to do to get a vocal segment of the fanbase on his side while noodling aimlessly with the roster is collect a few draft picks in trades and mutter something soothing about cap space. Suddenly, he's the Stephen Hawking of analytics, playing a 3D chess game that mere mortals cannot hope to comprehend. Even Pump-Fake Contenders who splurged for veterans can wrap themselves in junk science when it fails, because no one has a short-term memory anymore!
Examples: Just about every regime that guts its roster these days can count on some contrarians stroking their beards and declaring it Moneyball brilliance. Even Jon Gruden's Raiders.
Net result: An entire football subculture that's convinced future third-round picks are more exciting and important than victories.