The perception exists that the National Football League is a competition based largely on parity and the idea that the best overall club in the league shouldn't be too far ahead of even the worst side. Sure, the New England Patriots have found ways to remain postseason mainstays so long as quarterback Tom Brady has avoided serious injuries, but even the Patriots have lost playoff games and Super Bowl contests over the past decade. Despite New England's dominance of the AFC throughout the Brady era, there are still plenty of teams that should be able to contend for a Super Bowl berth between September 2017 and February 2018. It's not a stretch to suggest any one of the 15 clubs mentioned below could hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl LII comes to an end.
With that said, every team, even the Patriots, has been guilty of multiple miscues during the current offseason that could prove costly seven months down the road. Teams win and lose Super Bowl titles during offseasons, so says the old football adage, and it's likely, if not guaranteed, at least some of the clubs mentioned in this piece will be left regretting huge mistakes they've made since the start of March. In some instances, the mistakes showcased here involve teams losing key players to free agency. Others, meanwhile, have to do with players teams didn't sign and/or didn't acquire during the NFL Draft. Only one team will be left standing when all is said and done, and it'll be interesting to see what mistakes that club overcomes during the 2017 campaign.
15 Tennessee Titans: Not Signing a Top WR
Don't laugh about the notion the Tennessee Titans could make a run to the Super Bowl this year. Marcus Mariota is one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL today when he is healthy and able to play, and Mariota is also fortunate to have a solid offensive line protecting him.
One weakness the team still has heading into the summer months is a lack of a top wide receiver to catch passes thrown by Mariota. Numerous talented receivers were available once free agency opened, but the Titans chose to pass on signing any of them or even a proven journeyman looking to establish he still belongs in the NFL such as Victor Cruz. Any one of those options could have been beneficial for Mariota and the Titans, and not acquiring a known product at the position could end up being a huge mistake.
14 Green Bay Packers: Losing Micah Hyde
It's hard to argue with the Green Bay Packers over several of the noteworthy moves made by the club as it attempts to make a return to the Super Bowl. Allowing safety Micah Hyde to leave Green Bay via free agency and sign with the Buffalo Bills is a mistake and a miscue that could ultimately cost the Packers a Super Bowl if the team's defense struggles against a top offense during a playoff game.
There's no question Hyde is a player worthy of getting paid, but the Packers elected to save their money for other expenses. Hyde turned 26 years old this past December, meaning he should only, just now, be entering his physical prime. Green Bay will have remorse over this decision if Hyde reaches the peak of his potential and plays as well as many expect him to in Buffalo.
13 Seattle Seahawks: Not Silencing Richard Sherman Trade Rumors
The Seattle Seahawks have plenty of reasons for wanting to trade defensive back Richard Sherman were the right offer to be made. Seattle didn't pull the trigger on such a deal before the draft, however, and the club allowing rumors regarding Sherman's status to swirl about through the end of May is not going to do anybody any favors so long as he remains a member of the roster.
Whether they like to admit it or not, players read their own press and they listen to sports talk radio. The Seahawks refusing to emphatically silence trade rumors about Sherman once it became clear the organization wasn't going to trade him before April 28 could lead to an amount of unrest the club cannot recover from once training camp opens.
12 Oakland Raiders: Remaining Weak at LB
The Oakland Raiders – yes, those Oakland Raiders – have become media darlings beloved by analysts and picked to win a Super Bowl sooner rather than later because of the team's depth and the young talent currently on the roster. One would have thought the Raiders would have liked to address the team's weakness at linebacker during the draft, but Oakland instead went a different direction and used a first-round pick on cornerback Gareon Conley.
Whatever you think of the Raiders selecting a talented player who had red flags floating over his draft status this past April aside, the reality here is that Oakland may have some regrets during the fall months about transactions that were not completed if the team's defense struggles playing against opposing rushing attacks.
11 Denver Broncos: Not Having a True Starting QB
The Denver Broncos are trusting, or maybe hoping, that either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch will silence any and all doubters en route to grabbing the keys to the team's offense during training camp. That is a massive risk to take for a club that, on paper, would be able to compete for more than a playoff spot if a proper QB were on the field in Week 1.
It was widely thought at the start of the offseason that the Broncos could fix this problem for at least one season by acquiring a proven player such as Jay Cutler, as it would be an upgrade for Denver at the position. Instead, Denver will end up banking on either Siemian or Lynch unless the club changes direction, and that could be a huge mistake that costs the Broncos a chance of playing in the Super Bowl.
10 Cincinnati Bengals: Getting Worse on Offensive Line
One could politely say that the Cincinnati Bengals have had a curious offseason. A more critical person could, however, claim the Bengals had a downright disastrous few months following the Super Bowl, so much so that Cincinnati may be in the basement of the AFC North standings by the end of December.
Veteran tackle and mainstay of the offensive line Andrew Whitworth signed with the Los Angeles Rams, and stellar guard Kevin Zeitler put pen to paper on a contract with Ohio rivals the Cleveland Browns. Worst of all about those transactions is that the Bengals failed to truly replace those two losses. You almost have to feel bad for quarterback Andy Dalton, who may find himself playing for a new contract in 2017 depending on how certain people within the Bengals feel about his talents.
9 Pittsburgh Steelers: Not Signing a Top TE
This past February, just about everybody who follows and analyzes the Pittsburgh Steelers believed the club was going to either sign a top-tier tight end in free agency or use a first-round pick on one of the top prospects at the position. The club did not go either route, however, and there are now questions hovering over the team's passing attack. Pittsburgh, admittedly, has plenty of weapons at wide receiver, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a history of enjoying targeting tight ends.
Big Ben isn't getting any younger, and the Steelers shouldn't ignore that he has mentioned retirement in 2017. Not giving Roethlisberger a full arsenal of weapons, specifically at the tight end position, may be a mistake the Steelers don't recover from this coming season.
8 Washington Redskins: Exchanging DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon for Terrelle Pryor
The Washington Redskins have a franchise quarterback in Kirk Cousins even if certain people running the organization continue to ignore that fact and refuse to pay the man for whatever reasons. However good Cousins may be, losing wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon isn't going to help his cause.
Jackson made the move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while Garcon is set to play for the San Francisco 49ers. Terrelle Pryor is a promising talent who impressed playing the position while with the Cleveland Browns, but all would do well to remember he is still a project who is learning how to be a WR after giving up his dreams of playing quarterback in the NFL. Hoping Pryor can be a number one WR on the depth chart could prove to be a huge mistake for the Redskins.
7 Atlanta Falcons: Not Re-Strengthening Offensive Line
The Atlanta Falcons were on the cusp of winning a Super Bowl title this past February before the team completely fell apart during the contest versus the New England Patriots. As with most teams that aren't the Patriots, the Falcons will struggle to get back to the big game this coming season.
Arguably the biggest concern regarding the Falcons repeating as champions of the NFC may be the club's offensive line. Losing offensive guard Chris Chester to retirement could prove to be more costly for the Falcons than some originally thought, especially if health issues plague the line coming this fall. Quarterback Matt Ryan may find that life is more difficult if he is routinely bothered by opposing pass-rushers more often than not during the campaign.
6 Baltimore Ravens: Not Acquiring a Top WR
Take a spin around the Internet during the final month of spring, and you'll find articles about trade rumors linking the Baltimore Ravens with wide receivers around the NFL. The Ravens had plenty of opportunities to sign a top wide receiver or select a top-tier player at the position in the NFL Draft, but Baltimore failed to do so as of the final full week of May.
You may or may not believe that Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is elite, all jokes aside, but the fact remains Flacco needs all of the weapons he can get to compete with the best teams in the AFC. Flacco turned 32 years old earlier this year, and the Ravens may need to think about life without him if the club fails to make a deep postseason run over the next two years.
5 New Orleans Saints: Trading Brandin Cooks
At this point in Drew Brees' historic and iconic career, every year he's healthy is a “Super Bowl or bust” campaign for the New Orleans Saints. That is why we cannot understand why the Saints elected to trade wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the New England Patriots.
Even those who would say Cooks is not a true number one wide receiver, largely because of his lack of size, would have to admit the New Orleans offense is worse off today than it was with Cooks on the roster. Meanwhile, the previously mentioned Brees turned 38 years old this past January. Brees, theoretically, is already past his physical prime, and the feeling now is that the Saints are wasting the final years of his Hall-of-Fame career.
4 Arizona Cardinals: Losing Key Defensive Players
The window for the Arizona Cardinals to win a Super Bowl with quarterback Carson Palmer healthy and on the roster is closing, and losing a trio of players to free agency is not going to help the team's cause.
Safety Tony Jefferson, who missed the end of the campaign because of an injury, moved on to the Baltimore Ravens earlier this year. Fellow safety D.J. Swearinger made the switch from the Cardinals to the Washington Redskins this past March. Perhaps most noteworthy is that the Cardinals allowed Calais Campbell to enter free agency, and Campbell ultimately signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Defense wins championships, so goes the saying, and even Arizona fans would have to admit the team's defense is worse today than it was last December.
3 Dallas Cowboys: Not Replenishing the Secondary
The Dallas Cowboys had a very successful campaign in 2016 even if the team's playoff experience ended with a tough loss. Things may not go as well in 2017 for “America's Team,” though, in part because of the players the club lost in free agency. Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and J.J. Wilcox all moved on during the offseason, and the Cowboys failed to adequately fill the team's noticeable roster holes in the secondary.
The Dallas offense should, once again, be a dynamic force, but one cannot help but wonder what will happen when the defense of the Cowboys has to play against the other three passing attacks in the division. Dallas not strengthening the team's secondary could prove to be the club's biggest mistake of the past several years.
2 New England Patriots: Exchanging Martellus Bennett for Dwayne Allen
The New England Patriots routinely get little wrong on a yearly basis, but plenty of individuals who break film down and analyze players would suggest that Dwayne Allen is a bit of a downgrade from Martellus Bennett, who signed with the Green Bay Packers in free agency this past March.
Allen is a fine red zone target, but the concern for the Patriots is that he will not have the ability to stretch the field as Bennett can when healthy and at his best. Perhaps the biggest concern regarding this decision is the health of Rob Gronkowski. Gronk, as he is affectionately known, has a long injury history, and the Patriots using Allen as their main tight end could leave them regretting not signing Bennett if Gronk misses any amount of time during the season.
1 New York Giants: Keeping Ereck Flowers at LT
It's no secret to anybody who has watched the New York Giants over the past two seasons that left tackle Ereck Flowers has been a massive disappointment and a liability on the offensive line during his first two years in the NFL. For whatever reasons, though, the Giants failed to find a suitable replacement for Flowers in free agency or in the draft.
New York drafted Adam Bisnowaty in the sixth round, but it seems more likely he'll change positions than replace Flowers assuming Bisnowaty makes the final roster. Big Blue had multiple opportunities to acquire a top-rated offensive tackle in the draft, and failing to do so could be the huge mistake that prevents the Giants from winning a Super Bowl during the twilight of Eli Manning's tremendous and Hall-of-Fame career.