The 2015 season is winding down and teams or individual players are already looking forward to 2016. Whether a team is looking forward to it for a run in the playoffs come January or fresh start in 2016, this is a time for reflection. There were a bevy of expectations coming into the 2015 season for many players and certain teams but we have quickly seen many fallen short of them.
Any NFL player can have a bad year, even an elite player. Having a bad year in this case doesn’t necessarily mean a player performed poorly. It could also mean the player had terrible luck with injuries or the team around him was dismantled and his stock suffered because of that.
The Dallas Cowboys and several of their players are prime examples of this. After Tony Romo had a MVP caliber 2014 season, 2015 started with his Cowboys being robbed of a touchdown in a playoff game and eventually were eliminated. His 2015 season has been a complete write off. The same can be said for Dez Bryant, whose numbers have suffered without Romo in the lineup. The good news is he got himself a rich contract extension from the team in the summer.
There are several other players around the league who have faced a lot of adversity in this calendar year and probably can’t wait for 2016 to come around. A new year will present new opportunities and these players have to be starving for one.
Think of this list as hope for these players to bounce back in 2016 and us understanding that for whatever reason, 2015 just wasn’t their year. Hopefully the new year will bring them health and a return to form.
15. Jason Pierre-Paul
We’ll start with an obvious one. Any year that involves fingers being blown off is a tough year. Unfortunately that was Jason Pierre-Paul’s fate in a mishap with fireworks on the Fourth of July. JPP will have to play the rest of his career with a specialized glove and/or a really big bandage to cover his mangled right hand. He was able to return to the Giants in November, but as a result of his accident, his chances at a big payday have taken a hit, as he is due to be a UFA in 2016. He has yet to adjust to his new reality, so let’s hope he can find his groove as a pass rusher again.
14. Nick Foles
Nick Foles had a couple of very successful seasons under Chip Kelly as the Eagles’ starting QB. He forced Kelly’s hand in 2013, by replacing an injured Michael Vick and going on a tear for 27 touchdowns to two interceptions, leading Philly to a playoff berth. He followed that up with a less spectacular 2014 season, but the team still finished with 10 wins and appeared to be going in the right direction. How was he rewarded? Foles was traded to the Rams for Sam Bradford. Foles has really struggled in St. Louis, a team that can’t seem to break the glass ceiling of mediocrity.
13. Joe Flacco
There could have been many Ravens on this list and John Harbaugh is easily the top coach who is having a tough year. Terrell Suggs was lost to an injury in Week 1 and Steve Smith had plans of retirement before an Achilles injury prematurely ended his season. Joe Flacco has seemingly had just about every bad break one could get. He lost his offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to Denver in the offseason, lost Torrey Smith to free agency and lost Steve Smith midseason. Flacco’s tough season ended with a torn ACL, suffered in Week 10 against the Rams.
12. Marshawn Lynch
I’ll go ahead and trace Marshawn Lynch’s tough year back to the Super Bowl. With the ball on the one-yard line and being the most powerful running back in football, Lynch was made a non-factor on a play that resulted in his team throwing away the Super Bowl. Lynch has since suffered injury problems, most notably a recent abdomen injury that has kept him sidelined while Thomas Rawls, now injured himself, seems to be Lynch’s replacement in Seattle. Lynch had been hinting at retirement last season and could have ended his career with a Super Bowl winning TD run, but now finds himself in limbo.
11. Roddy White
Roddy White was once Matt Ryan’s go-to target in Atlanta. Julio Jones was drafted a few years ago to create a one-two punch with White to give the Falcons a Super Bowl caliber offense. While duo enjoyed success, including a run to the NFC Championship, things have fallen off the rails for White. He now finds himself demoted to Ryan’s third option (at best) while Jones is undoubtedly the star of the offense. His production had already slipped in 2013 and 2014, but it was hoped that new coach Dan Quinn and OC Kyle Shanahan could jumpstart him. That hasn’t happened and you wonder what White’s future now holds.
10. Robert Griffin III
Jay Gruden was brought in to coach Washington a couple of years ago to “fix” RGIII. Just his second year into the job and Gruden has already given up on the former rookie of the year, handing the keys to the franchise to Kirk Cousins. Cousins has had a good season, but it really is a bummer for fans of football that Griffin isn’t starting somewhere. Injuries were a problem his previous couple of seasons, but now his coach and franchise has outright given up on him as an NFL quarterback. Hopefully he gets a chance somewhere else in 2016.
9. Drew Brees
Drew Brees only has a couple of good years left in his career but 2015 was a real challenge for him. His team is going to miss the playoffs for a second straight year. In a season where Brees needed more help, he lost his security blanket Jimmy Graham in a trade to the Seahawks. While he got a quality center in Max Unger, New Orleans is in a tough situation. They have cap issues, Sean Payton may be looking for other coaching opportunities and Brees is in a division the Panthers are owning and the Bucs seem set to surpass the Saints in upcoming seasons.
The numbers are still there for Brees, but his defense has been one of the worst in NFL history. Brees can’t be enjoying his situation too much.
8. Ndamukong Suh
No, Ndamukong Suh clearly is not having a tough financial year, as he is now the highest paid defensive player in NFL history, signing a mega deal with the Dolphins as a free agent. Suh is signed for six years at $114 million, but his football career has taken a huge hit. Just four games into his Miami tenure, his coach was fired and there have been issues between Suh and his defensive coaches. The numbers and impact on the Fins defense doesn’t justify Suh’s contract and he’s already being called one of the biggest free agent busts of all time. Hopefully the Dolphins’ next head coach can reignite him.
7. Kelvin Benjamin
Wow, just imagine how good the Panthers would have been this year with Kelvin Benjamin. The rookie star of 2014 has missed the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL suffered in preseason and he’s had to watch from the sidelines as his team goes for NFL history. Benjamin’s a competitor and a former national champion at Florida State. It’s got to be killing him to see his team succeed so much and not being able to help as they get set to make a run at their first Lombardi Trophy.
6. Andrew Luck
After a blowout loss in the AFC Championship to the New England Patriots, Andrew Luck was given new tools to work with to get to the next level. Now, those may have been the wrong tools in an aging Andre Johnson and Frank Gore but nevertheless, it was Super Bowl or bust for Indy this season. Luck was having terrible numbers before cracked ribs have left him sidelined for a while.
What’s funny is that the Colts are in a terrible AFC South division and Luck could presumably return just prior to the playoffs and immediately kick off 2016 with a bang. For now though, this feels like a lost season for Luck and the Colts.
5. DeMarco Murray
You can’t blame DeMarco Murray for taking the money. He plays a position with a short shelf life and was coming off a ridiculous workload of a season with 392 carries, unheard of in today’s NFL. This was a the last big contract he was going to get, so he took the five-year, $40 million deal offered to him by Philly. Murray just doesn’t have the offensive line he had in Dallas. His numbers have plummeted this season, with his role diminished in Philly’s offense and he will likely fail to surpass 1,000 yards. There are already rumors of the Eagles looking to get out of his contract this offseason via a trade.
4. Arian Foster
Arian Foster really could have been an elite NFL running back but injuries the last few years have derailed his career. He suffered a torn Achilles this year on a non-contact play, ending his season and leaving the Texans with a mediocre running game. The Texans are still battling for a playoff spot thanks to a weak division, but Foster could only watch. You have to wonder if his injury problems are going to cause the Texans to cut ties with him in the offseason.
3. Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning began 2015 by being beaten by his old team in the playoffs, looking like a very average quarterback. He then lost his OC Adam Gase in the offseason, whom many have credited for Manning’s historic 2013 season. This season, Manning has looked like time has caught up with him as he has thrown 17 interceptions to only nine touchdowns in nine games this season. The good news is he has now broken the all-time passing yardage record. His team is going to the playoff barring a collapse, so perhaps Manning could salvage his year with one final long playoff run.
2. Jamaal Charles
Amazingly, the Chiefs have been able to overcome the loss of Charles to a torn ACL. After a 1-5 start, the Chiefs are on a tear and by all accounts appear to be heading to the postseason. It has to be difficult for Kansas City’s best player knowing his team will have to likely go on the road to Denver or Foxborough in the postseason and he won’t be there to help them. In his last playoff game, Charles had to leave the game and watched from the sidelines as his team collapsed, blowing a 28-point lead to Indianapolis.
1. Tony Romo
Tony Romo’s year began with a playoff victory over Detroit, but then a controversial no-catch ruling on Dez Bryant cost the Cowboys a trip to the NFC Championship. Romo then lost DeMarco Murray to free agency and his 2015 season began by losing Dez Bryant to a broken foot. Romo himself was then sidelined with a fractured collarbone in Week 2. He made a return in mid-November after his Cowboys had gone 0-7 in his absence. He won his first game back and many were already talking about a late-season comeback before a dismal performance against Carolina on Thanksgiving culminated in yet another collarbone injury, ending Romo’s season.
In his mid 30s, Romo needs to have an amazing 2016 or time will run out on his chances of bringing a sixth Super Bowl to Dallas.
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