Every NFL Team's Most Boneheaded Decision This Year
It's easy to nitpick NFL teams with the benefit of hindsight.
But glossing past obvious hindsight mistakes, each team has made at least one gaffe since the offseason that created startling repercussions not just for this season, but for its long-term outlook.
These personnel decisions, contracts or odd prioritization of need, among other items, have done more harm than good.
Look, just because Warren Sharp is feeling under the weather (feel better, our fearless football forecaster!) doesn't mean Warren Sharp's amazing info didn't make it onto the show! Warren downloaded his EDSR and Over/Under data onto Lefkoe, and he and producer Ingber breakdown nearly every game on the Week 12 slate. Also, four teams are making some criminally bad decisions on 2nd-and-long; the quartet of coaches will not shock you, but it just might help you win some money. And that's what we're all about! Be sure to check out the latest episode of The Lefkoe Show.
Arizona Cardinals: Ignoring Offensive Line
It's easy to identify the Arizona Cardinals' biggest mistake in 2018. Hiring head coach Mike McCoy derailed their season, although it did put them on the path to No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray.
This year, it's just as simple: protection for Murray.
The Cardinals didn't take the problem seriously, which is evident through 11 games. Marcus Gilbert was their only big offensive line addition in the offseason, and Murray is nearly tied for league lead with 35 sacks.
Yes, some of this is on the rookie passer. But take away Murray's mobility, and the number might be worse.
In a league where players such as Andrew Luck have retired early, the Cardinals have started a new quarterback era off on the wrong foot.
Atlanta Falcons: Retaining Dan Quinn
The writing has been on the wall for Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn for a while now.
Atlanta did the right thing in the offseason by using a pair of first-round picks on offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary to help protect franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. But the lack of change at head coach coming off a 7-9 season was questionable, especially since a three-game win streak to close last year inflated that record.
Through 11 weeks, Atlanta has regressed as expected, though the severity of it wasn't easy to predict. The Falcons are 3-7, although they've shown signs of life with two consecutive blowout wins after their Week 9 bye.
Everything has been downhill for the Falcons after Ryan's MVP year lifted the Falcons to Super Bowl LI. Things just haven't been the same since the 28-3 debacle in that game.
Baltimore Ravens: Letting Za'Darius Smith Walk
It's hard to poke holes in the Baltimore Ravens right now. They have an MVP contender in Lamar Jackson under center and a commanding lead in the AFC North at 8-2.
However, NFL teams can never have enough pass-rushers. As such, it was a mistake to let outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith walk in free agency.
Smith has gone on to flourish with the Green Bay Packers, matching his career high of 8.5 sacks in only 10 games. He's also five off his career-best mark of 25 quarterback hits, too.
Meanwhile, the Ravens have only 23 sacks on the year, well behind the San Francisco 49ers' league-high 39.
The Packers signed Smith to a mammoth four-year, $66 million deal, which put him among the league leaders in average salary at his position. However, the Ravens lost out by not betting on Smith to further blossom in his fifth season and beyond.
Buffalo Bills: The Tyler Kroft Contract
The Buffalo Bills underwent a massive roster overhaul during the offseason.
To help quarterback Josh Allen, the Bills signed wide receiver Cole Beasley and running back Frank Gore. They also added rookie lineman Cody Ford and free agents Mitch Morse and Ty Nsekhe, among others.
But lost in the flurry of moves was their gamble on tight end Tyler Kroft.
Over his four seasons in Cincinnati, Kroft caught more than 11 passes in a season only once and was primarily used as a blocking presence. He also appeared in only five games during his final season there.
The Bills saw something in Kroft's upside but it hasn't translated, as he has only three catches in five games. His three-year, $18.75 million deal seems like a whiff, especially with Dawson Knox cruising as the team's third-leading receiver.
Carolina Panthers: Spending the 100th Pick on Will Grier
The blueprint seemed simple: If quarterback Cam Newton went down, the Carolina Panthers would turn to 100th overall pick Will Grier.
So much for that.
Grier had a dreadful preseason, so when Newton went down with a foot injury after Week 2, the Panthers turned to former undrafted free agent Kyle Allen. The 23-year-old has gone 5-3 as a starter, although he was abysmal in a Week 11 loss to the Falcons, throwing four interceptions and zero touchdowns.
Perhaps Grier will eventually flip this narrative. But the 5-5 Panthers assuredly would have liked to get a more immediate return from a top-100 pick.
Chicago Bears: Failing to Bolster Tight End
The Chicago Bears didn't sign a new tight end in free agency, and they didn't use one of their five draft selections on one, either. That meant taking a leap of faith on Trey Burton, who caught six touchdowns last year during his first season with the team but underwent offseason sports hernia surgery.
Burton made it through just eight games and caught only 14 passes this season before going to injured reserve with a calf injury.
Only one Bears target in the passing game has more than 334 yards receiving, and given Mitchell Trubisky's struggles at quarterback, it sure would've helped to have a big-bodied target at tight end.
The problem isn't just Chicago's 4-6 record; it's the risk of irreparable damage to Trubisky's development. The Bears might not only ruin all the assets they invested to get him, but they may also have to start over at the position again.
Cincinnati Bengals: Bringing Back Preston Brown
The 0-10 Cincinnati Bengals have plenty of holes.
However, their decision to bring back linebacker Preston Brown was inexcusable.
After getting seven mediocre games from Brown last year on a prove-it deal, the Bengals signed him to a three-year, $16.5 million extension. They proceeded to cut him nine games into this season, which means they'll have roughly $2.5 million in dead money on their books for each of the next two seasons, according to ESPN's Ben Baby.
The Bengals' conservative front office rarely eats cap space to cut players, much less in the first year of their extension. Meanwhile, one of the league's worst defenses continues to search for answers.
Cleveland Browns: Freddie Kitchens
It isn't too early to say that hiring Freddie Kitchens as their head coach stands out as the Cleveland Browns' biggest mistake.
Kitchens seemed to get the credit for quarterback Baker Mayfield's midseason turnaround last year. Despite the lack of a resume suggesting he should be a head coach, the Browns hired him in place of interim head coach Gregg Williams this offseason.
Mayfield has grossly regressed under Kitchens, whose play-calling has helped to limit him to a 59.2 completion percentage with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Besides Kitchens' bad play-calling, the Browns' 4-6 record has undercut the hype of what looked like a playoff contender. And Kitchens seems to be having a brutal time with culture, as evidenced by the Myles Garrett fight and Odell Beckham Jr.'s consistent uniform violations and other drama.
Dallas Cowboys: Not Paying Up for a Safety
The Dallas Cowboys are fourth in the NFL in points per game (28.6) thanks to great coaching and a pass-oriented attack. But their defense has coughed up 24 or more points in three of their four losses and remains their weak point.
While Dallas has a loaded roster on paper, safety remains a question mark.
The Cowboys always seemed destined to spend big on a star free-agent safety like Earl Thomas or Landon Collins, but they didn't. They also didn't address that position in the draft until the sixth round, when they selected Donovan Wilson out of Texas A&M.
The Cowboys' secondary has struggled this year, while safety Jeff Heath has a mediocre 59.5 season grade at Pro Football Focus.
Denver Broncos: Trading for Joe Flacco
After years of middling quarterback play, the Denver Broncos traded a fourth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for veteran Joe Flacco in March.
They ended up getting more middling quarterback play.
Flacco, who completed only 61.2 percent of his passes while throwing 12 touchdowns and six interceptions during his final season in Baltimore, was no better in Denver. In his eight starts before going on injured reserve with a neck injury, Flacco completed 65.3 percent of his passes while throwing six touchdowns and five interceptions en route to a 2-6 record.
The Broncos spent a second-round pick on Drew Lock in April, so they have a backup plan in place moving forward. However, they'll have $13.6 million in dead money on their books if they cut Flacco prior to June 1, which is a steep price to pay after giving up a fourth-round pick to acquire him.
Detroit Lions: Failing to Improve Pass Rush
Cascading mistakes have hurt the Detroit Lions.
Losing tight end Eric Ebron in free agency last year seemingly led the Lions to select Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson with the eight overall pick this year. But that meant they couldn't spend that pick on bolstering their pass rush, even though players such as Florida State's Brian Burns were still on the board.
The Lions did sign defensive end Trey Flowers to a mammoth five-year, $90 million deal, and he has 5.0 sacks in 10 games. However, the rest of his teammates have combined for 15, which puts the Lions in a tie for the fourth-fewest sacks leaguewide.
While the 3-6-1 Lions have plenty of problems, including quarterback Matthew Stafford's recent back injury, failing to properly bolster the pass rush in free agency or the draft was a huge mistake in a division featuring Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins.
Green Bay Packers: Not Addressing WR
The Green Bay Packers didn't do much to bolster their receiving depth chart this offseason, and it shows.
Star receiver Davante Adams has played in only six games, yet he still leads the team in both catches (39) and receiving yards (537). Second-year wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling is right behind him at 420 yards and two scores, but he has caught only 22 of his 42 targets.
After those two, running back Aaron Jones (354 yards) and tight end Jimmy Graham (310 yards) outpace any other Packers receiver.
Thanks to a strong defense, the Packers' lack of receiver production hasn't been much of a problem yet. But an offense converting only 37.2 percent of its third-down chances will struggle in the playoffs if that doesn't improve.
Aaron Rodgers is the type of quarterback who can elevate the play of those around him. But failing to bolster the wideout depth chart is hurting the Packers right now, even if it hasn't derailed them.
Houston Texans: Not Paying Up for Jadeveon Clowney
The Houston Texans franchise-tagged Jadeveon Clowney in March, but they were unable to reach an agreement on a long-term extension by the July 15 deadline. According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans "had decided they weren't going to pay him $100 million, no matter how many players signed contracts in that stratosphere."
As a result, they traded him to the Seattle Seahawks for a 2020 third-round pick, linebacker Jacob Martin and outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo.
Clowney has been a constant headache for quarterbacks in Seattle, where he has tallied three sacks and 27 pressures over 10 games to date.
Meanwhile, the Texans have only 21 sacks on the season, and only three players have three or more. They have the sixth-fewest sacks of any team across the league.
While sacks aren't everything, the Texans desperately miss Clowney. That was never more apparent than during their blowout 41-7 loss to Baltimore in Week 11, during which Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson ran roughshod over them both on the ground and through the air.
Indianapolis Colts: Not Doing More to Upgrade Receiving Corps
Although starting quarterback Andrew Luck unexpectedly retired during the preseason, the Indianapolis Colts have hung tough in the AFC South at 6-4.
It sure wouldn't hurt for quarterback Jacoby Brissett to have more pass-catching options around him, though.
Injuries have limited star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton to only six games, which explains why second-year wideout Zach Pascal leads the team with 364 receiving yards. Tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle and running back Nyheim Hines are third, fourth and fifth on the team's receiving list, respectively.
Devin Funchess, who the Colts signed to a one-year, $10 million contract this offseason, has only three catches for 32 yards on the season. He broke his collarbone in Week 1 and hasn't played since, although he returned to practice last week.
The Funchess contract was always a bit strange, even if we take out the unfortunate injury. In four seasons with Carolina, he never lived up to his second-round status, catching more than five touchdowns in a season just once despite playing with Cam Newton. Even worse, his catch percentage was never higher than 56.8 percent, and he had a career average of just 51.8 percent over 311 targets.
While the Colts front office has had far more hits than misses lately, the Funchess signing—and the inability to do even more during the offseason—set the team back this year and places an emphasis on the receiver position going into this offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Standing Pat at WR
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed quarterback Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract this offseason, although a broken collarbone has limited him to only two appearances thus far.
But after signing Foles, the Jaguars failed to substantially upgrade his supporting cast.
Second-year wideout DJ Chark Jr. is in the midst of a breakout campaign with 796 yards and eight scores, but he has been the Jaguars' lone offensive standout. Free-agent addition Chris Conley has caught only 29 of his 54 targets for 519 yards, while Dede Westbrook has 415 yards on 36 receptions.
The Jaguars may deserve some benefit of the doubt since sixth-round rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II was under center for much of the season. But the Jaguars' decision to stand relatively pat on offense after adding Foles has come back to bite them.
If Chark isn't a one-hit wonder, the Jaguars at least have one guy to build around.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Darron Lee Trade
Like most great teams, the Kansas City Chiefs don't have a ton of negatives to highlight.
However, their trade for outside linebacker Darron Lee is the exception to that rule.
The Chiefs sent a sixth-round pick to the New York Jets to acquire Lee, who is in the final year of his rookie contract. However, the 2016 first-rounder has allowed catches on all 13 of his targets and has missed 18.5 percent of his tackles.
The Chiefs invested a lot this offseason in an overhaul of their defensive scheme. If a low-risk gamble like Lee is one of their primary whiffs, they largely did well for themselves.
Los Angeles Chargers: Picking Jerry Tillery at No. 28
Many of the Los Angeles Chargers' problems weren't easy to foresee coming into the year.
That includes the play of defensive lineman Jerry Tillery, who the Chargers selected with the 28th overall pick in April.
During the draft, Tillery seemed like a solid pick who could help bolster the inside of the Chargers' defense. However, the Notre Dame product has played on only 40.5 percent of L.A.'s defensive snaps this season.
Tillery has only 1.5 sacks and 11 total tackles in 11 games this year, and he has started in only three games. If he can't become more consistently productive moving forward, the Chargers may grow to regret spending their first-round pick on him this year.
Los Angeles Rams: Still Relying on Rob Havenstein
The Los Angeles Rams aren't out of playoff contention yet, but they're a far cry from the Super Bowl form they displayed last season.
Some of the blame falls on a fading offensive line. The Rams didn't do a good job future-proofing the unit, which includes veteran tackle Rob Havenstein.
When relying upon a mediocre quarterback like Jared Goff, a team needs to give him plenty of time in the pocket. The Rams should have sought to upgrade their offensive line this offseason, particularly giving themselves insurance for Havenstein.
Miami Dolphins: Trading Minkah Fitzpatrick
The Miami Dolphins might have been too overzealous in the pursuit of a rebuild.
There's perhaps no better example than how Minkah Fitzpatrick has played since Miami sent him to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Dolphins received an offer they thought they couldn't refuse, as a first- and fifth-round pick in 2020 and another late pick in 2021 isn't a bad haul by any means. But Fitzpatrick is even better.
The 2018 No. 11 overall pick has five interceptions in eight games with the Steelers, and that's just scratching the surface of what he's done. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have six interceptions on the year.
The relationship between Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins might have been ruined, but that isn't a good enough excuse here. Trading a second-year top-15 pick is silly, and it already shows.
Minnesota Vikings: Paying Up for Anthony Barr
The Minnesota Vikings' dalliance with outside linebacker Anthony Barr this offseason was strange.
Barr initially intended to sign with the New York Jets in free agency, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. However, he quickly developed cold feet and instead returned to the Vikings on a massive five-year, $67.5 million contract.
Given Barr's athleticism and importance to the defense, that seemed like a worthy investment. But that's a lot of money for a linebacker with a 56.5 grade at Pro Football Focus (down from 71.4 last year) who has allowed a 64.3 completion percentage on 42 targets.
The Vikings have about only $2 million in available cap space, which suggests the money they gave Barr would have better spent elsewhere.
New England Patriots: Signing Antonio Brown
That sure seemed to be the case at first. In his first game with the Patriots, Brown hauled in four of his eight targets for 56 yards and a score.
However, that wound up being his only game with the Patriots. They released him the following week amid allegations of rape and sexual assault.
Brown's brief tenure in New England made the team look bad, and instead of investing that money in players who could help for the long term, it went to waste.
New Orleans Saints: Signing Jared Cook
The New Orleans Saints' decision to sign tight end Jared Cook to a two-year, $15 million contract seemed like a decent idea at the time. The offense had been missing a big-play tight end ever since Jimmy Graham's departure in 2015.
But the big potential drawback of a Cook signing was an age-related drop-off. The veteran turned 32 over the offseason, and the regression has seemingly kicked into gear.
A year removed from scoring six times in Oakland, Cook has struggled in eight appearances, catching 23-of-39 targets for 275 yards and three scores. He's registered only 16 first downs compared to 46 a season ago.
Cook had to catch passes from backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for four games, which helps to explain the downtick in production. But he's only fourth on the Saints in targets, which seems telling.
New York Giants: Sticking with Pat Shurmur
Pat Shurmur, who guided the Cleveland Browns to a 9-23 record during his two seasons as their head coach, seemed like an odd choice for the New York Giants before last season.
After he directed the Giants to a 5-11 record during his debut campaign, it was surprising that they didn't yank the rug out from under him this offseason.
Instead, the Giants stuck with him, but they've gotten even worse. They're now 2-8 heading into Week 12, which means Shurmur has a career record of 17-42 as a head coach.
The Giants' front office hasn't given Shurmur enough talent to compete in the NFC East, but his seat is getting warmer by the week regardless.
New York Jets: Drafting Jachai Polite
Weeks before firing general manager Mike Maccagnan, the New York Jets permitted him to make the calls on draft day. One of those was Florida edge-rusher Jachai Polite, a third-round pick with question marks.
The Jets wound up cutting Polite at the end of August as part of their final roster cutdown.
That saga is emblematic of the dysfunctional Jets organization. They allowed a soon-to-be-fired executive to waste the No. 68 pick on a gamble like Polite instead of making a meaningful pick in the top 100.
The Jets have plenty of issues to correct moving forward. As such, they can't afford high-risk gambles with premium assets for the time being.
Oakland Raiders: Acquiring Antonio Brown
It takes a special set of circumstances for one player to pop up on a list of team mistakes twice.
So goes the Antonio Brown saga, from which the Oakland Raiders suffered greatly, too.
The Raiders traded for the embattled wideout after it first seemed like he was headed for the Buffalo Bills. Oakland ended up sending a third- and fifth-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Brown, and they signed him to a three-year, $50.125 million extension as well.
Then the sheer chaos began.
Brown was sidelined for much of the offseason with a mysterious foot injury, and he got into a confrontation with general manager Mike Mayock before publicly begging for his release. After the Raiders obliged, he promptly signed with the Patriots, but that proved to be short-lived as well.
The Raiders are still dealing with the ramifications of acquiring Brown. Not only did they lose assets, but they remain wrapped up in a grievance over their decision to void the guaranteed money on his contract.
Philadelphia Eagles: Letting Mike Groh Continue to Steer Offense
The Philadelphia Eagles experienced a setback on offense last year under coordinator Mike Groh. That caused ESPN's Tim McManus to list him as a hot-seat candidate heading into the season.
Perhaps the Eagles should have been more proactive in getting a fresh set of eyes in the coordinator seat.
The 5-5 Eagles are averaging only 23.4 points per game this season, which ranks 14th leaguewide. Carson Wentz 's completion percentage has dipped about eight percentage points to 61.2, and tight end Zach Ertz is the team's leading receiver. Meanwhile, wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor aren't even sniffing the 400-yard mark yet.
The Eagles have regressed offensively since Frank Reich's departure following their Super Bowl LII victory in February 2018. It has hurt not only this season, but it creates more questions for the upcoming offseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Signing Donte Moncrief
Donte Moncrief seemed like a mistake from the moment the Pittsburgh Steelers signed him to a two-year, $9 million deal.
Although they needed a complement to star receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster after trading Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders, Moncrief wasn't the answer. He had only 2,543 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns during his first five seasons with the Colts and Jaguars.
Moncrief fared no better in Pittsburgh, where he caught only four passes for 18 yards in five games. The Steelers wound up releasing him in early November to ensure they wouldn't lose a third-round compensatory pick, according to ESPN's Brooke Pryor.
Meanwhile, third-round rookie receiver Diontae Johnson has quickly emerged as the playmaker the Steelers were hoping Moncrief would become. He has 32 catches for 380 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games, and he's developing a rapport with fill-in quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Moncrief felt like a waste of resources when the Steelers first signed him, and that's even more obvious now.
San Francisco 49ers: Paying Up for Kwon Alexander
Somebody was going to pay up for Kwon Alexander. And it always seemed likely to end up as a whiff.
That somebody turned out to be the San Francisco 49ers.
The Niners gave Alexander a four-year, $54 million contract, which was risky considering he played in all 16 games only once over his first four seasons and missed 10 games in Tampa Bay last year.
Alexander recorded 34 tackles over eight games for the 49ers, but he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in their Week 9 win over the Arizona Cardinals and is out for the remainder of the season.
The 49ers can cut Alexander this offseason and incur only $3 million in dead cap space, but the initial investment on the risk backfired.
Seattle Seahawks: Selecting L.J. Collier in the 1st Round
The Seattle Seahawks turned heads when they selected TCU defensive end L.J. Collier with the 29th overall pick in this year's draft.
B/R's Matt Miller graded Collier as a second-round pick, and he has played only 10.1 percent of the possible defensive snaps in his six appearances to date. While the sample remains limited, the early returns aren't great, as Collier has mustered a mediocre 47.9 grade at Pro Football Focus.
Between guard Germain Ifedi (2016) and running back Rashaad Penny (2018), the Seahawks' hit rate on recent first-round picks leaves much to be desired. Collier appears as though he may be joining that ignominious company.
Collier suffered an ankle sprain in late July, which might have delayed his development. But the Seahawks can't be encouraged by what they've seen thus far.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Giving Jameis Winston Another Year
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers remain stuck in purgatory, in large part because of quarterback Jameis Winston.
Rather than moving on from the turnover-prone signal-caller, the Bucs decided to give Winston another shot under first-head head coach Bruce Arians. But the combination of Tampa's poor offensive line and Arians' system requiring extended dropbacks hasn't been kind to him.
Winston leads the league in both interceptions (18) and sacks (36), and he's had a whopping 17 turnovers ins his last five games alone. He's also completing only 59.6 percent of his passes, a marked downgrade from the 64.6 percent he completed last season.
Rather than select Winston's heir apparent with the No. 5 pick in this year's draft, the Buccaneers instead took linebacker Devin White, who has impressed as a rookie. But at 3-7, they might not wind up being bad enough to get one of the top passers in the 2020 draft class.
Tennessee Titans: Not Starting Ryan Tannehill Sooner
Between an array of injuries and different offensive coordinators, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota had an up-and-down first four seasons in the NFL.
The fifth one was no better.
The Titans stuck with Mariota heading into the year, perhaps in the hope that new receivers like Adam Humphries and second-round rookie A.J. Brown could help salvage whatever he might have left. However, he completed only 59.1 percent of his passes across his six games, during which the Titans went 2-4.
Backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill has since replaced Mariota in the starting lineup and has a 3-1 record as a starter while completing 71.3 percent of his passes.
The Titans might have thrown away their playoff hopes by sticking with Mariota for too long.
Washington Redskins: Going into the Year with Jay Gruden
Jay Gruden should have never entered the 2019 season as the Washington Redskins' head coach.
Gruden went 4-12, 9-7, 8-7-1, 7-9 and 7-9 since taking over the Redskins in 2014. Those seven-win campaigns near the end of his tenure with one of the most consistently injured rosters in the NFL likely earned him some leeway.
Good coaches overcome those sorts of issues in the long run, but Gruden couldn't. After the Redskins started the season 0-5, owner Dan Snyder fired him the following morning.
If any stretch adversity was going to cost Gruden the gig, why have him start the year at all?
The Redskins once again have a wealth of injuries, attendance problems and a brutal support system for first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins. A more cohesive vision between head coach and front office would've helped the rookie's development, but now one has to wonder if irreparable damage has been done.