The NFL is fascinating not only for it's on-field action and feats of athleticism and skill, but for the rich history involved in drafting, utilizing free agency, and trading with other teams to assemble the best possible combination of players for a given team in a given year. This year-round jockeying for position has lead to some incredible moves that gave teams the edge in a division race, has spawned superteams that have enjoyed years of success...and has resulted in some pretty spectacular, mind boggling mistakes. While at the time these moves might have seemed like the right decision, hindsight lets us pick apart some particularly awful decisions, by coaches, owners, and GMs that had the complete opposite effect than desired.
This offseason has been no different, with many big moves already made and many still to come. For most fanbases, these moves bring a sense of excitement and optimism, and any fan can tell you why their team's latest trade or signing has them primed for a playoff run. However, as history tells us, many of these moves will fall flat on their face and look like pretty dumb decisions in just a few years.
Every NFL team, from the cellar-dwelling Browns to the annoyingly good Patriots, has had some moments of terrible management, poor decisions, and awful trades that they'd rather us forget. This article won't allow them that privilege, as we open up the history books and dive into the Biggest Mistake In Every NFL Team's History.
32 Arizona Cardinals – Going All In On Kevin Kolb
The Cardinals were a mess in the year that followed Kurt Warner's retirement. The team went 5-11 in 2010 with some truly terrible quarterback play. With former heir apparent Kevin Kolb no longer the future in Philadelphia, the 26-year-old was perfect trade bait for the Eagles, they just needed a desperate team to bite.
And bite the Cardinals did. Not only did the team give up a second round pick and starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Eagles for Kolb, they handed the unproven QB a staggering 5-year, $64 million contract. Kolb suffered through two disappointing and injury-filled seasons with the Cardinals and just never really looked comfortable on a football field. He was released in 2013.
31 Atlanta Falcons – Blowing a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl
This one is still pretty fresh. With a 28-3 lead on Tom Brady and the Patriots late in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, it looked like Matt Ryan and the Falcons were set to cruise to their first ever Super Bowl victory. Unless something crazy happened.
Something like Tom Brady and the Patriots ripping off 31 unanswered points to complete a ridiculously improbable comeback victory, by far the biggest in Super Bowl history.
It's hard to know who exactly to blame for the Falcon's epic collapse. A lot had to go wrong to manage such a meltdown, including just some awful play-calling by Kyle Shanahan. After an incredible Julio Jones catch to put the Falcons well within field goal range and just needing to run some clock and ice the game. Instead, Shanahan had Matt Ryan drop back to pass on consecutive plays, resulting in a big sack and crucial penalty to push them out of field goal range, keeping the door open for Brady and the Patriots.
30 Baltimore Ravens – Giving Up Anquan Boldin For Next To Nothing
You're the Ravens. You've just won the Super Bowl, on the back of some incredible performances, including veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin's amazing playoff performances. What do you do next? Well, trade Boldin away to the team you just beat, the San Francisco 49ers, for a measly sixth-round draft pick.
That's right. After being the Ravens leading receiver and at the center of their playoff run, the Ravens dropped Boldin for basically nothing, to the benefit of the 49ers. Boldin proved he was nowhere near done, exploding onto the scene in San Francisco with a 208 yard, one touchdown performance in the very first game of the following season, en route to three productive years with the team. The Ravens? They've only been to the playoffs once in the past four years.
29 Buffalo Bills – Benching Doug Flutie For The Playoffs
The '90s were not kind to Bills fans, what with their four-straight Super Bowl losses to start the decade. The end of the decade featured similar frustration. Canadian Football League quarterback Doug Flutie was back in the NFL with the Bills in 1999 and enjoying a great season, leading the team to a 10-5 record and poised for a playoff run. However, inexplicably, Wade Phillips benched the popular quarterback at the end of the season in favor of Rob Johnson, and announced that Johnson would be the team's quarterback for the playoffs.
It seemed like karma, then, for the Bills to lose heartbreakingly to future AFC champions the Tennessee Titans, in what was an early playoff exit. Flutie bounced around the NFL for a few more seasons, seeing some success before his eventual retirement at age 43.
28 Carolina Panthers – Jimmy Clausen
The 2010 draft featured several disappointing quarterbacks and several quarterback-hungry teams who reached looking for their next franchise player. The Panthers were one of them, as they pulled the trigger on Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen in the second round. Clausen was...not a good quarterback. He was so bad, in fact, that his terrible 2010 season helped the Panthers pick first overall in 2011, a position they used to select Clausen's replacement, Cam Newton. Clausen was demoted to third string for the 2011 season and had virtually zero impact through an extremely unimpressive NFL career. Clausen was last seen bouncing around with the Ravens and Bears, but appears to be out of the league for good.
27 Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler's Massive Contract
In hindsight, Jay Cutler was never a good idea for the Bears. Enamored by his natural talent and potential, the Bears kept hoping Cutler would turn into a top-five quarterback in the league and lead their franchise to success. They were so confident in him, in fact, that they gave him a staggering seven-year, $126.7 million dollar contract after the 2013 season. What did Cutler do to earn the contract? A playoff berth? Championship appearance? Nope, the contract came after Cutler led the Bears to an extremely average 8-8 season.
It only went downhill after he got paid. The 2014 was an embarrassing one for the Bears, with Cutler leading the team to a stumbling 5-11 record and eventually being benched for...Jimmy Clausen (see above). The team finally cut ties with the signal-caller this offseason, signalling what can hopefully be a new era for the Bears after so much mediocrity.
26 Cincinnati Bengals – Drafting Akili Smith
This one was a head-scratcher from start to finish. In a draft where the Saints were ready to offer pretty much everything they owned for the privilege of drafting Ricky Williams, the Bengals turned them down and selected Akili Smith with their third pick, apparently to be their quarterback of the future or something?
Smith sums it up best: "I'm kind of baffled that they drafted me. Ten games into my second season, they benched me, and it was over after that."
A holdout, a 3-14 record, and a 52.8 career quarterback rating was all the Bengals needed to see from Smith before cutting their losses and just moving on from the young player. Smith bounced around in Europe in Canada in what was an incredibly underwhelming career.
25 Cleveland Browns – Basically All Their Recent QB Moves
Let's see...Cody Kessler, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III, Austin Davis, Conner Shaw, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Thad Lewis, Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, the list goes on and on. The Browns have been a revolving door of terrible choices and disappointing seasons from a myriad of different quarterbacks. Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel were both first round draft choices, with Weeden going 22nd overall in 2012 and Manziel taken with the same pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Weeden, who was 28 at the time, was a complete bust and a head-scratching pick to begin with. Johnny Football had undeniable talent but a wealth of character concerns that ultimate cut his Browns career short, after being unable to stay away from the constant stream of drugs and partying he is known. The Browns need at least some kind of continuity at quarterback to get themselves out of the cellar in the AFC.
24 Dallas Cowboys – Firing Jimmy Johnson Too Soon
As we've mentioned before, the Cowboys have had their share of missteps under owner Jerry Jones. They've had plenty of highs and lows over the past thirty years, but perhaps one of their biggest mistakes was letting Jerry Jones's ego play too big a role in the way their franchise was managed, as it did in the case of Jimmy Johnson.
In the early '90s, Jones made the shocking decision to fire Jimmy Johnson after two consecutive Super Bowl wins. The two just did not get along, and Jones moved on from the popular head coach. While the Cowboys talented roster did win another Super Bowl post-Johnson, the move was the beginning of the end for the Cowboys dynasty, and they have yet to reach that level of success again.
23 Denver Broncos – Tim Tebow
Despite the hype that surrounded college superstar and freakish athlete Tim Tebow and his incredible run during the 2011 NFL season, it's hard to argue that Tebow was a good selection for the Broncos in the first round of the 2010 draft. The Florida product was a tantalizing prospect based on his college success, but conventional wisdom said his mechanics and skills as a pure quarterback were too broken for him to be successful at the next level, and the critics were proved right.
While Broncos fans will fondly remember Tebow's magical run in the 2011 season and wild-card victory over the favored Pittsburgh Steelers, Tebow was not able to replicate his success and bounced around the league a bit before quitting football to pursue a career in baseball.
22 Detroit Lions – Matt Millen
How bad was former Lions general manager Matt Millen? Let's take a look at some of the greatest hits from his seven-year stint as the head of the franchise. He had a collection of awful draft choices, including Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, and Mike Williams. His team had an 8-50 record on the road throughout his run as GM. He built the team that managed the worst season ever in the NFL, the 0-16 2008 Lions. And he was almost universally hated by Detroit fans for the duration of his unsuccessful run, with multiple campaigns run to get him fired.
ESPN also named him the worst general manager in NFL history. It's a miracle he lasted as long as he did, and a huge mistake by Detroit Lions ownership.
21 Green Bay Packers – Drafting Tony Mandarich
The 1989 NFL Draft was an absolutely stacked class. It featured all-time greats like Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, and Derrick Thomas. And the Packers, picking at second overall, could pretty much have their choice of anyone. Instead, they took Tony Mandarich and made him the highest paid offensive lineman ever to that point.
The college star was an enormous disappointment, and his addiction to painkillers rampant steroid use, bad attitude, alcoholism, and huge expectations set the stage for his crushingly bad NFL career. Not only was he a major disappointment in Green Bay, the talent on the board when they made him their first round pick leave Packers fans to shake their heads and imagine what could have been.
20 Houston Texans – Brock Osweiler's Massive Contract
You know a contract is bad when a team gets rid of a second round pick as well as the player in a trade just to get the contract off their books. This was the case for the Texans this offseason, as they had to pay a steep price for Brock Osweiler's hefty contract.
After showing flashes with the Denver Broncos in 2015, Osweiler went after a paycheck, and the quarterback-starved Texans paid up, offering the 6'7" quarterback a four year, $72 million contract to be their franchise quarterback. Osweiler did not live up to the hype, struggling mightily and eventually being traded to the equally quarterback-starved Cleveland Browns, who managed to grab a second rounder in exchange for picking up the tab on Osweiler's contract.
19 Indianapolis Colts – Losing Out On John Elway
John Elway's career with the Denver Broncos make him one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He spent his 16-year-career dazzling Broncos fans with impressive stats, late game comebacks, and Super Bowl victories, and is currently their head of football operations. What people don't know, however, is how close Elway was to being a Colt.
The then Baltimore Colts held the first pick in the 1983 NFL Draft and used it on Elway. However, Elway flatly refused to play for the team, as the Colts were terrible at the time, and threatened to play baseball instead. Elway managed to leverage the threat of him walking away from football into a trade to the Broncos, and the rest is history as the Colts lost out on a Hall of Fame quarterback.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars – Blaine Gabbert
Can you believe there was once a raging debate over who would be the better quarterback out of Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton? In 2011, many draft analysts predicted Gabbert would fare better at the pro level than Cam Newton, despite Newton going first overall and Gabbert falling to tenth. Gabbert quickly proved the doubters correct, as he struggled through a terrible rookie season where he was sacked 40 times and averaged a pathetic 5.4 yards per attempt, last in the league.
Gabbert barely lasted two more years in Jacksonville before being cut, leaving the Jags still searching for their answer at quarterback.
17 Kansas City Chiefs – Taking Todd Blackledge Instead Of Dan Marino
The John Elway drama at the top of the 1983 draft overshadows this terrible Chiefs pick. Going into the NFL Draft, there was little debate who the second best quarterback was behind Elway, some guy named Dan Marino. Blackledge himself was shocked when the Chiefs chose not to pick Marino and took him instead with their seventh overall pick. Blackledge had five unsuccessful seasons with the Chiefs, while Marino went down as one of the greatest ever. Oh, also available when the Chiefs made their pick? Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.
Blackledge has actually gone on to have a pretty successful career as a broadcaster, but that's definitely not what the Chiefs had in mind when they picked him in front of Dan Marino.
16 Los Angeles Chargers – Ryan Leaf
Even a move to LA won't help the chargers live this one down. In the 1998 NFL Draft, Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf were considered 1A and 1B, both NFL-ready stars who would be the face of the league for years to come. Well, analysts were half right. Peyton Manning recently put the finishing touches on a legendary Hall of Fame career. Leaf? He barely lasted a few mediocre seasons in the NFL, plagued by injuries, terrible performances, and a bad attitude and work ethic.
Leaf has been in and out of jail in recent years and is routinely called the biggest draft bust of all time. In hindsight, this was a completely awful move by the Chargers in a draft that featured studs like Charles Woodson, Randy Moss, and Alan Faneca, to name a few.
15 Los Angeles Rams – Lawrence Phillips
There was no denying Lawrence Phillips had talent heading into the 1996 NFL Draft. The questions about him were more centered on his character and ability to stay out of trouble. The Rams decided to take a chance on the running back, a move which unfortunately backfired.
Phillips showed some promise, but after coach Dick Vermeil told Phillips he was being demoted to second-string due to inconsistent performances, Phillips stormed out of the facility in rage. That was enough for the Rams, who cut Phillips. Reports also indicated that Phillips had played in a game while intoxicated earlier that season for the Rams.
Phillips had a troubled career and life, bouncing around the league and spending multiple stints in prison, where he eventually committed suicide.
14 Miami Dolphins – Not Winning A Super Bowl With Dan Marino
Dan Marino is easily one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, but unfortunately for the Dolphins, they were never able to win the Big One during his career. There are many reasons for this, but one of the biggest is Marino's lack of a supporting cast.
During his time with the Dolphins under Don Shula, Miami never had a truly elite running back to take some of the pressure off of Marino, and many think the team never made enough of an effort to get one in order to take the team to the next level. Marino had several successful seasons and some incredible career stats, but retired without a ring.
13 Minnesota Vikings – Thinking Troy Williamson Could Replace Randy Moss
The Vikings have had some successful drafts, and picking wide receiver Randy Moss in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft ranks as one of their best decisions ever. When Moss left for the Raiders in 2005, however, the franchise made one of their worst decisions ever trying to find his successor. They spent a seventh-overall pick on the speedy Troy Williamson, a track athlete with a 4.32 second 40-yard dash and apparently the next big deep threat in Minnesota.
That was not the case, however, as Williamson struggled mightily with drops at the NFL level, and his poor hand-eye coordination made him a liability at receiver. He had the speed to get past defenders, but lacked the ability to actually catch the ball once he was open. Williamson lasted three poor seasons with the Vikings before being flipped for a sixth-round pick from the Jaguars.
12 New England Patriots – 18-1
Admittedly, it's kind of hard to pick on the Patriots. The franchise has defined excellence in the NFL for over a decade, and as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are around, it looks like that will remain the case. However, their 2007 season standouts as both incredible and heartbreaking for their fans at the same time.
Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and an incredible offense led the Patriots to a never-before-seen 16-0 regular season. Perfection. Two playoff wins later, and the Patriots were set to face off against Eli Manning and his underdog New York Giants, just needing to put one more game away to finish clearly the greatest season of all time.
The rest, thanks to David Tyree's physics defying antics, is history. The Patriots lost 17-14 as part of a Super Bowl drought for Brady and co. and forever put an asterisk on the Pat's perfect season.
11 New Orleans Saints – Trading Their Entire Draft For Ricky Williams
The Saints can put the blame purely on coach Mike Ditka for this one. Leading up to the 1999 draft, it was no secret that Ditka had his eye on standout running back Ricky Williams. No one quite expected his next move, however. Ditka liked Williams so much, he decided to give up the Saint's entire draft for him, trading every single other pick they had to move up in the first round and grab Williams.
A move that bold seems almost destined to fall flat on it's face. Williams showed some flashes but attitude problems, injuries, and poor production quickly soured his relationship with the team. Williams was traded after three seasons, and Ditka was fired.
10 New York Giants – Ron Dayne
The Giants have been overall a very successful NFL franchise, without too many hugely embarrassing mistakes to look back on. However, every NFL team has some bad draft decisions they regret, and the Giants are not exempt. In the 2000 NFL Draft, running back Ron Dayne seemed like a safe option, so the Giants took him 11th overall. Fans were excited by the running back's potential, but after showing some promise, the Giants coaching staff grew increasingly disappointed with Dayne's inability to lose weight. He saw fewer and fewer carries with the team before leaving in free agency in 2004. Dayne went on to bounce around the league but never saw much success, a disappointing NFL career for the Wisconsin Badgers superstar.
9 New York Jets – Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez was supposed to save the Jets franchise when he was drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2009. And while he did have some tantalizing success, he struggled with inconsistency that drove Jets fans crazy. Sanchez saw quick success, with two consecutive AFC championships in his first two seasons, but lost both.
Sanchez regressed harshly in the following seasons, and became characterized by poor decisions, interceptions, and the infamous "Butt Fumble". Ultimately, the pressure in New York was too much, and the former USC star was eventually benched and then released by the team following several unsuccessful seasons, and has spent much of his career as a backup for multiple different teams.
8 Oakland Raiders – JaMarcus Russell
It wasn't just the Raiders who swung and missed on this one. Draft analysts, including Mel Kiper, lauded Russell as a future superstar in the NFL and potential top all-time quarterback at the pro level. The only thing Russell can be realistically called is a top all-time bust, as he did absolutely nothing to earn the $61 million contract the Raiders handed him after picking him first overall in the 2007 draft.
Russell brought a terrible work ethic and bad attitude to the Raiders team, and managed a meager 7-18 record as a starter. He regularly reported to training camp out of shape, with reports putting his weight above 300 pounds at times. He was released in 2010 by the Raiders despite still being owed lots of guaranteed money, and hasn't played a down of NFL football since.
7 Philadelphia Eagles – Giving Chip Kelly Total Personnel Control
What's the fastest way to implode your football team? Hand over complete control of football operations to an unproven college coach without a playoff win. Although Kelly's first two seasons with the Eagles looked promising, everything went downhill after owner Jeffrey Lurie put him in complete charge of the franchise.
Eagle's fans will remember Chip Kelly's Wild Ride, in which the coach made a mad flurry of trades and deals, including getting rid of LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles, and letting Jeremy Maclin go a year after getting rid of the popular DeSean Jackson. Kelly managed to completely implode an exciting core of offensive superstars and replaced them with Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray, who both had wildly unproductive seasons in Chip Kelly's increasingly easy-to-predict offensive scheme. Kelly was fired at the end of the 2015 season.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers – The 2008 Draft Class
The Steelers are an extremely successful franchise historically, and one that prides themselves on building their team through the draft. Some consistently great drafts have led the team to six Super Bowl victories and decades of being a contender. However, the 2008 draft was one to forget, and a smear in GM Kevin Colbert's otherwise solid track record.
The Steelers went offense in the first two rounds, selecting running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Limas Sweed. Mendenhall was supposed to be the next great Steelers back, while the 6'4" Sweed had fans drooling over his potential. Both were busts, with Mendenhall flashing some potential but eventually going to the Cardinals and later retiring after an injury-plagued career, while Sweed failed to make much of an impact at all and did not last long in the NFL.
5 Seattle Seahawks – Not Giving The Ball To Beast Mode
February 1, 2015. The Seahawks were down by four to the New England Patriots in the final minutes of Super Bowl XLIX. After driving down the field, the Seahawks had control of the ball one yard from the endzone, second down, with one timeout left and 26 seconds left to go in the game. Instead of letting Marshawn Lynch, the most intimidating power back in the league, churn out the remaining yard to pay dirt, coach Pete Carroll instead decided to draw up a quick slant play.
The shocking call went exactly as bad as it could have, with Patriots corner Malcom Butler jumping the route for the game-sealing interception. The play quickly became one of the most criticized ever, with many astounded at the decision to pass instead of run the ball with plenty of time and a timeout remaining.
4 San Fransisco 49ers – Not Giving Tom Brady A Shot
Okay, okay. To be fair, every team in the league is at fault for missing out on the greatest quarterback of all time. And the Patriots deserve credit for taking a chance on Brady in the sixth round. But the 49ers and Bill Walsh deserve the most blame for skipping out on Brady, who publicly stated his interest in playing with the 49ers leading up to the draft.
Brady admired the 49ers tradition of excellence and great quarterbacks such as Steve Young and Joe Montana, and wanted his shot to be the next great Niners QB. Instead, San Francisco took Giovanni Carmazzi as their developmental quarterback project, an experiment that failed and resulted in an unsuccessful period in 49ers history.
Niners fans can only dream of what might have been had Bill Walsh taken a chance on Brady. Speaking of great 49ers quarterbacks...
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Wasting Steve Young
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had some rough seasons in the 1980's. However, a lot of the damage was self inflicted, as the franchise lost out on an all-time great quarterback in Steve Young. After two miserable seasons with the Buccaneers, the team declared Young a bust and decided to move on. The problem clearly wasn't Young, however, and Bill Walsh saw that and snapped up the promising quarterback.
After several seasons backing up Joe Montana, Young finally got his shot, and went on to have an extremely successful career as the 49ers starter, winning multiple MVP awards and leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl win as a starter in 1995. A little bit of patience by the Buccaneers, and things could have gone completely different for both franchises.
2 Tennessee Titans – Jake Locker
With recent references to Steve Young, it only makes sense to look at Jake Locker, who an NFL GM claimed would be a "bigger, taller, right-handed version" of the 49ers star leading up to the 2010 NFL Draft. Locker was a successful, strong, mobile quarterback who many predicted would have success at the NFL level.
Instead of Super Bowls and MVPs, however, Locker saw a few mediocre NFL seasons plagued by injury after the Titans took him in the first round of the 2011 draft. Locker had his chances, but never materialized into much more than a backup-level player at the NFL level. Locker retired in 2015, saying he had no desire to play football anymore.
1 Washington Redskins - Signing Albert Haynesworth
Washington GM Dan Snyder is responsible for one of the biggest free agent flops of the last decade. In 2009, Snyder threw a ridiculous seven-year, $100 million contract at the former Titans defensive tackle, a bold move for a Redskins team trying to shore up their defense. Albert Haynesworth, however, cashed his check and simply stopped trying.
The tackle refused to participate in team workouts, showed up to camp out of shape, publicly questioned coaching decisions, and was just a complete bust in his time in Washington, and going down as potentially the worst free agent signing in NFL history. The Redskins eventually managed to get a fifth-round pick from the Patriots in exchange for Haynesworth, who never lived up anywhere close to his contract.
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