NFL: One move each AFC team wishes it had back — or will in the future

With the NFL Draft on the horizon and free agency largely in the rearview, teams are in the midst of making the vital decisions that will shape their futures.

Some are setting the table for championship contention. Others, not so much. With the offseason in full swing, we took a look back at decisions by each AFC franchise mostly likely to spawn regret. Some teams offered a bounty of dubious candidates. Others made the task considerably tougher.

We've limited the retrospect to 2017, the year the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes and set the table for the NFL as we know it today. And while focused on the offseason, we're not letting teams off the hook for screwing up after Week 1.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills: Signing Von Miller

It's painful to fault a team for being aggressive with a championship window. But the Bills are almost certain to regret signing Von Miller. The 2022 deal carried significant risk even before Miller's season ended with an ACL injury.

The future Hall of Famer was fresh off a fruitful stint with the Los Angeles Rams that saw him tally five sacks in eight games after a midseason trade before adding two more in the Super Bowl. He was also entering his age-33 season, his 11th in the NFL. His talent demanded a big contract. His mileage urged caution.

The Bills threw caution to the wind. They went all in as preseason Super Bowl favorites and signed Miller to a six-year, $120 million deal. Now they face the second year of the contract with a 34-year-old Miller recovering from ACL surgery. They have plenty of needs to address elsewhere.

Miami Dolphins: Playing Tua Tagovailoa vs. Bengals

Everyone saw Tua Tagovailoa stumble after the back of his head bounced off the turf against the Buffalo Bills last season. What was initially ruled a head injury was ultimately declared a back injury, clearing a path for the Dolphins quarterback to return to the game and play four days later against Cincinnati.

A similar blow to his head against the Bengals left Tagovailoa in the hospital and prompted the NFL to update its concussion protocol. A doctor who helped clear Tagovailoa lost his job. Tagovailoa sat the two weeks following the Bengals game then missed the last two games of the season after another blow to his head. The injuries derailed a once-promising season that saw Tagovailoa sit during Miami's wild-card playoff loss. More important, Tagovailoa's career and long-term health remain at increased risk.

Tom Brady leaves the Gillette Stadium field for the last time as a Patriot after a 2020 playoff loss to the Titans. (Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Tom Brady leaves the Gillette Stadium field for the last time as a Patriot after a 2020 playoff loss to the Titans. (Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

New England Patriots: Letting Tom Brady walk

Pinpointing exactly what prompted Tom Brady to leave New England isn't an exact science. But it's safe to conclude that a deteriorating relationship with Bill Belichick combined with the lack of a desired contract after years of discount deals thrust him toward the door after the 2019 season.

The rest was history, in Brady's favor. He led the Bucs to a Super Bowl title, while the Patriots have failed to win a playoff game since his exit. Meanwhile the chance at a storybook ending to the most successful run in NFL history was lost. Would a career-ending contract offer commensurate with his worth have bridged the gap between Brady and Belichick?

New York Jets: Drafting Zach Wilson

It's rare for a team to give up on a first-round quarterback less than two seasons in. But that's where the Jets are with Zach Wilson. New York drafted Wilson second overall in 2021 despite his lack of pedigree or experience against top competition at BYU. His big arm and athleticism proved too enticing.

But Wilson's maturity and leadership issues ensured last season that he would not overcome his on-field shortcomings. With a Jets roster built to win now, Wilson now waits with the rest of the NFL for New York to seal the deal with Aaron Rodgers. He may not have seen his last shot as an NFL starter. But the Jets aren't compounding their first mistake by refusing to admit it.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: Letting the Lamar Jackson situation devolve

In five seasons, Lamar Jackson has won an NFL MVP and come to embody Ravens culture. He enters his sixth season with a trade request and without a contract. Jackson is not interested in the non-exclusive franchise tag tendered by the Ravens, leaving the two sides at an impasse that's now bookended a season.

Will they resolve it? Odell Beckham Jr. joining the Ravens with Jackson's blessing might signal a thawing of the stalemate. But there's no sign from either camp that the two sides are any closer to a contract. The wedge here is a complex situation that will require both sides to resolve. But the Ravens will surely regret losing a 26-year-old former MVP if it does indeed come down to that.

Are Lamar Jackson and the Ravens destined for a breakup? (Douglas DeFelice/Reuters)
Are Lamar Jackson and the Ravens destined for a breakup? (Douglas DeFelice/Reuters)

Cincinnati Bengals: Drafting John Ross

After decades of doing things wrong, the Bengals have gotten a lot right in recent years. Drafting John Ross was not one of those things. The Bengals selected Ross with the No. 9 pick of the 2017 draft. A burner with home-run upside, Ross looked like the playmaker Cincinnati's offense needed, but failed to live up to expectations.

In four seasons with the Bengals, Ross tallied 71 catches for 733 yards. He has since played sparingly for the Giants and will fight this offseason for a roster spot with the Chiefs. Making matters worse for Cincinnati, Patrick Mahomes was the next player taken off the draft board. Granted, Mahomes wasn't the surefire two-time MVP he has become, and the Bengals weren't in the quarterback market with a 29-year-old Andy Dalton coming off a Pro Bowl season. But the Ross pick is about as bad as top-10 selections go. Fortunately for the Bengals, they now have Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase to sooth their wounds.

Cleveland Browns: The Deshaun Watson deal

On a franchise rife with bad quarterback decisions, this one is arguably the worst. A team spurned by the failure of No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield and desperate for relevance at the position sold out to secure the rights to Deshaun Watson, who lost his job in Houston amid 24 accusations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct.

The Browns parted with five draft picks including three first-rounders to acquire Watson, then signed him to a market-altering, fully guaranteed $230 million deal. From a strictly football standpoint, the trade and compensation were outrageous considering that Watson was never among the very top tier of NFL quarterbacks and hadn't played since two seasons prior. Watson looked worse for it all once he took the field, completing a career-low 58.2% of his passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions in six games after his suspension-delayed return.

The Browns can hope that Watson finds his football stride this fall with a normal offseason of preparation. It won't matter for fans unwilling to look past his off-field issues.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Big Ben's succession plan

It's hard to pinpoint glaring mistakes from a Steelers franchise that projects stability. Leaning on that stability a little too hard — specifically Ben Roethlisberger — might be their biggest error in recent years. Roethlisberger anchored the offense for 18 seasons that included six Pro Bowls and two Super Bowl wins.

He stuck around for three more seasons after Pittsburgh drafted his potential successor in 2018 in Mason Rudolph. It was about a season-plus too long. Big Ben hit a wall at the end of the 2020 campaign and was at the end in his final 2021 season. With the Rudolph plan scrapped, that left the Steelers faced with finding his replacement in the weakest quarterback draft class in recent memory.

They selected Kenny Pickett with the 20th pick as the only quarterback taken off the board in the first round last April. The jury remains out on Pickett, who showed promise late last season after some expected rookie bumps early on.

Russell Wilson's first season in Denver was a disaster. (Ron Chenoy/Reuters)
Russell Wilson's first season in Denver was a disaster. (Ron Chenoy/Reuters)

AFC West

Denver Broncos: Let's ride

With new ownership incoming, the Broncos opted to make a splash last offseason. They bet the house on Russell Wilson, sending the Seahawks a package that included two first- and two second-round draft picks for the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback. They doubled down by signing him to a $245 million extension with $165 million in guarantees. Future mortgaged.

But the Broncos didn't get the Wilson who led the Seahawks to two Super Bowls. They instead got a soon-to-be 34-year-old player who'd shown signs of decline before showing up in Denver. Wilson appeared to hit a wall last season while leading the league's lowest-scoring offense. He posted career lows in completion percentage and yards per attempt while leading the NFL in sacks taken for the second time in his career.

The Broncos invested heavily in Wilson. Now he's there for the long haul, for better or worse. Denver is banking on a revival next season as head coach Sean Payton replaces the ousted Nathaniel Hackett.

Kansas City Chiefs: Drafting CEH

Finding flaws with this iteration of the Chiefs is the definition of picking at nits. But that's the task at hand. You're up, Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Fresh off of winning the first Super Bowl of the Patrick Mahomes-Andy Reid era, the Chiefs had the ultimate NFL draft luxury of selecting a running back in the first round in 2020. To be fair, Edwards-Helaire looked like a strong pick at the time. He filled a need and was a dynamic All-SEC back and a key cog for LSU's historic national championship offense.

After posting 1,100 yards from scrimmage as a rookie, he's posted 1,089 total in the two seasons since. He was an afterthought on the depth chart midseason in 2022 and a healthy scratch for the Super Bowl after recovering from a late-season injury. Looking back, Tee Higgins at No. 33 or future rushing champ Jonathan Taylor at No. 41 would have been better picks. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20.

Las Vegas Raiders: The Gruden/Mayock disaster

The Raiders boast a litany of bad decisions that preceded this offseason's roster makeover. None were worse than Mark Davis' 2018 call to entrust his franchise in the hands of head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock.

Both hires were questionable — at best — at the time. Mayock was an NFL Network analyst with zero front-office experience. Gruden was a coaching relic who hadn't worked an NFL sideline in 10 years. Davis signed him to a 10-year, $100 million deal. Failure promptly ensued.

The pair oversaw some of the worst drafts in recent memory, including spending first-round picks on Henry Ruggs III, Damon Arnette and Alex Leatherwood, none of whom remain with the team. The Ruggs tragedy can't be pinned on the two, but Arnette and Leatherwood count among numerous unforced errors.

Gruden failed to produce a winner in three seasons before resigning in 2021 amid ugly circumstances not even his biggest critics saw coming. Mayock was shown the door months later. Now Davis is counting on Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler to clean up the mess.

Los Angeles Chargers: Leaving San Diego

The Chargers didn't have the NFL's best home-field advantage in San Diego. But they had two things lacking in Los Angeles — an identity and a fan base that cares.

For years, Chargers owner Dean Spanos attempted to cajole San Diego voters with the allure of taxing out-of-towners to fund a new stadium with hotel taxes. He balanced the tactic with the threat of a move to Los Angeles. Voters ultimately rejected subsidizing a billionaire's football stadium, so he and the Chargers made good on their promise to leave in 2017.

Now they're tenants in a privately financed stadium built by even bigger billionaire Rams owner Stan Kroenke. In a Los Angeles market that struggles to focus on a single Super Bowl-winning franchise, the Chargers get second billing behind the Rams and struggle to draw home crowds on gameday. Meanwhile, a spurned fan base lies 120 miles south, and the NFL franchise L.A. actually cares about resides 270 miles northeast in Las Vegas.

AFC South

Houston Texans: Handing Jack Easterby the keys

There are numerous options to choose from here, including jettisoning DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals. But promoting a former Patriots team chaplain and character coach as executive vice president of football operations wins the prize.

Jack Easterby wasn't completely green like Mayock. He was a trusted member of Bill Belichick's staff who was well-liked and respected in New England. None of this qualified him for a high-level executive role running an NFL front office, a job he took over after initially being hired in Houston in 2019 as the head of team development.

Easterby's inexperience shone when the Texans got fleeced in the aforementioned Hopkins deal. It reportedly prompted Deshaun Watson to request a trade prior to the allegations that ultimately led to his departure from Houston. The Texans eventually saw enough after 11 wins in three seasons and dismissed Easterby last fall.

Indianapolis Colts: Getting blindsided by Andrew Luck

To be fair, nobody saw this coming. Luck's retirement in the 2019 preseason caught everyone off guard. It left a Colts franchise blessed with 19 seasons of either Luck or Peyton Manning at quarterback suddenly scrambling at the position.

And scramble the Colts continue to do. Since Luck's exit, they've churned through a series of past-their-prime reclamation projects including Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan in addition to journeyman Jacoby Brissett. They've done so with a roster featuring skill and defensive talent that's remained elusively a quarterback away from contending.

Is there anything the Colts could have done to impede Luck's exit? They certainly could have protected him better. Physical and mental wear of the game ultimately convinced him to call it a career. Colts fans, meanwhile, are left to wonder what if.

Urban Meyer's stint with the Jaguars somehow went worse than expected. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong )
Urban Meyer's stint with the Jaguars somehow went worse than expected. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong )

Jacksonville Jaguars: Urban Meyer

This one is easy. Few if any NFL coaching hires were as disastrous as Urban Meyer's. The Jaguars hired the longtime college coach in 2021 counting on his history of championship success to outweigh his track record of character concerns. It did not.

Meyer's many ensuing transgressions included hiring an exiled college strength coach accused of bullying and racism, violating the NFL's OTA rules regarding contact drills and "dancing" with a woman who wasn't his wife on a road trip instead of flying back to Jacksonville with the team. This was all before allegations surfaced that Meyer kicked ex-Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo at practice.

All the while, the Jaguars floundered on the field as star rookie Trevor Lawrence struggled en route to a 2-11 record under Meyer. The only positive here is that team owner Shad Khan mercifully put an end to the disaster before the season ended and Lawrence's development was further stunted.

Tennessee Titans: Trading A.J. Brown

Dealing a premium offensive weapon generally isn't in the gameplan for a team coming off three straight playoff appearances. But that's what the Titans did on draft night in 2022 when they sent a then-24-year-old A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles. In return, they received a first-round draft pick that they spent on considerably less-proven receiver Treylon Burks.

The move was a cost-cutting effort as the Titans apparently didn't believe that Brown was worth his pending contract extension. The Eagles were happy to sign him to a four-year, $100 million deal then watch him blossom into an All-Pro. Brown tallied 88 catches for 1,496 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first season catching passes from Jalen Hurts.

He dropped 119 of those yards and two touchdowns on his former Titans team in a Week 13 Eagles win. The Titans fired general manager Jon Robinson two days later. The Eagles went to the Super Bowl. The Titans missed the playoffs while fielding the league's 30th-ranked offense and now face a precarious offseason. Yeah, they'd probably like to have this one back.