Sometimes, a player’s failure is just out of their hands. This goes for any sport, but it is especially true in the NFL ranks. With the emphasis on roster building and coaching, sometimes a player is hamstrung due to a bad situation. This can have a negative impact on their career, and potentially ruin it entirely. We’ve seen plenty of players come into the NFL and produce, only to have their efforts squandered by poor coaching, and boneheaded management decisions.
It wouldn’t be correct to label all of these players as complete failures. Many of them were successful to a degree, and some have had amazing individual seasons. What hindered their careers, was management decisions off the field, and how they were utilized on the team. They all deserved better, but it just wasn’t in the cards. There always has to be handful of teams and front offices in the NFL that just don’t get it, and unfortunately, these relatively talented players got stuck with them. They may have fared better in a more stable situation, but ultimately they had to suffer through a myriad of bad decisions from the higher-ups.
Ranked below are 15 NFL players whose careers were ruined by management.
15. Joe Haden
It may not be obvious to everyone, but Haden has been one of the best cornerbacks in the league for years now. The problem? He plays for the Browns, and there hasn’t been a semblance of a defense around him during his entire career. Therefore, his play tends to go unnoticed in contrast to corners who play on competent-level rosters.
Not only does Haden have the distinct honor of being one of the only 1st-round draft picks that has actually worked out for Cleveland, but he’s undoubtedly the best player on their defense, even today. If he was dealing with a competent front office that had the ability to put talent around him, he may have gotten more recognition. As it stands, he remains mostly anonymous to the casual fan.
14. Vince Young
The hype surrounding Young’s entrance into the NFL after his career at Texas was so great, that there was almost nothing he could have done to live up to it. He started off his career with the Titans in good order, but sparring with head coach Jeff Fisher eventually caused the situation to crumble.
Young did have some difficulties on the field, but as he was a quarterback with such a high level of athleticism, there could have been a way to make it work for the long-term. As we’ve seen in recent years, Fisher doesn’t have the greatest track record as a head coach, and he didn’t use Young in the correct manner at times. After Young’s departure, Tennessee went into a slump that they are only now coming out of, indicating a poorly-run team to begin with.
13. Tim Couch
After a few seasons off after Art Modell sold the team, the Browns returned to NFL action in 1999 with a new ownership group. Couch was seen as one of the best quarterbacks in the draft that year, and the consensus pick for Cleveland to re-boot their franchise. With that, the Browns took him with the 1st-overall pick.
The issue was that the Browns were essentially an expansion team all over again, and they had no stable system for which to put Couch in. In contrast to other quarterback busts, Couch actually had a fair degree of ability. In the right offense, he really could have succeeded, but Cleveland was intent on making poor personnel moves, something that plagues them in the present day as well. Couch may not have been an All-Pro talent, but he was better than his statistics indicated.
12. Carson Palmer
Another former 1st-overall pick, Palmer has caught numerous bad breaks over the course of his otherwise solid career. He thrived in Cincinnati for several seasons under the then-new regime of Marvin Lewis. Unfortunately, he had a falling out with the front office, which prompted him to be traded to the Raiders in 2011.
Oakland was still a highly unstable team by this point, and understandably, Palmer never caught on. In what should have been the prime of his career, Palmer was making do with a piss-poor roster, and ham-fisted management decisions. He would rebound for a few years with the Cardinals, where he resides now, but ultimately it’s probably too little, too late for Palmer. He’s a great talent who fell into trouble with several interpersonal situations with management.
11. David Carr
Yet another 1st overall selection, the elder Carr was set to lead the Texans into the future as their franchise quarterback in 2002. The trouble was that they didn’t take into account that generally, young quarterbacks need a competent offensive line to avoid getting pressured on nearly every single play. That was unfortunately the case with Carr, who showed a lot of talent, but couldn’t find any time to throw the ball.
Carr fizzled out in Houston after a reluctance and inability to fix this problem, and his career was never the same after that. He was never afforded a similar opportunity to be a full-time starter, and eventually he just assumed backup duty around the league. Carr got a bad break, and the personnel around him just wasn’t good enough in his formative years.
10. Andrew Luck
Granted, Luck’s career is nowhere close to being finished, but no other quarterback in the league right now has had to deal with a more dysfunctional front office than he has. Luck should have a Super Bowl title by this point, as he’s proven that he can take a team with no defense, and carry them to a playoff run. The inability to provide him with complementary players on the defensive side of the ball is a failure by the Indianapolis ownership.
There’s still time to turn this around, and with a new general manager in Indy, we may be witnessing it right now. Until it does change, however, Luck has had to deal with some major incompetence, and it’s holding him back. The Colts may have better days on the horizon, but they’ve underachieved considering they have one of the best young quarterbacks in football.
9. Mike Quick
You’ve probably never heard of Quick, and that’s a testament to how much of a mess the Eagles were in the early-’80s. Quick was a premier receiver in the league after being taken in the 1st round in 1982. He broke out in 1983, and was the Eagles go-to target for years. There were several problems however.
He played for two terrible offensive coaches in Buddy Ryan and Marion Campbell. A coach more suited to that side of the ball would have done wonders for Quick, who clearly had Hall Of Fame-level talent. Unfortunately, he had to suffer through terrible offensive gameplans, and the lack of pocket-passing quarterback in his prime, and that ultimately hurt his numbers as the years wore on.
8. Reggie Bush
There’s no question about it; Bush was ahead of his time coming out of USC, and wasn’t a fit for the NFL style of the day. The overall threat that Bush posed to defenses was that he was able to catch passes and run with equal effectiveness. The Saints weren’t able to fully grasp the extent of his capabilities, and by the time the league was more suited to his style of play, he was out of his prime.
Today, running backs who have Bush’s skill set are highly coveted, and command a premium. Sean Payton hadn’t yet established the Saints as a top-tier offense with Drew Brees when they drafted Bush, and it hurt his career. In another situation a few years after 2006, he could have been one of the best players in the game.
7. Boomer Esiason
Often forgotten today, Esiason had some truly great seasons on the Bengals, and some solid seasons on the Jets. He was a big-armed quarterback who was able to carry his teams to great records often times. However, playing for the Jets and Bengals means that there would be some dysfunction along the way, and he never had a roster that was great enough to match his style of play.
During the prime of his career, Esiason probably deserved to win a Super Bowl. He was one of the premier quarterbacks in the league, and suffered from a lack of pieces around him. He wouldn’t be the first or the last quarterback to deal with a so-so roster that hindered their game, but during his era, this applied to Esiason more than anyone else.
6. Colin Kaepernick
It’s no coincidence that only once Jim Harbaugh was forced out of San Francisco, did Kaepernick’s game begin to suffer dramatically. Now, he may not have been the most talented quarterback all things considered, and he does have a penchant for throwing some bad interceptions, but Harbaugh was able to get at least some really good performances out of him.
Unfortunately, he stood little to no chance with the likes of Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly running the 49ers’ show. That doesn’t mean that he was destined for Canton, but he did perform significantly better when Harbaugh was making the gameplans. Since then, Kaepernick has gone on to make many more headlines, albeit away from the field, and is still looking for a place to rebuild his career.
5. David Boston
The talent was always there with Boston, and it was expected to be. Taken at 8th-overall in the 1999 draft, he was seen as a surefire All-Pro receiver. He spent four years with the Cardinals, racking up some big numbers, but it was a trip to the Chargers that sent his career spiraling out of control.
Boston butted heads with head coach Marty Schottenheimer early on and often in San Diego. Some say Boston had an attitude problem, some say he just wanted to get paid with a new contract, and then give minimum effort. Whatever the case may be, it clearly wasn’t a good fit for him, and his career never recovered. Boston had all the talent in the world, and he did show for a few years early on. Unfortunately, he was never able to maintain it by having good interpersonal relationships with his coaches, for whatever reason.
4. Robert Griffin III
The Redskins sold the farm to get Griffin in the 2012 draft, as everyone knows. He was seen to be their franchise quarterback of the future, and was consistently touted as the best quarterback in the draft when he was coming out of Baylor. After some initial early success, Griffin couldn’t jive with head coach Mike Shanahan, and his effectiveness dropped off the map.
Thing went from bad to worse once Jay Gruden took over in 2014. Griffin effectively fizzled out of the Redskins organization, and is now fighting to just stay in the league. Between his extensive injuries and misuse from the coaching staff and management, Griffin has caught a ton of bad breaks in his career. He was inconsistent at times, but probably still deserves to be a starter in the right situation.
3. Barry Sanders
Only a team like the Lions would be unable to build a winner around one of the greatest running backs of all-time. Sanders was simply a juggernaut talent in his prime, and one of the best players of his era. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t follow suit, and without the presence of a stable quarterback, or good defense, most of Sanders’ efforts went to waste.
The Lions’ brass simply had no idea what they were doing. Even a runner as great as Sanders was couldn’t carry an entire team on his back, year after year. When your running back is the only player capable of being a game breaker, then there are distinct problems. Sanders is a Hall-Of-Famer, but the Lions really hurt the amount of postseason success he could have had with a better team around him.
2. Randall Cunningham
There hadn’t been an athlete like Cunningham at the quarterback position before in the NFL. He could run with the best of them, and had a cannon of an arm; a taller, lankier precursor to Mike Vick. Unfortunately, Cunningham did not have the coaching necessary in order to enhance his game until it was too late.
Buddy Ryan was the Eagles coach when he entered the league. A great defensive mind all the same, Ryan was not an offensive guru in the slightest. He more or less told Cunningham to run around and make plays, which he did, but it compromised his development as a thrower. Only when he got to the Vikings late in his career did he have great success throwing from the pocket. It would have been nice to have seen that development take place earlier in his career. Unfortunately, coaching got in the way.
1. Tony Romo
Jerry Jones and Cowboys brass hindered Romo from reaching his full potential, because they weren’t able to construct a viable team around him for most of his career. Romo was one of the top quarterbacks in the game for years, and consistently was the subject of early playoff exits because of a lack of talent around him. The Cowboys weren’t interested in building a defense, and expected Romo to carry the bulk of the load.
Now, Romo is slated to be the color commentator for CBS during the upcoming NFL season, instead of getting another shot as a starter after a myriad of injuries. He definitely played well enough to at least make a Super Bowl, but issues with personnel and coaching were enough to prevent that from happening. Romo should still be considered one of the better quarterbacks of his generation, and with the aid of a stable front office could have reached the level of a Manning or Brady.
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