From draft picks to coaching hires, and injuries to blown calls, here are the biggest what-ifs that could have changed the last decade of NFL football.
We are conditioned as human beings to relive the past, even though any spiritual advisor or truly enlightened guru-type would advise that the here and now is more critical for personal happiness.
Sports are one of the few aspects of life where revisiting the how and why of something can be enjoyable and somewhat healthy. There were good times. There is room to speculate. There are conversations to be had with old friends and new. That’s why we’re here today, to facilitate such conversations in the absence of football on the near horizon.
The last decade of NFL football has brought us some universally incredible moments. But for fans of some teams in particular, it has also brought the kind of fortunes that make us wonder….
1. Chip Kelly got Marcus Mariota?
The Eagles had the 20th pick in the 2015 draft, following a 10-6 season that left them just out of the playoffs. Jameis Winston was the first player off the board, and there was rampant speculation that Kelly would trade up for the QB who he had coached to a 12-1 record during his freshman year at Oregon. The Eagles reportedly went as high as offering the Titans two first-round picks (2015 and 2016), a second-round pick (2015), “any quarterback on their roster and any defensive player on their roster” to trade up to No. 2. That, by the way, would have included Sam Bradford and a potpourri of extraordinarily talented defensive personnel, like Fletcher Cox.
If the Titans had swung the deal, it would have most certainly guaranteed Kelly more than one partial remaining season in town. In addition, it would have prevented the Eagles from hiring Doug Pederson and it could have eliminated part of the valuable player core that won the team its first Super Bowl in 2017.
In Tennessee, that might have meant a longer tenure for general manager Ruston Webster, who was let go at the end of the 2015 season. The organization, then, may have missed out on hiring Jon Robinson as general manager, which would have meant having a harder time recruiting someone like Mike Vrabel to run the team.
It could have also worked for the Eagles, though I say this as an admitted Kelly evangelist. I remain convinced that Marcus Mariota, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner on draft day, was one friendly offensive system away from actually becoming a top-12 quarterback in the NFL. The “power spread” as Kelly dubbed it, was designed to take advantage of teams that needed to constantly shift defensive personnel, trapping a smaller team on the field against two barreling running backs (DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews) or trapping bulkier personnel on the field against a fleet of faster skill position players.
2. The Jets drafted Russell Wilson?
Terry Bradway, who was the Jets’ GM from 2001-06 and remained with the team in a senior personnel role for a long time, loved Wilson so much that the draft room jokingly referred to him as “Russell Bradway.” That 2012 season featured a truly bizarre display of Jets quarterbacking (which is saying something), with Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy both taking snaps under center alongside the ill-fated “Tebowcat” offense that produced six completions for 35 yards and 102 rushing yards. While Rex Ryan would survive two more seasons, this was proof that his act had worn thin. His inability to develop a quarterback—something that would dog him throughout the remainder of his career—and penchant for getting in his own way was never more on display. Wilson, meanwhile, went on to make the first of his seven Pro Bowls in his rookie season and the Seahawks throttled the Jets 28-7 in Seattle that year.
If the Jets had drafted Wilson that year, maybe instead of Stephen Hill in the second round, or by trading up three picks in the first round and nabbing Wilson instead of DeMario Davis, the consequences would be astounding.
Gone, theoretically, is the Seahawks’ 2013 Super Bowl (and NFC title the following year). Matt Flynn is the quarterback of the early 2010s in Seattle. Geno Smith’s draft day slide in 2013 continues, perhaps, for another 30 or so picks until the Seahawks were up (hey, Smith is Russell Wilson’s backup after all). Rex Ryan is still in New York and Sam Darnold is playing in … Buffalo.