The end of each NFL regular season gives fans, journalists and observers opportunities to review decisions made by every organization over the past year. Obviously, those clubs sitting at or near the bottom of the overall league standings ahead of New Year’s Day have some regrets about certain roster-building moves that did not go as planned. Some didn’t wait until the end of the campaign to dismiss head coaches who weren’t winning. Truth be told, even Super Bowl contenders and the best teams in the league during the final days of December all, with the benefit of hindsight, could have done some things differently.
No single mistake, regardless of how big or small, can sink a stable franchise on its own. Teams capable of utilizing the “next man up” mentality overcome these types of setbacks and participate in meaningful January contests. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the clubs that routinely lose more than they win and that could use culture changes, not to mention some front office moves. For those teams, mistakes often cost coaches and general managers their jobs because those franchises aren't any closer to righting the ship than they were at the beginning of the year when every team started out with the same record.
32 Arizona Cardinals: Paying Sam Bradford
The Arizona Cardinals signing a bridge quarterback to start ahead of rookie Josh Rosen made sense. Giving veteran Sam Bradford a contract that guaranteed the oft-injured signal-caller $15 million in guaranteed money was a mistake at the time he put pen to paper on that deal, and it took the Cardinals fewer than three total games to realize that Bradford playing instead of Rosen wasn’t what was best for the club. Arizona benched Bradford by the end of the team’s Week 3 showdown, and the Cardinals released him the first week of November. Instead of signing Bradford, Arizona could have grabbed Teddy Bridgewater to play as Rosen adjusted to NFL life from the sidelines.
31 Atlanta Falcons: Keeping Steve Sarkisian
In February 2017, the Atlanta Falcons hired Steve Sarkisian to serve as the team’s offensive coordinator after Kyle Shanahan made his move to the San Francisco 49ers. The subsequent season, an offense that averaged 33.8 PPG went to scoring 22.1 PPG, and the Falcons will finish the 2018 campaign with a sub-.500 record. Sarkisian isn’t just to blame for all that went wrong for Atlanta this year. Injuries presented problems no coordinator could fix. Rumors are that coaches could be sent packing by the Falcons, and Sarkisian could be the first who is shown the door either on Black Monday or after the holiday season.
30 Baltimore Ravens: Not starting Lamar Jackson
The counterpoint to this argument is that the Baltimore Ravens actually did Lamar Jackson a favor by keeping him on the bench until Joe Flacco suffered an injury that forced the rookie into the lineup. There may be some validity to those thoughts, but even the most passionate and loyal of Baltimore fans would have to admit they are at least a little curious about what could have been for the 2018 edition of the team had Jackson been given a real chance to start during the preseason and early September. Perhaps the Ravens would have coasted to a division title with Jackson and not Flacco atop the depth chart.
29 Buffalo Bills: Signing Vontae Davis
Every free agent signing is a bit of a gamble, regardless of talent. With that said, paying a guy who leaves a game early in the middle of September and then retires before that contest concludes is quite the mistake. Yes, people change their minds, and every professional athlete has the right to say when the time has come to hang the cleats up for good. One would think that somebody within the Bills would have realized either in the summer or the preseason that Davis clearly wasn’t fully invested in the cause and would get going right as things got tough. At least Davis is able to laugh at himself in national advertisements.
28 Carolina Panthers: Playing an injured Cam Newton
One didn’t have to be an insider or even all that close to the Carolina Panthers to see that quarterback Cam Newton was playing with an injured shoulder during the team’s seven-game losing streak that knocked the club out of the playoffs before Christmas. Those running the Panthers may truthfully not know exactly when Newton re-injured the shoulder to the point that he shouldn’t have been on the field. Looking back, though, shutting Newton down after November may have been the right call both for the now and for the future. There have to be some concerns within the organization this winter about Newton’s status for 2019.
27 Chicago Bears: Not trading Kevin White
The Chicago Bears deserve credit for trading with the Oakland Raiders for Khalil Mack, as the Bears won the division and could make a run to the Super Bowl. Like every team in the league, the Bears haven’t gotten everything right over the past year. Wide receiver Kevin White, taken with a first-round pick in 2015, clearly isn’t part of the team’s plans past the postseason. In fact, it’s noteworthy when White is targeted with a pass during any game. Odds are the Bears would’ve received little, if anything, for White, but not trading him and, instead, letting him walk via free agency will make him one of the biggest draft busts in recent history.
26 Cincinnati Bengals: Bringing Hue Jackson back
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green both going down with injuries ensured that the Cincinnati Bengals would be watching the playoffs rather than participating in that tournament. There’s nothing any team can do about bad luck. Bringing Hue Jackson back to work as an assistant and potentially serve as the club’s next head coach, if he ever is awarded that job, is a mistake that could burn the Bengals for years to come. It’s clear Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield isn’t missing Jackson.
25 Cleveland Browns: Keeping Hue Jackson as long as they did
Hue Jackson, one of the worst coaches in NFL history, somehow kept his job after the Cleveland Browns went 0-16, and the team’s front office employing Jackson resulted in Tyrod Taylor starting over Baker Mayfield, a move that may have prevented the Browns from competing for a playoff spot in Week 17. Taylor sustained a concussion on September 20 and forced Jackson to play Mayfield, and the Browns finally fired Jackson in late October. Cleveland’s future undeniably looks bright with Mayfield leading the charge. The 2018 Browns could have been even better and won maybe two or three additional games had the team parted ways with Jackson last January.
24 Dallas Cowboys: Signing Allen Hurns
The Dallas Cowboys needed more weapons for quarterback Dak Prescott, which is why the club signing former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns in March was a logical move. As Sam Quinn of 247Sports wrote in October, though, the Cowboys just got this one wrong. Hurns wasn’t worth the money or the time spent on him, and it’s surprising when he sees even a couple of targets on any given Sunday. The Cowboys could save money by cutting the 27-year-old after the season. Unless Hurns has a January to remember, that seems to be the inevitable end to his tenure with the organization.
23 Denver Broncos: Paying Case Keenum
A franchise quarterback is worth more than his weight in gold, particularly for teams that haven’t been able to draft such leaders for a decade or longer. Case Keenum deserved to be paid following a breakout year with the Minnesota Vikings, and the Broncos needed to find a starting QB. How much of an upgrade Keenum is has yet to be determined, though, and the fact that Denver could consider trading for a QB like Joe Flacco makes one believe the team signing Keenum is seen as a mistake by some within the building. The Broncos are yet another franchise that could have grabbed Teddy Bridgewater in March 2018.
22 Detroit Lions: Not replacing Eric Ebron
Sometimes, it’s nobody’s fault when a plan doesn’t go as hoped, and that was the case regarding tight end Eric Ebron playing with the Detroit Lions. Ebron clearly needed a change of scenery, and he is flourishing with the Indianapolis Colts. One can, however, blame the Lions for not adequately replacing Ebron after the team parted ways with him last March. Plenty of hot takes about quarterback Matthew Stafford are already out there, and more will see the light of day during the offseason. Maybe Detroit should get Stafford some help (and no, we don’t mean more running backs) before actually considering moving on from the signal-caller.
21 Green Bay Packers: Keeping Mike McCarthy
The winner in a fight between a franchise quarterback who is still one of the best at the position in the NFL and a head coach will be the QB 99 times out of 100. That, clearly, is the case with the Green Bay Packers as December comes to an end. Those of us who don’t work for the franchise may never know all that happened between Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy, but the two clearly weren’t exchanging Christmas cards by the time the Packers fired McCarthy. Green Bay probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs had the team canned McCarthy last January, but at least Rodgers may have been a little happier during the fall had that scenario played out.
20 Houston Texans: Not improving at left tackle
We usually only focus on a left tackle when the guy playing the position isn’t good enough to start for an NFL team. That’s the case with Julie'n Davenport, the tackle for the Houston Texans who probably should have been replaced this past offseason and who likely won’t be playing up front for the franchise next September. In Davenport’s defense, he was a fourth-round pick, so his ceiling never should have been all that high when he entered the league in 2017. Houston’s offensive line failing quarterback Deshaun Watson has become a worrying trend, and that unit could be what sinks the team in the playoffs.
19 Indianapolis Colts: Signing Ryan Grant
Maybe the Indianapolis Colts should have read the writing on the wall when wide receiver Ryan Grant failed a physical with the Baltimore Ravens in March. Instead, the Colts signed the 28-year-old to a one-year contract later that month. Grant hasn’t been a disaster, but he also shouldn’t be a starting receiver for Andrew Luck. The Colts should be praised for finally giving Luck an offensive line capable of protecting its quarterback, one who could be the best in the league if he remains upright and healthy. Grant shouldn’t be on this roster next March, and the Colts will likely spend money to find his replacement.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars: Putting any faith in Blake Bortles
The three-year extension the Jacksonville Jaguars gave quarterback Blake Bortles after the team made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game now looks like one of the worst contracts in the NFL. Bortles performed so poorly in 2018 that the team benched him in favor of former Cleveland Browns flop Cody Kessler, who clearly shouldn’t be starting for any franchise unless that team’s QB1 goes down to an injury. Worst of all about this mistake is that the financials of the extension may prevent the Jags from moving on from Bortles for at least one more season unless a different team thinks it can fix the former first-round pick.
17 Kansas City Chiefs: Kareem Hunt
The Kansas City Chiefs did the right thing by releasing running back Kareem Hunt in November after announcing that he apparently lied to the origination about an off-field incident that occurred the previous February. By now, though, it’s understood NFL teams have the resources to find the facts regarding any such incident if those running that club actually want to do the work. The Chiefs didn’t, and, thus, the team entered December without Hunt on the roster. Cutting Hunt before training camp would have given the coaching staff that much more time to prepare game plans knowing he wouldn’t be part of the offense.
16 Los Angeles Chargers: Signing Caleb Sturgis
It’s difficult to crush the Los Angeles Chargers for any mistakes made in the past year since the team will enter the postseason as favorites to win the AFC and, possibly, to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. One thing the front office probably regrets is signing kicker Caleb Sturgis this past March. Sturgis had a rough go of it in a handful of appearances, missing six extra point attempts and four of 13 field goals before receiving his walking papers in November. Unlike with the Browns, a kicker didn’t cost the Chargers a chance to make the playoffs. Things could be worse for this team heading in January.
15 Los Angeles Rams: Trading for Marcus Peters
The Los Angeles Rams needed help in the secondary last March when the team traded for Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters. Peters tallied three interceptions across the first 15 games of the season, but he has hardly been a shutdown corner during his first season with the NFC outfit. Peters confronting a fan during the team’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in December is also alarming because of the supposed character concerns that purportedly caused him to fall out of favor with the Chiefs. The Rams wouldn’t be stuck with Peters, financially speaking, if the team wanted to part ways with him, but this could be a costly mistake if he gets burned during a playoff game.
14 Miami Dolphins: Not trading DeVante Parker
The Miami Dolphins have all but told anybody willing to listen that the team will be cutting wide receiver DeVante Parker before the franchise has to pay him over $9 million on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. Parker, taken with a first-round pick during the 2015 NFL Draft, never tallied 60 receptions in any single season with the team, and the Dolphins trading Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns last March didn’t result in Parker becoming a top-tier wideout. Changes are coming to the Dolphins this winter. Parker won’t be part of the team’s future regardless of who is starting at quarterback for Miami when the offense takes the field for its first preseason game of 2019.
13 Minnesota Vikings: The Kirk Cousins money
It’s still far too early to bash the Minnesota Vikings too much for giving quarterback Kirk Cousins a three-year contract that includes $84 million in guaranteed money. After all, he will prove to have been worth that cash and even more if he helps the Vikings win a Super Bowl before that contract expires. One year into the deal, Cousins currently isn’t one of the top five QBs in the game. Heck, some out there may even claim they’d take Baker Mayfield ahead of Cousins based on talent, alone. Things change quickly in the NFL, and this being a mistake from the past year doesn’t mean Minnesota won’t look back on Cousins’ deal fondly by February 2021.
12 New England Patriots: Not letting Gronk go
It appears that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick had the right idea in mind when he reportedly wanted to trade Rob Gronkowski to the Detroit Lions during the offseason. Gronkowski allegedly threatened to retire before he played with a quarterback other than Tom Brady, so the Pats and Gronk remained together for another season. The 29-year-old with a lengthy injury history is no longer the player he was in his prime. He averaged one touchdown every four games across 12 appearances in 2018. Gronkowski may want to get used to doing something outside of the NFL because the Patriots probably won’t keep him past the playoffs.
11 New Orleans Saints: Not selling Ken Crawley
When New Orleans Saints defensive back Ken Crawley committed a pair of costly penalties in a playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings, he was unintentionally giving his employer glimpses of what was to come during the 2018 season. Crawley underwhelmed so much in September and October, the Saints dealt for New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple before the trade deadline. Crawley may be little more than a spectator during New Orleans playoff games before becoming a restricted free agent next March. His future with the Saints is murky, if he even has one, following this year’s Christmas festivities. Trading Crawley last March would have been a wise decision.
10 New York Giants: The Ereck Flowers experiment
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning probably no longer has the goods to win a Super Bowl. The New York front office nevertheless shouldn’t be let off the hook for failing to give Manning anything resembling a true pro-caliber offensive line until it was too late. Keeping first-round bust Ereck Flowers up through October when it was no secret he didn’t belong in the lineup was a baffling mistake and one that offered yet another reminder of the prior regime’s terrible draft classes. Whether it’s Manning or somebody else under center for the Giants next August, that QB needs the franchise to further bolster the offensive line during the upcoming offseason.
9 New York Jets: Todd Bowles
Fans of the New York Jets can rest easy knowing that rookie quarterback Sam Darnold is going to be just fine even though he had to deal with playing underneath Todd Bowles his first season in the NFL. Keeping Bowles for another season merely meant the Jets remaining on the figurative hamster wheel up through Black Monday or early 2019 if the franchise wants to wait until the new year to make what everybody knows is coming official. Bowles may prove to be a great assistant or coordinator for a different team, but it will take some time for him to receive another opportunity to be a head coach in the league.
8 Oakland Raiders: Trading Khalil Mack
The Oakland Raiders tanking the 2018 season still doesn’t excuse trading one-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears for a pair of first-round picks. After all, what is Oakland going to get with one of those selections: A future Defensive Player of the Year? Even if Chicago doesn’t win the Super Bowl in February 2019, the Bears are already big winners of that transaction. Maybe some fans will be able to defend this mistake down the road if the Raiders draft a couple of Pro Bowl talents with those selections. Remember, though, that guys like Mack don’t grow on trees.
7 Philadelphia Eagles: Signing Mike Wallace
Injuries are part of life in the NFL, and they can neither be ignored nor forgotten when reflecting on decisions made by front offices over the past year. The Philadelphia Eagles likely wanted to get Carson Wentz another weapon when the team gave wide receiver Mike Wallace a one-year contract last March. Wallace suffered a fractured fibula in Week 2, though, and he was a non-factor for the Eagles up until he was activated off injured reserve on Christmas Eve. Wallace, alone, would not have prevented the Eagles from experiencing a Super Bowl hangover, but this acquisition was still a mistake because he ended up not playing for the club for the bulk of the campaign.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers: Not finding a replacement for Ryan Shazier
The health and continued recovery of Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier remain far more important than any game. Still, the Steelers knew months and months in advance that there was zero chance Shazier was going to play at any point in 2018, but the franchise didn’t do enough to replace him in the lineup. Pittsburgh has struggled to deal with tight ends without Shazier, which is concerning since the team may see arguably the top player at the position in the playoffs. It’s unrealistic to hope Shazier will play again. Pittsburgh needs to find an upgrade rather than somebody who can merely fill that spot on the depth chart.
5 San Francisco 49ers: Not putting guys in Bubble Wrap
Yes, the San Francisco 49ers probably overpaid by quite a bit to sign running back Jerick McKinnon last March, but we never got to see him play a down with his new club because he sustained a torn ACL before the regular season. If that wasn’t bad enough, starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was also downed by a torn ACL during a Week 3 contest. The Niners weren’t flawless over the past year, but this has to be considered nothing more than a lost season for a club plagued by unavoidable setbacks. Those in charge of the franchise deserve a pass considering what they’ve had to deal with since the first day of September.
4 Seattle Seahawks: Not bolstering the secondary
The Legion of Boom is no more, as the Seattle Seahawks let Richard Sherman leave for the San Francisco 49ers via free agency before losing Kam Chancellor to a career-ending injury and Earl Thomas to a broken leg during Thomas’ contract year. Somewhat surprisingly, Seattle remained competitive and ultimately earned a playoff spot. Once the Seahawks have to face better competition in January, the team failing to improve its secondary during the offseason could prove to be a mistake from which there is no immediate recovery. It’s too bad the Seattle front office seemingly didn’t realize the roster was only a few pieces away from possibly being one of the best teams in the NFC.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trusting Jameis Winston
It wasn’t until June that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers learned Jameis Winston was facing a three-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Once that happened, though, Tampa Bay probably should have done whatever possible to trade Winston to a team in need of a QB or simply released him, because keeping him around through the end of December merely confirmed that both parties need fresh starts. Maybe Winston will figure out how to be the face of the franchise on and off the field. It shouldn’t be Tampa Bay’s job to help him achieve this mission any longer.
2 Tennessee Titans: The Dion Lewis contract
With each year, the value of the running back position in the NFL decreases. Last March, the Tennessee Titans signed Dion Lewis to a four-year deal that could be worth up to $20 million, which doesn’t look like all that much money, on paper, for a proven product until you consider what the Titans could have gotten for that cash at other positions. Lewis is the No. 2 guy in the backfield behind Derrick Henry, who is going to want to be paid before his rookie contract expires following the 2019 season. Henry should be in Tennessee through the start of next decade. We probably can’t say the same for Lewis, who averaged 3.3 yards per carry over the first 15 games of his stint with the Titans.
1 Washington Redskins: Playing Mark Sanchez
The Washington Redskins started Mark Sanchez at quarterback in November 2018 after both Alex Smith and Colt McCoy were lost to injuries. Seriously. That’s what happened. The former Sanchize played so poorly during a Week 14 blowout loss to the New York Giants, he was benched in favor of journeyman Josh Johnson. Whether or not you think the Redskins should have given Colin Kaepernick a call isn’t the issue. A blindfolded Kaepernick or any number of available options would have been better than Sanchez, who is barely a pro QB in name only anymore. The Redskins committing head-scratching blunders is an NFL tradition unlike any other.