The 1 Player Each NFL Team Gave Up on Too Soon

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJuly 18, 2020

The 1 Player Each NFL Team Gave Up on Too Soon

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    Sports fans are naturally inclined to wonder about what might have been.

    What if their favorite team didn't pass on Tom Brady numerous times?

    What if another organization saw Patrick Mahomes' potential before the Kansas City Chiefs traded up for the league's first half-billion-dollar man?

    What if the Green Bay Packers decided not to take a chance on a Brett Favre trade?

    Our task is to watch and wonder what might have been since nobody forgets the bad beats.

    In this instance, what could have been centers on the possibilities ruined by a lack of foresight. Every organization has given up on a potential franchise-changing talent, investing time and/or draft assets in a player with the hopes of developing him, only to move on before they should have.

    To be clear, these individuals didn't choose to sign elsewhere in free agency. Their previous teams traded or released them long before their contributions reached career pinnacles and/or fulfillment.

Arizona Cardinals: TE Jay Novacek

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    The Arizona Cardinals are professional football's oldest continually run franchise. A lot of futility exists from 1898 until now, but the glaring mistake of giving up on a draftee too soon isn't readily available.

    However, the organization traded a fringe Hall of Fame talent who went on to become a big part of a dynasty.

    The Cardinals selected tight end Jay Novacek in the sixth round of the 1985 draft. He played five seasons with the franchise and never managed more than 38 receptions or 569 receiving yards. Head coach Joe Bugel, who took over in 1990, didn't see Novacek as a fit for his scheme and left him unprotected in Plan B free agency.

    In six seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, the tight end caught 339 passes for 3,576 yards while making five consecutive Pro Bowls and winning three Super Bowls.

Atlanta Falcons: QB Brett Favre

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    Oh, what could have been been if the Atlanta Falcons found a way to tame a young Brett Favre.

    Then-coach Jerry Glanville tried.

    "I tried everything with Brett," Glanville said, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's I.J. Rosenberg. "He needed to grow up, and he was young, and I even flew in his parents to try to help me with him. But I couldn't get him to function. ... But sooner or later, one guy can't be bigger than the organization."

    To be fair, the Falcons traded Favre to the Green Bay Packers after veteran quarterback Chris Miller made the Pro Bowl.

    Unfortunately, concussions stunted Miller's career, while Favre left the game as its all-time leader in regular-season passing yards and touchdowns before being surpassed by Peyton Manning. The Hall of Fame inductee remains the game's standard-bearer for consecutive starts (321).

Baltimore Ravens: LB Jamie Sharper

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    The Baltimore Ravens don't have a long history considering the franchise's previous existence belongs to the reinvented Cleveland Browns. Furthermore, the Ravens have consistently been one of the league's best drafting teams since they moved to Baltimore in 1996.

    As such, few flubbed decisions arose during former general manager Ozzie Newsome's 22 years as a team executive. Leaving linebacker Jamie Sharper unprotected during the Houston Texans' expansion draft was one, though.

    Baltimore was more than $20 million over the salary cap at the time and had to shed salary. The Texans chose Sharper fifth overall in the '02 expansion draft.

    The cost-cutting move meant the Ravens lost one of the league's most productive defenders. Between '02 and '04, Sharper started every game and amassed 442 tackles, including a league-leading 166 stops during the '03 campaign.

Buffalo Bills: RB Marshawn Lynch

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    The "Beast quake" emerged in the Great Northwest but rumblings started in Buffalo with the Bills organization.

    Former general manager Buddy Nix decided he didn't want to deal with Lynch's eclectic personality and off-field issues, so he traded him to the Seattle Seahawks for a pair of mid-round draft picks in October 2010. The Bills moved forward with Fred Jackson and 2010 ninth overall pick C.J. Spiller, while Lynch became a superstar in Seattle.

    Lynch played well for the Bills, with a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns and a Pro Bowl berth.

    However, he became a game-changing talent with his second squad. He imposed his will on opponents and gave the Seahawks an offensive identity during their glorious Legion of Boom years. He went to four straight Pro Bowls between 2011 and '14 and recorded a career-high 1,590 yards during the 2012 campaign.

Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton

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    The Carolina Panthers took arguably the best player in franchise history and tossed him aside this offseason.

    After two injury-plagued campaigns by quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers released him.

    Where he stands in his recovery and how he'll perform with the New England Patriots are both unknown. Yet, the Panthers were likely rash in their haste to move on from the 2015 league MVP as the new regime took hold.

    "I'm excited to have him here. I want him to be here. I want to coach him," head coach Matt Rhule told reporters a month before the organization released the three-time Pro Bowl signal-caller.

    Newton's replacement, Teddy Bridgewater, could play well. However, his upside is limited compared to Newton due to the previous starter's combination of size, athleticism and overall arm talent. The '11 first overall pick helped revolutionize the position, and he's still young enough (31) to provide the same type of presence in New England.

Chicago Bears: TE Greg Olsen

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    Instead of trying to explain why the Chicago Bears' decision to trade tight end Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers was the wrong one, the general manager who executed the deal, Jerry Angelo, can do it himself.

    "I understood he wasn't the ideal fit in [Mike Martz's] scheme, but we let our best receiver go," Angelo said during an interview on WGWG Chicago in 2014 (via NFL.com's Chris Wesseling). "Obviously, it was [Jay] Cutler's favorite receiver at the time. ... That's on me. I understood what the coaches were saying, but you don't let one of your better players out the door."

    In nine seasons with the Panthers, Olsen became the franchise's third all-time leading receiver with 524 receptions for 6,463 yards. The tight end also made three Pro Bowls.

    The Bears used the third-round pick they received in return on safety Brandon Hardin, who never played in a regular-season contest.

Cincinnati Bengals: QB Boomer Esiason

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    Boomer Esiason's best seasons came during his time with the Cincinnati Bengals, but there's always a question about the right time to end a relationship.

    The New York Jets traded a third-round pick to the Bengals prior to the 1993 campaign to pair Esiason with head coach Bruce Coslet, who previously served as the quarterback's offensive coordinator in Cincinnati.

    During their first season together, Esiason posted a then-career high 60.9 percent completion rate and 3,421 passing yards on his way to his fourth and final Pro Bowl.

    Normally, it doesn't turn out to be a disaster when an organization trades a franchise player near the end of his career. In this particular case, the Bengals handed the reins to David Klingler, who is considered one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.

Cleveland Browns: RB Earnest Byner

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    The Cleveland Browns are well-known for their terrible roster decisions, especially in recent years.

    Two of the most high-profile mistakes actually came over 50 years ago. But running back Jim Brown chose to retire instead of caving to team owner Art Modell's demands, and Paul Warfield's best years came before Cleveland traded the wide receiver to the Miami Dolphins.

    The latter isn't true for running back Earnest Byner. Byner's career is often defined by "The Fumble," which cost the Browns a potential Super Bowl appearance.

    However, Byner's career took off after Cleveland traded him to Washington following the next campaign. In five seasons with the Washington football team from 1989 to '93, the running back carried the ball 990 times for 3,950 yards and 24 touchdowns. During that span, Byner led the league in rushing attempts once, made two Pro Bowls and helped Washington win a Super Bowl.

Dallas Cowboys: LB DeMarcus Ware

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    Money and uncertainty led to DeMarcus Ware's departure from the Dallas Cowboys sooner than his career should have dictated.

    At the time, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence E. Hill Jr. (via NFL.com's Kevin Patra) reported Ware wasn't willing to rework his $12.25 million base salary for the 2014 campaign. Former teammate Greg Ellis also believed Ware's fit in Dallas' scheme became a problem.

    "There is a concern for DeMarcus playing in a 4-3 defense as that defensive end [as opposed to] as an outside linebacker," Ellis told KESN-FM, per Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar. "... Playing that defensive end in the 4-3, he's dealing with a 350-pound tackle every single play. When you play outside linebacker and they run the ball away from you, you're getting a pursuit angle. You're not even going to get touched."

    Dallas released Ware, who played for the Denver Broncos between 2014 and '16, earned two more Pro Bowl nods and registered 21.5 sacks before retiring during the '17 offseason.

Denver Broncos: WR Brandon Marshall

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    Brandon Marshall needed help. He didn't get it until five years into his professional career.

    By that time, the Denver Broncos had already traded him to the Miami Dolphins for a pair of second-round draft picks.

    "I was praying that there was a treatment out there from what I suffered from, and there was, and that day brought excitement but a lot of confusion," Marshall told reporters in 2011 when discussing his diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.

    Supporting the mental health of players isn't a particular strength in professional football, but teams usually find ways to keep talented players. The Broncos didn't.

    After leaving Denver, Marshall posted five 1,000-yard campaigns from 2010 to '15, with four Pro Bowl appearances and a first-team All-Pro nod.

Detroit Lions: TE Eric Ebron

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    Eric Ebron remains a work in progress. He's showed the potential to be an elite tight end, just not with the Detroit Lions.

    The organization decided to the release the 2014 10th overall pick prior to the 2018 campaign. Ebron spent four seasons with the team, but the inconsistency within his game could be maddening.

    Detroit's first-round investment in Ebron skewed the perception of him. He never lived up to expectations until he played for another franchise.

    In his first season with the Indianapolis Colts, Ebron became a force, leading all tight ends with 13 touchdown receptions. He didn't perform as well in his second season in Indy because of a couple of factors outside of his control—mainly, Andrew Luck's retirement and a healthy Jack Doyle in the lineup.

    Ebron will have a chance to repeat his previous success after signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Green Bay Packers: OG Josh Sitton

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    Despite an expansive and rich history, the Green Bay Packers don't have many swings and misses when it comes to giving up on their draft picks too early. For the most part, the small-market team has identified top talent and stuck with those players throughout the majority of their careers or until re-signing them became an impossibility.

    In a surprise move just before the 2016 campaign, the Packers cut then-three-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton.

    Sitton had been one of the league's best interior blockers for years, yet Green Bay went with the cheaper alternative in Lane Taylor.

    The veteran blocker still had some fuel left in the tank for a couple more seasons, though. As a member of the Chicago Bears, Sitton made the 2016 Pro Bowl. He started 25 games for the Packers' NFC North rival before signing with the Miami Dolphins, tearing his rotator cuff and announcing his retirement during the 2019 offseason.

Houston Texans: WR DeAndre Hopkins

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    The following quotes are from anonymous agents regarding the Houston Texans' decision to trade four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-rounder, courtesy of The Athletic's Ben Standig:

    • "Bill O'Brien—there's no way he should be the general manager."
    • "I just don't understand them whatsoever."
    • "They rid themselves of their best player when not forced."

    Hopkins hasn't played a down for the Cardinals, yet it's easy to project as much or more success for the 28-year-old wide receiver in head coach Kliff Kingsbury's scheme.

    Since the start of the 2014 campaign, Hopkins averaged 1,300 yards per season.

    Whatever reason(s) O'Brien had to move on from such a talented receiver is not good enough. The Texans should have found a way to iron out any differences.

Indianapolis Colts: RB Marshall Faulk

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    Even Marshall Faulk didn't know how successful he would eventually be after being traded to the then-St. Louis Rams in 1999.

    "I remember walking into that locker room, and I was like, 'I left Peyton Manning for you guys?'" Faulk said during an episode of NFL Network's Good Morning Football in 2017 (via Cameron DaSilva of USA Today's Rams Wire).

    Faulk's best years were yet to come.

    The fact that the Indianapolis Colts drafted Edgerrin James, another future Hall of Fame back, that same offseason soothed the sting of losing an offensive weapon of Faulk's caliber. James ran well, particularly early in his career. However, Faulk's game entered another stratosphere.

    In eight seasons with the Rams (including his missed 2006 campaign), Faulk produced at least 2,100 yards from scrimmage three times, earned first-team All-Pro honors three times, became a three-time Offensive Player of the Year and was voted league MVP in 2000.

Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Jalen Ramsey

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    Players are often moved because they are considered distractions.

    Case in point, the Jacksonville Jaguars traded standout cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams for a pair of first-round picks and a fourth-round selection. The move came after Ramsey had a sideline altercation with head coach Doug Marrone, which prompted a trade request.

    "Some disrespectful things were said on their end that made me definitely walk out and call my agent as soon as I walked out, and I told him, I said: 'It's time; my time is up here in Jacksonville. I want to ask for a trade,'" Ramsey said, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    According to Schefter, the Jaguars didn't want to trade the three-time Pro Bowl defensive back. Two months after the organization did so, owner Shad Khan fired executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin.

Kansas City Chiefs: TE Tony Gonzalez

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    Sometimes doing the right thing for a person isn't the right thing for an NFL franchise.

    Tony Gonzalez requested a trade from the Kansas City Chiefs, and the team obliged. The Atlanta Falcons provided a second-round pick in the 2010 draft to get a deal done.

    In 12 seasons with the Chiefs, Gonzalez emerged as the game's best tight end, posted four 1,000-yard campaigns and put himself on track to eventually wear a gold jacket as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    All of those things are true, but he had more to contribute.

    Gonzalez played five seasons for the Falcons. He made four Pro Bowls during that span and posted at least 859 receiving yards in all but one campaign.

    During Gonzalez's time in Atlanta, the Chiefs made the playoffs twice compared to the Falcons' three times. He didn't need to go to another team to be competitive.

Las Vegas Raiders: LB Khalil Mack

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    Take your pick, because both Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper deserve consideration for the player the then-Oakland Raiders gave up on too early.

    Mack gets the nod for a few reasons.

    First, he plays a premium position as an edge defender. Second, Cooper is good, but Mack is the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. Finally, the Raiders, now in Las Vegas, are still looking to improve their edge performance two seasons after trading Mack to the Chicago Bears.

    In fact, the team is pursuing free agent Jadeveon Clowney, according to Sports Illustrated's Hondo S. Carpenter Sr.   

    Mack is a game-plan destroyer. He sets the edge as well or better than any defender in the league. Plus, he continues to get after the quarterbacks, with 21 sacks since he joined the Bears in 2018.

Los Angeles Chargers: QB Drew Brees

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    ANN HEISENFELT/Associated Press

    Drew Brees' departure from the Chargers organization enters a bit of a gray area.

    Technically, he left as a free agent, which would disqualify him based on the parameters previously set forth. However, he's still included based on the Chargers' unwillingness to increase their free-agent offer despite the quarterback's preference to remain with the team, then in San Diego.

    Obviously, Brees was coming off a rotator cuff surgery that came with significant question marks. Plus, the Chargers already acquired Philip Rivers to be the future of the franchise. Rivers is a fringe Hall of Fame quarterback. But he's not Brees.    

    The Chargers chose poorly and let the game's all-time leader in passing yardage (77,416), passing touchdowns (547) and completion percentage (67.6) leave despite an opportunity to retain his services.

Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams: RB Jerome Bettis

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    Some beats are so soul-crushing they'll haunt a person forever.

    The St. Louis Rams experienced one of those moments when the organization traded Jerome Bettis and a 1996 third-round draft pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for a '96 second-rounder and a '97 fourth-round selection.

    Why did the Rams make such an absurd decision after Bettis ran for more than 3,000 yards in his first three seasons?

    The organization grew enamored with Lawrence Phillips, whom the team selected with the sixth overall pick in the '96 draft. Phillips was supposed to be a better fit for head coach Rich Brooks' offense. Instead, his career and his life spiraled out of control, and he played less than two full seasons with the Rams.

    Bettis became "The Bus" in Pittsburgh and carried the Steelers offense with six straight 1,000-yard campaigns. He retired as the franchise's second all-time leading rusher (behind Franco Harris), and his running style defined Steelers football through the mid-'90s through the early 2000s.

Miami Dolphins: S Minkah Fitzpatrick

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    The list of players the Miami Dolphins gave up on too soon is extensive, and no one has to look beyond the past two years to pinpoint multiple worthy candidates.

    Jarvis Landry posted 2,150 receiving yards in his two seasons since being traded to the Cleveland Browns. Mike Pouncey made the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Los Angeles Chargers after being released. Laremy Tunsil is now the game's highest-paid offensive lineman after being dealt to the Houston Texans. Kenyan Drake exploded in the Arizona Cardinals offensive scheme after yet another trade.

    Yet, Minkah Fitzpatrick's departure hurt the most.

    The Dolphins spent the 11th overall pick in the 2018 draft on Fitzpatrick. Less than 17 months later, he was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, Miami received a first-round pick as part of the trade package, but Fitzpatrick blossomed into a game-wrecker in the Steel City on his way to becoming a first-team All-Pro.

Minnesota Vikings: WR Randy Moss

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    Randy Moss had an up-and-down career.

    After the future Hall of Fame receiver produced six straight 1,000-yard seasons, including a career-high 1,632 yards in 2003, Moss and the Minnesota Vikings hit a crossroads during the 2004 campaign.

    Ultimately, the Vikings traded Moss to the Raiders, where the receiver clearly wasn't happy and didn't give his best effort.

    Even so, a career revival happened upon Moss' arrival to the New England Patriots. The six-time Pro Bowler posted arguably the finest season of his career in 2007, when he and Tom Brady smashed passing records, including the all-time touchdown receptions mark (23) in a single season.

    During three full campaigns with the Patriots, the four-time first-team All-Pro performer posted 3,765 yards and 47 touchdowns.

    Moss briefly returned to Minnesota in 2010, but he was never the same player again.

New England Patriots: LB Chandler Jones

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    Head coach Bill Belichick's philosophy regarding talent is well-known: It's better to give up on a player one year too early than a year too late.

    Belichick is a wizard when it comes to maximizing value. However, that approach doesn't always work. 

    In 2016, New England traded Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals for guard Jonathan Cooper and second-round draft pick. In the short term, the Patriots got the better end of the deal.

    "When I spoke to Bill when I got traded, he told me it was best for the team; this was the best decision for our team," Jones told The Athletic's Jeff Howe in February. "At the time, I didn't understand. That next year, they won the Super Bowl, so I did understand that was best for the team—saved money, and they actually went and won." 

    Yet Jones has gone on to become an elite pass-rusher with 60 sacks in four seasons with the Cardinals.

New Orleans Saints: QB Marc Bulger

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    Marc Bulger isn't the sexiest name on the list, but he carved out a nice career. The New Orleans Saints never gave him a chance after selecting him in the sixth round of the 2000 draft.

    The Saints already had veteran Jeff Blake and Aaron Brooks. Blake opened the '00 season as the starter before Brooks entered the lineup due to an injury and went on to start every game over the next four seasons.

    Here's the problem: Bulger became the better quarterback.

    Brooks had his moments and he's in the Saints Hall of Fame. At his best, Bulger went to two Pro Bowls with the St. Louis Rams. He posted a higher career completion percentage, more passing yards per game and a better quarterback rating.

    Brooks' eventual departure led to Drew Brees' free-agent signing.

New York Giants: WR Don Maynard

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    In 1957, the New York Giants selected a wide receiver from Texas Western (UTEP) with a ninth-round draft pick.

    The prospect barely contributed as a rookie only to be cut the following year before spending a season with the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

    This isn't a typical start to a Hall of Fame career. Yet that's exactly the path Don Maynard took. He eventually found success in the Big Apple as Joe Namath's favorite target during the Jets' glory years.

    To this day, Maynard remains the Jets' all-time leader in receptions (627), receiving yards (11,732) and receiving touchdowns (88).

    Think about those numbers for a moment. Maynard hasn't played for the Jets since the '72 campaign. The NFL is more pass-happy than ever. No other Jets receiver comes within 3,400 yards of Maynard's franchise record.

New York Jets: CB Darrelle Revis

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    At his very best, Darrelle Revis covered wide receivers as well as anyone in professional football history. But the defensive back was at his very best as a businessman.

    The New York Jets weren't willing to pay him as much as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after agreeing to a trade for the cornerback.

    "It became quite evident to us that there is a substantial difference between Darrelle's view of his value and ours," then-general manager John Idzik said after completing the deal, per ESPN's Adam Schefter and Rich Cimini.

    The standout defensive back played two seasons before returning to the Jets. In that time, he made two Pro Bowls, become a first-team All-Pro for the fourth time and won a Super Bowl.

    New York could have had the best cornerback of his generation for his entire career.

Philadelphia Eagles: QB Sonny Jurgensen

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    The Philadelphia Eagles traded Sonny Jurgensen to the Washington football team before the 1964 season for quarterback Norm Snead and cornerback Claude Crabb.

    Norm Van Brocklin quarterbacked the Eagles to the NFL championship in 1960 before retiring. Jurgensen then took over and led the NFL in passing yards (3,723) and touchdowns (32) in '61 but wasn't nearly as effective in '62 and '63.

    Snead came into the league as a highly regarded draft pick and even made the Pro Bowl twice during his time with Washington. He started seven years for the Eagles and made one more Pro Bowl appearance, but the team managed one winning season during that stretch. He finished his career with a 196-to-257 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

    Jurgensen, meanwhile, went on to earn four more Pro Bowl nods and led the league in passing three times in Washington. He's now part of the Hall of Fame for the Eagles and Washington.

Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Len Dawson

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    Once upon a time, the Pittsburgh Steelers were one of professional football's worst-run organizations. From the team's inception in 1933 until '71, Pittsburgh posted only seven winning seasons and played in one postseason game.

    Chuck Noll's hire in '69 eventually changed everything. By '72, the Steelers won the AFC Central and the franchise's first playoff game. One of the game's greatest dynasties emerged in the subsequent years with four Super Bowl victories from '74 to '79.

    But the team had a chance to be better earlier in the process if it stuck with a certain quarterback.

    Pittsburgh chose Len Dawson with the fifth overall pick in the '57 NFL draft. The team traded the future Hall of Fame signal-caller two years later. Dawson eventually found a home with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he became the franchise's all-time-leading passer and helped lead the organization to its first Super Bowl championship.

San Francisco 49ers: DT DeForest Buckner

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    The San Francisco 49ers couldn't pay both Arik Armstead and Deforest Buckner this offseason. General manager John Lynch decided to hand Armstead a new five-year, $85 million deal, while Buckner was shipped to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for their 2020 first-round pick.

    Armstead is a fine player who experienced a breakout campaign last season. Therein lies the problem. One 10-sack campaign garnered a major payday, while the 49ers traded away the better player with a rarer skill set.

    Buckner is a premier three-down interior defender and a dominant disruptive force. In four seasons, the 2016 seventh overall pick racked up 28.5 sacks and created so much more added pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

    Men that big (6'7", 295 pounds) and talented are few and far between, yet the 49ers decided he wasn't worth the four-year, $84 million contract extension the Colts provided.

Seattle Seahawks: RB Ahman Green

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    The Seattle Seahawks could have featured one of the best backfields in NFL history. Instead, they chose to trade Ahman Green after two unproductive seasons behind Ricky Watters to the Green Bay Packers. In turn, the Seahawks drafted Shaun Alexander with the 19th pick in the 2000 draft.

    Alexander's effectiveness in Seattle can't be overstated. The running back made three consecutive Pro Bowls from '03 to '05, won the '05 league MVP, tied a then-record with 27 rushing touchdowns in a single season and became the Seahawks' all-time-leading rusher.

    Green wasn't too shabby, either.

    In fact, he posted more 1,000-yard campaigns with the Packers (six) than Alexander did with the Seahawks (five). He added more as a receiving threat out of the backfield. Green is the Packers' all-time-leading rusher, too. 

    Yet both could have been in the same amazing backfield terrorizing opponents.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Aqib Talib

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't know how to handle temperamental cornerback Aqib Talib. As a result, the franchise shipped its 2008 first-round pick to the New England Patriots just prior to the '12 trade deadline.

    At the time, the defensive back was serving a four-game suspension for unprescribed Adderall pill usage.

    He also had "a battery arrest in 2009, multiple fights with teammates and a shooting incident ... for which charges were dismissed" during his Bucs tenure, per the Tampa Bay Times' Stephen F. Holder.

    Talib matured into one of the league's best defensive backs during his time in New England and in subsequent stops with the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Rams. He made five straight Pro Bowls from '13 to '17. His length—6'1" with 33-inch arms—and physicality made him one of the toughest cornerbacks to beat.

    (NOTE: Steve Young would be the obvious choice here, but USFL draftees and those selected by both AFL and NFL squads when those were two separate entities weren't included since their professional careers started elsewhere.)

Tennessee Titans (Houston Oilers): WR Steve Largent

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    Steve Largent never played a regular-season game for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise because then-head coach Bum Phillips decided to trade Largent to the expansion Seattle Seahawks for a future eighth-round draft pick.

    To be fair, Largent took a few seasons before becoming a Hall of Fame talent. In fact, the wide receiver didn't eclipse 1,000 receiving yards until his third campaign. So, Phillips' initial assessment may have been correct, though a clear lack of patience cost Houston arguably the greatest receiving talent in the franchise's history.

    Once Largent found his footing within Seattle's offense, he took off with eight 1,000-yard campaigns in nine seasons. He spent 14 years in the Great Northwest and retired as the NFL's all-time-leading receiver in catches (819), yards (13,089) and touchdowns (100). 

    For comparison, Ernest Givins is the Tennessee franchise's all-time-leading receiver with 542 catches for 7,935 yards.

Washington: CB Champ Bailey

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    Some Washington fans might question this selection considering the franchise received running back Clinton Portis in the 2004 trade that sent Champ Bailey to the Denver Broncos.

    The problem is trading a player at a premium position in his prime for a running back. Granted, the arguments for ball-carriers being devalued don't extend that far back, but Mike Shanahan's ability to produce 1,000-yard rusher after 1,000-yard rusher in his wide-zone scheme was well-known at the time.

    Portis played well during his Washington stint with four seasons of 325 or more carries and 1,262 or more yards. As good as the running back was, his accomplishments pale in comparison to the future Hall of Fame cornerback's.

    Bailey played 10 seasons with the Broncos. He made eight Pro Bowls during that span. The standout defensive back led the NFL in interceptions during the '06 campaign. He's now in the Hall of Fame.

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