NFL teams make mistakes with draft picks and free agent acquisitions all the time. Even a legendary front office man like Bill Polian missed on guys like Tony Ugoh and Anthony Gonzalez, among others. Making a mistake may set a team back, but it's a forgivable offense.
Making a draft or free agent mistake and not admitting to it and moving on is what's unforgivable in professional sports and can set franchises back for half-a-decade or longer.
Prior to the rookie salary scale which was inserted into the NFL this offseason, teams that drafted in the top ten would be married to their picks for an extended period of time, mainly due to the considerable resources invested.
It can be argued that the worst draft pick in the history of the NFL (and maybe sports in general) was when the Oakland Raiders splurged in 2007 on JaMarcus Russell. As we know, Russell was a bust of epic proportion as he won just seven of the 25 games he started, completed just over 52 percent of his throws and had a quarterback rating of 65.2 for his career.
"This guy could never play," a high-ranking team executive said of Russell. "He was lazy, a bad guy and basically took the money and got fat."
Then Raiders head coach Lane Kiffen pleaded with Oakland's late owner Al Davis to pick anyone else, but Davis would not acquiesce to his coaches wishes.
"I do realize that you did not want us to draft JaMarcus Russell. He is a great player. Get over it and coach this team on the field, that is what you were hired to do. We can win with this team," Davis said in a letter to the media following Kiffen's firing.
JaMarcus Russell was with the Raiders for three years, and received exactly no tryouts following his release. In those three less than glorious seasons, the Oakland Raiders made a $39.1 million commitment to Russell.
Surely if the Raiders had only paid a small portion of that money they would've realized their colossal blunder and moved on much earlier and could have rebuilt and have been better now. With the new rookie pay scale, teams are no longer married to bad draft choices, provided they are confident enough to admit they made a mistake.
One team that could be facing a similar situation is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville has been a team that's been hesitant to admit wrong-doings as current general manger Gene Smith stuck with quarterback David Garrard for three mediocre seasons after signing a 6-year, $60 million deal. Smith has also tailored his roster around failed draft picks and trades, allowing them to play above better talent that was exiled.
Gene Smith will have another major decision to make in April's draft, as the Jaguars will likely have a Top 5 selection. Smith traded up back in April to acquire quarterback Blaine Gabbert and through 10 starts Gabbert has actually looked worse than when he began. It's difficult to evaluate the Jaguars young quarterback after less than one season with subpar surrounding talent , but Gabbert has regressed and often bails out on throws. What's even worse is that he becomes highly inaccurate after a demoralizing play, such as a drop or interception.
"The guy sees ghosts in the pocket," a league source said of the Jaguars rookie signal caller. "I'm not sure if you can teach courage."
In years past the mere mention of selecting quarterbacks in the first round of consecutive drafts would have been nothing short of foolish, due to the major financial ramifications.
Now, selecting any position in consecutive years is a very real possibility.
The Jaguars signed Blaine Gabbert to a 4-year, $12 million deal in August. Whereas the entire deal is said to be guaranteed, roughly $7.28 million of the deal was already paid in signing bonus and salary money. That leaves three years at roughly $4.72 million left on Gabbert's deal, which is basically a low backup quarterback salary, for their signal caller who is 31st (only ahead of Tim Tebow) in completion percentage (49.5) and quarterback rating (64.5).
With just three wins, the Jaguars draft position will be very high. With teams such as Minnesota and St. Louis not expected to take a signal caller the possibility of a top quarterback such as a Robert Griffin, III or a Matt Barkley being on the board when Jacksonville goes on the clock exists. It may be premature to give up on Blaine Gabbert but his struggles this season more resemble Carolina's Jimmy Clausen, rather than Aaron Rodgers.
The NFL is a quarterback's league, and if you don't have an elite guy it becomes nearly impossible to compete. With the current salary structure, no longer do financial implications keep a team from selecting the same position multiple times in consecutive seasons.
The biggest question for the Jaguars and the 31 other NFL teams will be if they can admit to a mistake just 12 months earlier.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie
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