In the Back to the Future trilogy, Marty McFly infamously tells Mr. Strickland – his principal – that “history’s gonna change.” And Marty was right. He travels back in time using a DeLorean time machine and inadvertently alters history, though for the better.
Well, a number of NFL teams wish they could go back in time and change history. Though every team has made its share of mistakes in drafting, trades and free agency, some of these miscues really hurt them more than you could imagine. Instead of being a championship team (or at the very least, a winning organization), some of these squads made that one little mistake that wound up hurting them for long periods of time.
While hindsight is always 20/20 and it can be so difficult to predict how a player will pan out on any team, it doesn’t make the decisions these managers or coaches made any less difficult to get over. With so many teams in the NFL fighting for the ultimate prize, any mistake could cost your team for years to come.
Of course, there are too many of these hurtful decisions to look back on. So we took the time to break down the absolute worst 20. Take a look, and try not to weep if your team is on the list. Again, everyone makes mistakes, but when your fans are hungry for wins it can be tough to swallow some of these gaffs!
20. New York Jets: Handling Of Darrelle Revis
The New York Jets became a top team in the AFC under Rex Ryan, thanks to the talents of shutdown corner Darrelle Revis. With the top cornerback in the game, the Jets rode an elite defence to the 2009 and 2010 AFC Championship games. However, the Jets had forgetful 2011 and 2012 seasons, with Revis missing most of the latter year after suffering a torn ACL. The Jets traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason, and set the stage for disaster.
After a bad year in Tampa, Revis signed with the arch-rival New England Patriots and won Super Bowl 49 with them. Revis then returned to the Jets on a five-year pact worth $70 million. Revis was well past his prime and got released after two years. So the Jets traded their star player, saw him win a title with their most hated team, then wasted money bringing him back.
19. Atlanta Falcons: Trading Brett Favre To Green Bay
The Falcons drafted Brett Favre with the 33rd pick in the 1991 NFL Draft. After the ’91 season, the Packers traded for Favre, sending Atlanta the 19th selection in the 1992 Draft. They would use that pick on running back Tony Smith, who only spent three seasons with the Falcons. As for Favre, well, he had quite the career. He won the NFL MVP three years in a row from 1995-97 while leading the Packers to a Super Bowl 31 championship. Favre turned Green Bay into a perennial powerhouse and nearly led them to a Super Bowl 32 victory as well.
Favre sits second all-time in career passing yards and touchdowns. As for the Falcons, they could have been a Super Bowl winner if they kept Favre, who had plenty of success throughout his career. Considering how little the return for Favre was, this trade really hurt Atlanta for a long time.
18. New York Jets: Letting Bill Belichick Slip Away
The New York Jets hired Bill Belichick to be their new head coach in 2000. The hooded genius made a shocking announcement just a day later, announcing his resignation as Gang Green’s new head coach. Shortly afterwards, Belichick was hired as head coach by the New England Patriots and given player/personnel control by team owner Robert Kraft. The Jets received a 2000 first round pick from the Patriots, drafting pass-rusher Shaun Ellis.
All Belichick has done is lead New England to five Super Bowl championships, turning his team into the golden sports franchise of the 21st century. Meanwhile, the Jets are already on their fifth head coach since 2000. Even if they kept Belichick, the Jets probably wouldn’t have the five Super Bowls. But there’s no way their arch rivals, the Patriots, would be embarrassing them over the past two decades.
17. Oakland Raiders: Drafting Robert Gallery
With the second overall pick in the 2004 draft, the Oakland Raiders selected 6-foot-7 offensive lineman, Robert Gallery. He spent six years in Oakland but never lived up to expectations. The following six picks? Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow III, Roy Williams and DeAngelo Hall – all future Pro Bowlers.
Ben Roethlisberger was also up for grabs, and could have given Oakland a top-tier quarterback right there. Instead, the Raiders spent a decade trying to find a franchise signal-caller until they landed Derek Carr in 2014. For Oakland, drafting Gallery while passing up on a handful of Pro Bowlers really put them in a bind. They were among the NFL’s worst teams for over a decade, and poor drafting was the main reason why. The selection of Gallery proved it.
16. Tennessee Titans: Drafting Jake Locker
After giving up on Vince Young and having Kerry Collins retire, the Titans were desperate to find a new quarterback. So they settled on Washington product Jake Locker with the eighth-overall selection in 2011. Injuries and inconsistency led to a frustrating career for Locker, who only played in bits of four seasons for the Titans. He finished with 27 touchdowns and 22 interceptions for his career.
The Titans passed on other future cornerstone players, including J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Muhammad Wilkerson, Andy Dalton, Justin Houston and DeMarco Murray. The Titans are lucky they have Marcus Mariota now, but imagine if Watt was running that defence. Instead, Watt is terrorizing the Titans in the AFC South twice per season.
15. New Orleans Saints: Mike Ditka Overpays For Ricky Williams
Former Saints head coach Mike Ditka longed to get 1998 Heisman Trophy winner, Ricky Williams. To jump up seven draft spots, Ditka traded six 1999 draft choices (including the 12th pick), plus 2000 first and third round selections to the Washington Redskins and drafted Williams. Washington used those picks to draft three superstars in world class cornerback Champ Bailey, offensive lineman Jon Jansen and linebacker LaVar Arrington.
Now, Williams didn’t exactly disappoint with the Saints – posting a pair of 1,000-yard seasons. However, he only spent three seasons there before being traded to the Miami Dolphins. Ditka sacrificed way too many draft picks on one player. Unless that guy was Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, the trade was never going to work out. They didn’t keep Williams around for long, so the Saints were hurt by this trade for a while.
14. Cleveland Browns: Drafting Trent Richardson
The Cleveland Browns have been the laughingstock among all professional sports teams in North America, and that can be widely attributed to their awful drafting. Take Alabama running back Trent Richardson, for example. He was drafted third overall in 2012, hoping to become the face of the Browns offence.
Richardson played in just 17 games for the Browns, and never became a superstar. Cleveland then shipped Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first round pick in 2014, but they later traded away that pick to the Philadelphia Eagles. They simply got nothing for Richardson. The Browns also passed on a handful of superstars, including Luke Kuechly, Stephon Gilmore, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Doug Martin. Another day, another terrible draft selection by the Cleveland Browns.
13. Oakland Raiders: Passing On Aaron Rodgers
Take championship rings away, and Aaron Rodgers is probably the greatest quarterback in NFL history. The man has zero flaws in his game, and you are seeing how much the Packers unravel with this man not playing. The Super Bowl 45 champion and two-time league MVP is on a level above everyone else.
Well, the Oakland Raiders had their chance to draft Rodgers and finally put those years of awful drafting behind them. Instead, they drafted cornerback Fabian Washington with the 23rd pick. Rodgers then fell to Green Bay with the next selection. Washington spent just three seasons with the Raiders and never blossomed into a star. Even if he did, it’s still hard to ever forgive Oakland’s front office for passing on Rodgers. Just imagine where this franchise would be with him right now.
12. Philadelphia Eagles: Trading Donovan McNabb
Quarterback Donovan McNabb turned the Eagles into one of the NFL’s best teams in the 2000s. McNabb and head coach Andy Reid led Philly to a total of five NFC Championship Games – and they narrowly fell to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 39. But the Eagles chose to bring Michael Vick back into the NFL, while trusting backup QB Kevin Kolb to lead the offence. As such, they traded McNabb to the Washington Redskins in exchange for two draft picks.
Kolb got injured early in the 2010 season and was later traded to the Arizona Cardinals. Vick had one good year with the Eagles in 2010, then signed him to a six-year extension worth $100 million. Vick then became oft-injured and was replaced by Nick Foles. The Eagles eventually released Vick, and would live on to regret choosing the washed up veteran over a solidified starter in McNabb.
11. Washington Redskins: Signing Albert Haynesworth
Haynesworth was a two-time Pro Bowler for the Tennessee Titans, and was among the league’s top defensive game-changers. Looking to beef up their defensive line, the Washington Redskins signed Haynesworth to a seven-year contract worth a whopping $100 million.
Haynesworth became extremely lazy and feuded constantly with his coaches. He didn’t show up for offseason workouts, voiced his displeasure about the team’s defensive system and never really gave it his best effort. Haynesworth spent just two seasons in Washington before the New England Patriots made a move for him. Haynesworth couldn’t fix his career under the great Bill Belichick, and was out of the NFL after the 2011 season – just two years after being handed that $100 million.
10. Indianapolis Colts: Trading Marshall Faulk
The idea of Marshall Faulk playing with arguably the greatest quarterback ever in Peyton Manning and two great wide receivers in Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne sounds too good to be true. Well, Faulk, Harrison and Manning were together in 1998 for The Sheriff’s rookie season. But the Colts won just three games, and later traded Faulk to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for just two draft selections, which never panned out.
Faulk, Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce then formed one of the greatest triple threats in NFL history, creating the legendary “Greatest Show on Turf” offence. Faulk and the Rams won Super Bowl 34, and nearly captured Super Bowl 36 as well. For the Colts, they’d only win one Super Bowl in Manning’s tenure. Perhaps they would have been a dynasty if Faulk was never traded to the Rams?
9. Houston Texans: Drafting David Carr
Good news for David Carr: He won a Super Bowl championship in his career. But the bad news is that it happened as a backup for the New York Giants in 2011, because Carr totally flopped as a starter. The expansion Texans franchise owned the top pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. On paper, the Fresno State product was a can’t-miss commodity and fit everything the Texans needed in a quarterback.
Carr didn’t have much of a supporting cast around him, so he doesn’t deserve the blame for being a bust. He was sacked 76 times in his rookie season and the Texans were just all-around awful. But it’s safe to say the Texans would have been better drafting Julius Peppers, Dwight Freeney or even Ed Reed with the top pick. Those three all turned out to be future Hall of Famers.
8. St. Louis Rams: Cutting Kurt Warner
Warner starred in the Arena Football League, but initially failed to get a contract from an NFL team. He then began working at a grocery store, but got an offer from the St. Louis Rams in 1997. Two years later, he was the NFL MVP, a Super Bowl Champion and the Super Bowl MVP. Warner won his second MVP in the 2001 season, and nearly led the Rams to a second championship in three years. But after a number of injuries that led to a frustrating 2004 season, Warner was replaced by Marc Bulger and subsequently released by the Rams. It was a bad call.
Bulger only had a couple of good years with the Rams, but never got them back into championship contention. Warner revived his career with the Arizona Cardinals and took them to Super Bowl 43. The Rams wouldn’t find another franchise quarterback until drafting Jared Goff first overall in 2016.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Making Steve Young A 49er
Steve Young joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985 and had all the tools to be a top-notch quarterback. But Young only appeared in five games during his rookie season, then had a miserable 1986 campaign (eight touchdowns against 13 interceptions). So the Bucs drafted Vinny Testaverde with the first pick in 1987, then gave away Young to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for two draft picks.
Young was a backup for Joe Montana, and the duo would win a pair of Super Bowls together. But Montana began to suffer a number of injuries, making Young the permanent starter. He succeeded so much that the 49ers dealt the four-time Super Bowl champion Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs. Young would lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl 29 championship, and captured two NFL MVP Awards. Meanwhile, the Bucs continued to be one of the league’s worst teams throughout the ’90s.
6. Green Bay Packers: Drafting Tony Mandarich
Mandarich had everything in him to be one of the greatest players in NFL history. The Ontario native was listed by Sports Illustrated as the top offensive line prospect ever. The Michigan State product was also named a Consensus All-American in 1988, as well as the Big Ten Lineman of the Year.
So it was a slam dunk of a pick for the Green Bay Packers to take Mandarich second overall in 1989. But unfortunately, Mandarich also had a bad attitude and had a large ego. Mandarich was a huge bust and was out of Green Bay after the 1992 season. The three picks after Mandarich? Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders, three of the most dominant players to ever live. Could you imagine Barry Sanders and Brett Favre together? Or Reggie White with Thomas and Sanders? Wow.
5. Oakland Raiders: Drafting JaMarcus Russell
After three dominant years at LSU, JaMarcus Russell was an easy first overall draft choice of the Oakland Raiders in 2007. This team had long awaited to replace Rich Gannon, and the 6-foot-6 Russell had a dual-threat style that made him one of the top quarterback prospects in recent memory.
Russell only appeared in 31 games over a three-year span for the Raiders. He struggled at the NFL level and finished with just 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions in his career, while being sacked 70 times. To make matters worse, Oakland missed out on a number of future superstars. This included Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Greg Olsen and Eric Weddle, among others. Drafting Russell was among the many bad decisions that hurt the Oakland franchise, to say the least.
4. San Diego Chargers: Drafting Ryan Leaf
The 1998 NFL Draft featured two can’t-miss quarterback prospects. The first was Peyton Manning, who you may have heard of. The other was Ryan Leaf, who was just as equal in talent (on paper at least). Manning told the Indianapolis Colts to draft him first overall, or else he would make them regret it. The Colts did take Manning, who would lead them to prominence and a Super Bowl 41 championship.
That left Ryan Leaf to the San Diego Chargers, but he completely fell apart in the NFL. Injuries and attitude problems led to a miserable career for Leaf. He had just 13 touchdowns and 33 interceptions in two years with the Chargers. This set back the Chargers for years.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Trading For Herschel Walker
Herschel Walker was a good, not great, running back in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys. He only had one 1,000-yard season in his career, but that was enough for the Minnesota Vikings to mortgage a huge chunk of their future for his services. In 1989, the Cowboys traded Walker and four mid-to-late round picks to Minnesota, while receiving five players and a whopping eight draft choices. This included three first round picks and two second round picks.
Dallas used the picks to form a dynasty. They drafted the all-time rushing leader in Emmitt Smith and star safety Darren Woodson. Both men were instrumental in helping Dallas win three Super Bowls in the 1990s. Walker only spent two-and-a-half seasons in Minnesota, never rushing for more than 825 yards in a year for them.
2. Baltimore Colts: Trading John Elway
The Baltimore Colts used the first pick in 1983 on John Elway. However, the Hall of Famer had no desire to play for the Colts and demanded a trade. When all was said and done, the Colts traded Elway to the Denver Broncos in exchange for quarterback Mark Herrmann, offensive lineman Chris Hinton and a first round pick in the 1984 Draft.
Though Hinton was a Pro Bowler with the Colts, the team often struggled and couldn’t build around him. Meanwhile, Elway became one of the most dominant quarterbacks of the 1980s and 1990s. He took Denver to five Super Bowl appearances in his career. Elway retired with Super Bowl 32 and 33 championship rings, while the Colts were among the worst teams until Peyton Manning came along.
1. New York Jets: Passing On Tom Brady
Considering that he was the 199th pick in 2000, all NFL teams can blame themselves for passing on Tom Brady multiple times. Nobody could have predicted how successful he would be, so it’s understandable why they’d pass on him. However, the Jets were actually pretty close to making their No. 1 enemy a legend in the Big Apple. It was recently revealed that one Jets scout tried getting Bill Parcells to draft Brady with their sixth round draft choice. Instead, the team drafted Tony Scott, who obviously didn’t pan out.
That allowed the Patriots to draft Brady, and the dynasty was set. TB12 would win two MVPs, set countless records and lead New England to five Super Bowl championships. Meanwhile, the Jets have been one of the NFL’s absolute worst teams since letting Brady slip through their hands. Not just Belichick, but this great quarterback as well. Ruined!
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