Running an NFL team is a difficult job. The consequences for a wrong move can be astronomical, and the praise for the correct one can be fleeting, or nonexistent to begin with. As we've seen time and time again, it only takes one bad decision for a franchise to turn into a dumpster fire for a period of time, which will halt any chance of success they may have had.
These decisions can manifest themselves instantly, or they can be drawn out over a long period of time. Whatever the case may be, it's clear that NFL teams have a low-threshold for failure, and the wrong move can send them on a losing path relatively quickly. Without a doubt, the league has seen many teams be ruined for an entire era, just because one decision or thought process. One wrong move can be crippling. Let's take a look at some notable blunders that sent teams on a downward spiral, at least for a little while.
Ranked below are 15 embarrassing mistakes that ruined NFL franchises.
15 Cleveland Browns: Every Quarterback Draft Pick
The Browns have far and away been the worst team in recent memory with their quarterback draft selections. It hasn't even been close. Going back to 1999, they have selected some of the foremost busts at the position; Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel. Nothing has worked, and they've notoriously struggled in that timespan because of the lack of a quality player under center.
Ultimately, so many draft decisions have left Cleveland in a state of disarray, but the mismanagement of the quarterback position is first and foremost the biggest reason. They've drafted a ton of duds at the most important position on the field, and it's cost them consistently over the last 20 years or so.
14 Los Angeles Rams: Drafting Sam Bradford
Before the new NFL rookie contract regulations were enacted, it wasn't uncommon for first-year players to get paid big money right away. As the 1st-overall pick, this is what happened with Bradford. He was one of the highly-touted quarterback prospects of his generation, and the Rams figured to have elite play at the position for years.
As we all know however, a slew of injuries prevented Bradford from fulfilling his potential, on top of some questionable head coaches. The Rams shipped him off to the Eagles in exchange for Nick Foles, and then Philly promptly traded him to the Vikings. The Rams were a perennially mediocre team in the Bradford years, and this 1st-overall pick had a lot to do with it. Only recently have they rebounded with Sean McVay and Jared Goff.
13 New York Giants: Keeping Tom Coughlin
When a coach wins two Super Bowls for ant given team, they're going to be treated with the utmost respect. Coughlin certainly deserved to be treated well by the Giants, but you can't help but believe that keeping him for four straight seasons without a playoff berth from 2012-2015 was a bad idea.
Eli Manning was still young enough to not have questions ringing in about his productivity and age, and the team still had enough talent to be competitive. The team replaced him with Ben McAdoo, who was promptly fired last season after fielding a 2-win team, and the Giants are now in rebuild-mode. It could be an uphill battle to get back on their feet, and a swifter exit from Coughlin may have made the difference.
12 Chicago Bears: Firing Lovie Smith
The Bears have been a dumpster fire for the past few years now, and haven't succeeded over the last two head coaches they've had since Smith. Both Marc Trestman and John Fox have floundered in Chicago, and now they're looking at yet again changing coaches to produce a winning record.
Smith may not have been a popular coach all the time, but he was far and away the most successful one in Chicago since the heyday of the mid-'80s. He got them to their only Super Bowl since that time, and was fired from the team after posting a winning record. Some will say he had too long of a tenure, but the Bears still haven't been able to find anything close to a suitable replacement since.
11 Philadelphia Eagles: Cutting Ties With Terrell Owens
The 2004 Eagles were one of the best teams in the league that year, making the Super Bowl and almost usurping the Patriots the first time around. Owens was a catalyst for this success, as he was the biggest free agent signing of that offseason, and posted what is likely the greatest season by a wide receiver in the history of the team.
Despite the negative press, Owens never committed a transgression off the field. The relationship between him and Donovoan McNabb severed relatively quickly, in large part due to McNabb's jealousy of his newfound success with the Eagles, and the front office took the stand to backup the franchise quarterback at all costs. By the middle of next season, Owens was arbitrarily suspended indefinitely by the team. The Eagles would never make another Super Bowl until this past season; well over a decade of underwhelming results, when keeping Owens could have made them Super Bowl viable for another five years or so.
10 Dallas Cowboys: Giving Unlimited Power To Jerry Jones
The Cowboys may have been a dynasty in the '90s while Jones was present as owner of the team, but you can credit that success to Jimmy Johnson, who promptly turned Dallas into contenders in the early part of the decade, after several years of sub-par seasons. As Johnson's popularity soared, Jones became increasingly jealous, and the contention between the two mounted as the years went on.
Eventually, Jones would remove Johnson from the head coaching position, and the Cowboys would almost instantaneously take a step back. Sure, they won a Super Bowl under Barry Switzer; with Johnson's players and culture that he had established with the team. Since then, Jones has run the team into the ground with bad draft decisions, and establishing a culture of chaos.
9 Houston Texans: Drafting David Carr
It's not that Carr was going to be an awful quarterback no matter what, it was the fact that the Texans had no recourse to give him any kind of pass protection. Houston struggled to provide a suitable environment for the youngest Carr to thrive in, and it ended up being a huge detriment to his career.
Strictly judging his talent, Carr had the ability to be a consistent NFL starter. But the Texans were still getting acclimated to their new surroundings as an expansion team, and weren't ready to take on a young blue-chip quarterback. Some see Carr as a 1st-overall bust, but that really isn't the case.
8 Seattle Seahawks: The Rick Mirer Pick
Oft-forgotten about in the modern day, Mirer was the most highly-touted quarterback prospect of the mid-'90s. His career at Notre Dame had many NFL teams believing he'd be a surefire elite player in the pros. The Seahawks pulled the trigger on him at 2nd-overall in the 1993 draft. After what seemed like a promising start, it became a disaster.
Mirer was one of the foremost quarterbacks busts of the 90s, and pretty much shot any chance the Seahawks had at being a contender for a long time. He did stay four seasons with the team, but his numbers were pedestrian at best. Of course, Seattle would eventually rebound, once with Mike Holmgren and the other with Pete Carroll, but for a long time they were rendered ineffective due to this 2nd-overall miss at quarterback.
7 Oakland Raiders: Firing Jon Gruden
Gruden may be back in Raider Nation now, but they fired him originally coming off one of the best runs in team history since the heyday of the '70s and early-'80s. He then went on to win a title with the Bucaneers, and establish himself in Tampa Bay as one of the NFL's best coaches. He came up short in the Super Bowl, and then was let go.
What proceeded was over a decade of the Raiders consistently being among the worst teams in the league. They had no semblance of consistency, and the whims of owner Al Davis were becoming increasingly detrimental. Gruden represented balance and a leader that the team could count on. After he left, Oakland was up creek without a paddle, and never able to recover.
6 Cincinnati Bengals: Keeping Marvin Lewis
The Bengals are the most complacent franchise in the NFL, keeping a coach in Lewis that hasn't won a playoff game in over a decade. There's no doubt about it anymore: Cincinnati is just treading water until they get rid of him, and probably quarterback Andy Dalton as well. This team has peaked, and it wasn't even good enough to win a playoff game.
Really, how the Bengals can justify Lewis as head coach anymore, is a mystery. Just like it's often foolish to get rid of a coach after just one sub-par season, it's equally foolish to retain their services after it's clear that they're past the point of no return. This is going to hurt the Bengals over the long-term, and is a poor decision.
5 Minnesota Vikings: The Herschel Walker Trade
In many ways, the Cowboys can thank the Vikings for their Super Bowl run of the '90s, just as much as they can thank Jimmy Johnson. They landed a slew of players from the deal, as well as multiple 1st-round picks that turned out to be Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson, all just to relinquish Walker, who could be a streaky running back in the pros at times.
It was a once in a lifetime deal for the Cowboys, and the prospect of a team making this kind of a trade today is ridiculous, especially for a running back. It was a product of its time, and the it killed the Vikings for nearly a decade thereafter. Simply one of the most ill-advised trades in the history of the league.
4 Indianpolis Colts: Playing Fast And Loose With Andrew Luck
The future for Luck is very much up in the air, after having several years as one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, and it's the Colts' organization at fault. A combination of rushing him back from injury, and not treating his injuries as seriously as they need to, have been them between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Luck. He was an all-world talent, and they may have ruined him forever.
Now with the prospect of Jacoby Brissett starting if Luck continues to miss time, they really have shot themselves in the foot for the long-term. It wouldn't be a surprise if Luck has soured on Indy as an organization and would want to play elsewhere once he finally gets healthy, whenever that may be.
3 San Francisco 49ers: Firing Jim Harbaugh
Harbaugh brought the 49ers back to the kind of prominence they enjoyed under Bill Walsh and Steve Mariucci. He was the right coach for the job, and got San Francisco to a Super Bowl for the first time since the mid-90s, in the 2012 season. Accounts of his coaching brilliance were not exaggerated, and the 49ers front office made one of the biggest blunders by running him out of town.
In the end, it was ego that got in the way. Trent Baalke and his cronies had it out for Harbaugh, and since then, the team has been an utter disaster, running through mediocre coaches left and right. While Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garropolo may promise some improvement, it's far form guaranteed, and Baalke still made this team into a laughing stock all the same.
2 Buffalo Bills: Believing In Rex Ryan
The 2015 Bills were coming off a year where they were definitely good enough to make the playoffs. Doug Marrone and Jim Schwartz had elevated their defense one of the best in the league, and the potential was there to make a playoff run. Instead of hiring a coach who would continue this winning trajectory, they went with Ryan, who had proven himself to be a leader with little in the way of control or poise.
It showed on the field, as Ryan's Bills posted back-to-back 7-win seasons, and the Bills talent all got another couple years older, with some falling out of their prime. The opportunity was there for Buffalo to strike in the AFC for a short period of time, but a bad coaching hire put them back in the basement.
1 Washington Redskins: Selling The Farm For RGIII
It's easily the biggest blunder surrounding a draft trade-up in recent memory, and the Redskins' organization were just as much at fault for Griffin's failure as he was. Packaging a whopping three 1st-round picks to the Rams before the 2013 draft, Washington wanted Griffin to be their quarterback of the future. Coming out of Baylor, Griffin was seen as the best quarterback prospect in the draft, and his ceiling seemed to be limitless.
Despite a very good rookie campaign, he never found the right footing with the team, in large part due to subsequent injuries. But the Redskins compounded the situation when they fired Mike Shanahan after the 2013 season, only to being in Jay Gruden, who simply didn't mesh with Griffin on any level.
In the end, the Redskins never got their quarterback of the future, and while they were able to rebound with Kirk Cousins ever so slightly for a few years, he too is now gone. For the foreseeable future, the team is looking towards newly-acquired Alex Smith to win them games, meaning that there's going to be a cap on how far they can go. The Griffin trade turned out to be the beginning of the end.
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