Carolina Panthers: Not re-signing Josh Norman
The Panthers rescinded their franchise tag offer to cornerback Josh Norman because they couldn’t agree to terms on a long-term deal, and he signed with Washington less than a week later. Carolina turned to the draft for help, selecting cornerbacks James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez with three of its first four picks. The Panthers have fallen from No. 11 to No. 26 against the pass and allowed Atlanta’s Julio Jones 300 yards in Week 4. “It was a little bit of a roll of the dice I guess to go with younger cornerbacks this season,” coach Ron Rivera told reporters earlier this fall. Um, yeah, little bit.
Cleveland Browns: Not drafting a QB in the first round
The Browns traded the No. 2 pick to the Eagles, who took Carson Wentz, and the QB Cleveland did eventually draft, Cody Kessler, was better than most people expected when he was forced into the lineup. We don’t know how Wentz would have fared in Cleveland, but the 6’5”, mobile North Dakota State product’s upside is clearly higher than Kessler’s. Now the Browns might have to look at the position again with one of their two first-round picks next spring.
San Diego Chargers: Waiting to sign Joey Bosa
We all thought the days of the rookie holdout were over under the current slotting system, but the Chargers brought it back thanks to an unnecessary conflict with Bosa and his people over offset language and the timing of his guaranteed money. They finally inked the deal with the highly touted defensive end on Aug. 29. Bosa was on the sideline with a hamstring injury that many attributed to his long layoff when San Diego lost three of its first four games. Since then, he has four sacks in three games (including two Chargers wins) and is already a strong candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Houston Texans: Signing Brock Osweiler
The Texans’ QB missteps go back a ways. They had the No. 1 and No. 33 pick in the 2014 draft and passed on Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater and Jimmy Garoppolo. As a result, they entered last off-season with a desperate need at quarterback and got into a bidding war for unproven commodity Brock Osweiler, who had started only seven games for Denver. Despite Houston’s solid start, Osweiler has had trouble adjusting to Bill O’Brien’s offense.
New York Jets: Taking so long to sign Ryan Fitzpatrick
The Jets couldn’t reach an agreement with Fitzpatrick until the day before training camp opened. New York didn’t have its offensive leader in the building for a large portion of the off-season, and it shows. Fitzpatrick took a step back, and the offense has been dysfunctional. You could argue he didn’t give them much of a choice by holding out for a long-term deal, but if they were going to eventually settle at basically $12 million for one year, they had to get it done earlier.
Miami Dolphins: Signing Arian Foster
Adding an aging running back rarely works, and it didn’t help that the Dolphins signed Foster July 18. But that’s not the issue—they named him the starter, rightfully upsetting second-year back Jay Ajayi and seemingly leading to a rift with coach Adam Gase. Ajayi started the season behind Foster and Kenyan Drake on the depth chart and didn’t even travel Week 1. The Dolphins didn’t truly feature him until Week 6, when he had his first of back-to-back 200-yard games—both wins for Miami. Foster retired after Week 7; Ajayi should have been on the field Week 1.
San Francisco 49ers: Hiring Chip Kelly
When 49ers GM Trent Baalke chose Kelly to be the head coach this off-season, everyone said, “Wow, that’s a funny marriage.” Eight weeks in, we’re still saying the same thing. Maybe Kelly’s magic can work in the NFL, but it’s going to take time. It’s hard to imagine San Francisco giving the Baalke-Kelly pair a long enough leash to make this work. Which means the Niners may have to start over again at either GM or coach in the near future.
Baltimore Ravens: Not doing enough
The Ravens aren’t on this list for any particular move—it’s their inaction that is baffling. Baltimore’s front office has always been a step ahead of the competition thanks to smart drafting. But the Ravens seem too comfortable getting old at key positions like receiver and pass rusher. Their hot start disguised the fact that their roster has been gradually slipping over the last few years.
Cincinnati Bengals: Letting Marvin Jones walk
Jones signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Lions in free agency. The Bengals have been smart managing their cap to provide depth, but this is a time they should have made an exception. Brandon LaFell has been O.K. as a No. 2 option behind A.J. Green, but Jones has shown in Detroit that he’s a No. 1-caliber receiver well worth his average salary. The Bengals’ defense is pretty average, so they’re going to need to score a lot to beat good teams, and they haven’t been able to do that so far.
Seattle Seahawks: Ignoring the O-line
It’s hard to fault a front office that has made so many outstanding moves over the last several years. But why didn’t the Seahawks bolster the offensive line this off-season? Why don’t they ever focus on their O-line? It’s obviously a strategy, but they aren’t protecting Russell Wilson. Their franchise QB has suffered ankle, knee and pectoral injuries this season. Seattle has let veterans like Max Unger, Russell Okung, James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy leave over the last couple of years, and the lack of continuity or experience shows.