Looking at the moves that may have been mistakes
It’s always difficult to make a bold gamble in the NFL, but sometimes it’s even harder to admit your mistake. The Texans did exactly that last year with Brock Osweiler. After signing him to a big contract, they gave away a R2 pick to take him off the books. Effectively, they took a “mulligan” on that decision.
With that same idea in mind, here are some decisions that teams may want to reconsider…
The Broncos hire Vance Joseph
Although Vance Joseph had a reputation as a promising football coach, he seemed like a risky hire by John Elway and the Denver Broncos. After all, Joseph (at age 45) only had one full year of experience as a defensive coordinator with Miami. And to make matters worse, that Dolphins defense was below average to boot.
So far, the results have been downright disastrous for Joseph in his first season at the helm. After a 3-1 start, the Broncos have lost 8 games in a row in increasing embarrassing fashion. The decline on defense has to be a major concern, given that Joseph is a defensive coach who specialized in DBs. Last season, under Wade Phillips, the Broncos held opposing QBs to a 69.7 QB rating. This season, that’s ballooned all the way up to 98.9. A lot of that can be blamed by age, attrition, and injuries, but the decline shouldn’t be that bad.
One of the reasons I had some optimism about the Vance Joseph hire was that the team paired him with a veteran offensive coordinator in Mike McCoy. Unfortunately, McCoy’s already taken the bullet and become a scapegoat. The “new” offense under Bill Musgrave hasn’t looked any better.
Verdict: I’m very reluctant to recommend the firing of a first-year coach. My initial instinct would be to try to salvage this staff by finding another veteran offensive coordinator (sorry, not a Bill Musgrave believer) who can right the ship. The one man who immediately jumps to mind is former coach Gary Kubiak, who has expressed some interest in returning to the limited role of OC. If the Broncos can hire Kubiak to be an OC, you’d feel much better about this coaching staff. However, that hire is unlikely (and probably not the best for Kubiak’s health.) So barring that, I’d have to say the Broncos should indeed take a MULLIGAN on this hire and find someone else. There simply isn’t any reason to believe in this staff, offensively or defensively right now.
The Bears draft Mitchell Trubisky
Immediately after the draft, I blasted the Mitchell Trubisky trade-up/pick as the worst value of Round 1 as a whole.
Part of that had to do with Trubisky himself (he was a one-year starter who felt like a big gamble that high in the draft), but a lot of it had to do with the context of the situation as well. In my mind, John Fox’s coaching job was already on the rocks, so I didn’t like the idea of pairing him with an inexperienced QB. There was a significant chance that Trubisky would flounder, Fox would be fired, and a new coach will inherit a young QB that he never drafted or signed off in the first place.
So far, that doomsday prediction appears accurate. After a hot preseason inflated expectations too high, Trubisky’s predictably crashed down to Earth. He’s thrown for 54.9% completion with a 74.5 QB rating and an awful 23.0 QBR (whether you like that stat or not, that’s not a good sign.) Obviously, rookie QBs on bad offenses aren’t going to look like Deshaun Watson, but Trubisky should look better than this. If you’re being outplayed by C.J. Beathard, you may have a problem on your hands.
Verdict: Obviously no one should write off Trubisky yet. The stunning turnaround of Jared Goff from a rookie to sophomore gives you a lot of hope that Trubisky may be able to develop in the same way if he has the right coaching staff and playmakers around him. But even if you’re a Trubisky skeptic, there’s a question of: what can you actually do about it now? In theory, the Bears will have a top 5 pick to play with. There’s an argument to make that someone like Baker Mayfield is a better bet than Trubisky (given his multi-year track record) and would be an upgrade. However, that’d amount to a rare double-up at the QB position that we haven’t seen in the top 5 for some time now and wouldn’t help the rest of your roster at all. Simply put, it’s too early to throw the baby out with the bath water. The Bears need to STAY THE COURSE here (for now.)
The Falcons hire Steve Sarkisian as OC
In a sense, Steve Sarkisian made a smart move hitching his wagon to the Atlanta Falcons offense. He had an MVP QB in Matt Ryan, a superstar in Julio Jones, and a running game that had been working well under Kyle Shanahan. On the other hand, there was inevitably going to be some regression here, as would happen anytime your offense plays at a historic pace the year prior. And that blame would inevitably trickle back on Sark.
That happened quickly in Atlanta, almost from the first week of action. Matt Ryan’s regressed from a 117.1 QB rating and 9.26 yards per attempt all the way down to a 95.4 QB rating and 7.84 yards per attempt. As a result, the Falcons are limping into the playoff race as opposed to steamrolling their way through the season like they did in 2016. It’s drawn the question: should Sark be the scapegoat here?
Verdict: Blaming Sarkisian feels easy to do, but it’s not the right thing to do. A closer look at the numbers suggests that Matt Ryan’s play last season had been the true outlier. Prior to that, his QB rating had been hovering between 89 and 99 for the seven seasons in a row; it’s smack down in that range again. And prior to last season, his yards per attempt had been hovering between 6.94 and 7.67 — this year’s 7.84 actually represents the second highest of his career.
Obviously, Matt Ryan still should be playing better than this. Sark should be finding more creative ways to get Julio Jones the ball. However, Sarkisian should improve in year two after a full season of developing some chemistry and rhythm with his new team. Stability can be a QB’s best friend. After all, Matt Ryan’s breakout with Kyle Shanahan didn’t happen right away; it happened in year two. The Falcons should STAY THE COURSE with Sark and hope for improvement in that same way. Hiring a third coordinator in three years would only prove more of a risk than keeping him.
[insert WR trade here]
There were a few “splashy” wide receiver trades that happened earlier in the season that hasn’t worked out right away — which is true of almost all midseason WR trades. It’s not easy to insert a receiver into an offense without an offseason of help.
Given the high powered Rams’ offense, it’s a little disappointing that Sammy Watkins season totals amount to 528 yards and 6 touchdowns right now. He’s actually 4th on the team in receiving yards behind Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Todd Gurley. Given that, you can make an argument that the Rams shouldn’t re-sign Watkins to an expensive contract when he’s a free agent this offseason. After all, the team already has Woods+Kupp in tow, as well as another solid rookie in Josh Reynolds.
However, I would still recommend that the Rams STAY THE COURSE with Sammy Watkins and re-sign him, even if he’s pricey given his production levels. While Watkins has struggled with inconsistency and injuries throughout his career, he’s always been an efficient player. In fact, even his 528 yards this season comes on only 51 targets. He’s routinely flirted with 10 yards/target for his career, which is a “star” level ratio. If Sean McVay can work Watkins into a more fundamental role in the offense next season, I can see him easily breaking out with a 1100+ yard season.
I’m less confident in the Bills’ receivers being able to do the same. In some ways, Kelvin Benjamin proves the opposite of Watkins. He’s had seasons with good raw stats — including 1008 yards and 9 touchdowns as a rookie — but that’s not always done in an efficient manner. In fact, he had 146 targets and only 73 receptions that year. Benjamin’s also a big receiver (6’5″ 240) who doesn’t stretch the field much at all. I’d also be concerned that he won’t age well given that weight. A few injuries and a few hamburgers from now, Benjamin may not even be a startable WR. The Panthers had previously exercised his 5th-year option (for $8 million) but I’d be reluctant to pay that price for him. In my mind, Sammy Watkins’ best football is in front of him, while Benjamin’s may be behind him. I’d recommend the Bills avoid a long-term deal for Benjamin, even if it means a MULLIGAN on that trade.