Scouting is a difficult job. I get that. Every team, from the Packers or Saints to the lowly Jaguars, screws up and makes terrible picks from time to time. And often enough, teams pass on all-time great players and pick up total scrubs because their front office screwed up royally. Case in point: in 1989, Green Bay drafted all-time bust Tony Manderich No. 2 overall over future Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders (who went 3, 4 and 5).
That's not what I'm talking about, though. Even worse are those times when a NFL team actually had one of these stupendous players on their roster, ready to play, and just couldn't figure out how to use him properly. So they released him or traded him, he went on to huge success with his new team and made everyone at his old ballclub look like total fools. Here's seven egregious mistakes made by teams in the modern NFL.
La'Roi Glover, DT, New Orleans/Dallas. Teams of Shame: Oakland Raiders/Atlanta Falcons.
Glover, a 290-pound defensive tackle, was drafted by the Raiders 166th overall in 1996. He was active for just two games his rookie year, didn't record a sack and was released before the end of the season. According to Wikipedia, Atlanta was in trade talks with Oakland for Glover, but they wouldn't meet the Raiders' asking price. Glover was picked up by the Saints instead, and all he did was record fifty sacks over five years in New Orleans, including a totally unheard-of seventeen sacks in 2000.
After the 2001 season, Glover signed with Dallas, where he'd play for the next four years. Although Glover's numbers dipped, he made four straight Pro Bowls (in addition to two more in 2001 and 2002). He added three more seasons with the St. Louis Rams before calling it a career after the 2008 season, finishing with 83.5 sacks over 13 years. Way to recognize talent, Oakland and Atlanta.
Brett Favre, QB, Green Bay. Team of Shame: Atlanta Falcons.
Let's get this one out of the way. It's hard to blame Falcons head coach Jerry Glanville for not recognizing Favre's talent; he was reportedly a hard-partying malcontent in his only season with Atlanta, and his stellar passing record in five dropbacks included two incompletions, two interceptions and one sack. But when the Falcons shipped Favre to Green Bay for a first-round draft pick, it was one of the NFL world's all-time blunders. You know the rest: one Super Bowl ring, three MVPs, the all-time touchdown passes record, the all-time passing yardage record, seventeen years as the Packers' starter, nine Pro Bowls as a Packer, etc., etc.
Favre's late-career shenanigans notwithstanding, consider this: in the seventeen years from 1992 to 2007, Green Bay had fourteen winning seasons, two 8-8 years and one losing season. In the same time period, Atlanta had four winning seasons, one 8-8 year and 12 losing seasons.
Priest Holmes, RB, Kansas City. Team of Shame: Baltimore Ravens.
In four years as a Raven, Holmes had one 1,000-yard season and finished with just over 2,000 rushing yards. That's not a bad total, but it pales in comparison to what he did in Kansas City. After the Ravens decided to go with Jamal Lewis, Holmes became a free agent after the 2000 Super Bowl season. After signing with Kansas City, he blew up the league with 1,555 rushing yards in 2001, then promptly topped himself with 1,615 yards in 2002 and 21 touchdowns. Although Holmes managed 'only' 1,420 yards in 2003, he somehow upped his touchdown total to 27 that year.
Holmes was also a prolific receiver, catching 206 passes for 1,876 yards from 2001-2003, and adding five more touchdowns along with that. In 2004 and 2005, a combination of injuries and the rise of Larry Johnson caused his numbers to drop (although I'd like to point out that he still scored 14 TDs in 2004 in just eight games). He hung around for two more years before retiring after 2007. Although he had "only" three brilliant years as a KC starter, it's hard not to fault Baltimore for letting this guy walk.
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. Team of Shame: Miami Dolphins.
I'm breaking my own rules a little bit here, so bear with me. Yes, Brees was a Charger, and after five years and one major injury to his throwing shoulder, he was released following the 2005 season in favor of Philip Rivers. But because Rivers is a darn good QB in his own right, it's hard to fault San Diego for letting Brees go, even though Brees has outperformed him statistically and won a Super Bowl since becoming a Saint. The Chargers may have gotten the short end of the deal, but by comparison, Miami's screw-up was much, MUCH worse.
Famously, Brees was choosing between New Orleans and Miami as a free agent when Miami backed off because of concerns about Brees's shoulder injury. They traded for Daunte Culpepper instead, who played four games in 2006 and was released after the season. Culpepper threw for 929 yards in his only year as a Dolphin. Brees has yet to throw for fewer than 4,300 yards in any of his six years as a Saint. He set the all-time single-season passing yardage record in 2011, and as I mentioned, won a Super Bowl in 2009. By contrast, Miami has one playoff appearance and no wins since Brees signed with the Saints.
Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots. Teams of Shame: San Diego Chargers/Miami Dolphins.
Ha-ha, you didn't think San Diego was getting off that easy, did you? In 2004, the Chargers brought the then-unknown Welker into camp as an undrafted free agent, but cut him after the first regular-season game. He was picked up by the Dolphins, who used him mostly as a punt/kick returner for the next three years. Then in 2007, the division-rival Patriots came a-calling, offering a second-round pick for Welker's services. Sure, why not, right?
All Welker has done since is catch 533 passes in five years as a Patriot (106.5 per year, for those scoring at home), including 31 touchdowns. He is the only player in league history to have four 110-catch seasons, is a four-time Pro Bowler and led the AFC in receiving yards in 2011 (1,569). And just for good measure, he's averaged 109 yards per game in nine games against Miami since the trade. Ex-Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer called releasing Welker the "biggest mistake I ever made", and I can't help but agree.
Steve Young, QB, San Francisco 49ers. Team of Shame: Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After the USFL began to fold in 1985, the NFL held a supplemental draft of USFL and CFL players. The Bucs picked Young No. 1 in that draft, but after two years of lousy records, they traded him to the 49ers for second- and fourth-round draft picks. To replace Young, they drafted Vinny Testaverde No. 1 in the NFL draft. Young backed up Joe Montana for four years before getting a chance to start in 1991, and the rest is history. Young won a Super Bowl in 1994, went to seven straight Pro Bowls and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005. Meanwhile, in five years with the Bucs, Testaverde threw for more interceptions than touchdowns every single year.
Justin Smith, DE/DT, San Francisco 49ers. Team of Shame: Cincinnati Bengals.
It's not that Smith was a bad 4-3 defensive end. In seven seasons as a Bengal after being picked No. 4 overall, he amassed 43.5 sacks and developed his reputation for durability (he has started every possible game since Week 6 of his rookie year, or 171 straight games). But as so often on this list, his original team couldn't figure out how to use him properly. He became a free agent after the 2007 season and signed with the 49ers as a 3-4 defensive end. Since then, Smith has become easily the most dominant 3-4 end in the entire league, making three straight Pro Bowls and earning a reputation as an immovable defender against run and pass alike. It's all in the scheme, and San Francisco has just done a much better job of maximizing Smith's talents.