Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Brainstorms and backfires

By Jeffri Chadiha
ESPN.com

The end of any NFL regular season usually offers valuable perspective on many topics. In this case, it's the perfect time of year to reflect on the decisions that have determined how this year has played out. Some of those moves improved the postseason chances of teams or derailed them. Others factored into the futures of both coaches and players. But know this much: Only a small number of those decisions were truly memorable.

So here are the five smartest moves of this past year and five others that certain teams would love to forget:

Smartest

1. Andy Reid names Michael Vick the Eagles' starting quarterback: You'll never convince me that Reid didn't bungle the handling of this situation -- he abandoned his quarterback of the future, Kevin Kolb, for a player who clearly should have been competing for the job throughout the offseason -- but results are results. Vick has energized a team that was supposed to be redefining itself with the losses of Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook. He has led Philadelphia to the NFC East title while finally realizing all the potential that most people have seen in him throughout his career. In fact, the only barrier standing between Vick and his first league MVP award is a certain long-haired quarterback thriving in New England once again. Even if Vick comes in second in that vote, nobody can deny that his comeback is one of the best stories this league has seen in years.

Moss
The Patriots didn't miss a beat after they traded Randy Moss to the Vikings.

2. The New England Patriots trade WR Randy Moss: The deal that sent Moss to Minnesota could've been unsettling for an offense that had grown so accustomed to defenses trembling at the sight of him. Turns out his absence only reminded us of how well quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick do their jobs in the first place. The Patriots stand at 13-2 because both those men know how to make the most of an unheralded supporting cast. Meanwhile, the Vikings bounced Moss out of town less than a month after he arrived, and he has been such a nonfactor in Tennessee that his face might start turning up on milk cartons. Oh yeah, the Pats scored a third-round pick in the deal as well.

3. Kansas City hires assistants Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis: Todd Haley's second year as Chiefs coach became much easier when these two grizzled coordinators came to town this offseason. Weis has helped quarterback Matt Cassel and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe blossom into Pro Bowl-worthy performers while engineering the league's top-ranked rushing attack. All Crennel has done is take a bunch of players who were either unproven or underachieving and turned them into a solid, disciplined unit. This easily could have been a situation when too many egos got in the way of a good thing. Now Haley is a legitimate coach of the year candidate, and his team seems primed for a long run of success.

4. Chicago hires Mike Martz as offensive coordinator: Keeping with the theme of strong assistant coaching additions, you can't overlook what Martz has meant to the Bears' offense. OK, 46 sacks through 15 games isn't exactly something to gloat about, but Martz's major accomplishment has been maximizing the talents of quarterback Jay Cutler. It's hard to argue that Cutler has played better during his career, especially because he has his highest passer rating ever (90.6) to go along with 23 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions (compared with 26 picks last year). Those numbers are even more impressive when considering the lack of exceptional skill players surrounding the quarterback. We've seen Martz work his magic with big-time playmakers in the past. What he's done with this bunch has been equally jaw-dropping.

5. Cleveland trades for RB Peyton Hillis: This move won't help the questionable job security of Browns coach Eric Mangini, but it definitely made former Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels look pretty stupid. Hillis easily has been the most improved player in the NFL. He has rushed for 1,164 yards, scored 13 touchdowns and been the lone consistent weapon in a Cleveland offense that has endured all sorts of quarterback issues. All this from a guy who was so unwanted that the Broncos had to throw in two draft picks to make Cleveland part with quarterback Brady Quinn. Simply put: There was no bigger steal this past offseason than the trade that involved Hillis.

Dumbest

1. Brett Favre returns for a final season: In fairness, this move looked like a good idea back in the summer. Now we know it was anything but that. Along with taking a beating on the field, Favre has produced his worst statistical season (a career-low passer rating of 69.9 to go with 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions). Even worse, he has made more headlines off the field than he ever wanted to see, including news of sexual harassment allegations going back to his one-year tenure with the New York Jets and his ice-cold relationship with former Vikings coach Brad Childress. So what was Favre's greatest achievement this season? Easy -- he said we'd never see him playing pro football after this season finally ends.

Randy Moss
The Vikings traded a third-round pick for Randy Moss, then waived him after four games.

2. The Vikings trade for Randy Moss: This wouldn't be on the smartest and dumbest list if Minnesota could have gotten something out of Moss. Unfortunately for the Vikings, all they received was a lesson in how silly it is to think that headaches like Moss can change their ways. Seriously, the Vikings gave up a third-round pick for a player who: (1) already had a checkered past with the franchise and (2) ultimately needed about a month to drive Childress so mad that the coach eventually waived him. Here's a news flash for anybody looking to sign Moss after the Tennessee Titans probably dump him: He's just not worth the trouble anymore.

3. Mike Shanahan's handling of Donovan McNabb: I'll be brief here because I already criticized Shanahan in a column last week. Let's just say that it's rare to see what could have been a great relationship dissolve so quickly. This wasn't Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman we're talking about here. This was a quarterback guru and a Pro Bowl quarterback in a town that has been dying for some consistency under center. Nobody ever could have predicted this combination producing as much controversy as it ultimately did.

4. Arizona dumps Matt Leinart: Just so we understand each other, this is by no means an argument that Leinart could have saved the Cardinals' lousy season. It is, however, a criticism of how Arizona crippled its hopes of a third straight winning campaign by botching its quarterback situation from the start. Leinart had been with that franchise since 2006, which is long enough for coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves to know whether he's worth keeping. Instead, they let the entire offseason go by without making a serious move for another potential successor to Kurt Warner. In the end, they dropped Leinart, gave the job to Derek Anderson and then watched their season go south in a hurry as both Max Hall and now John Skelton also stepped in under center.

5. Just about anything Mike Singletary did with the 49ers: As with Shanahan, I've already taken some shots at Singletary, who was fired after his team's loss to St. Louis on Sunday. The funny thing is, there is still plenty of material to work with here. This past weekend he gave us a memorable snapshot of his reign in San Francisco -- the head coach arguing on the sideline with the quarterback (Troy Smith) he wasn't even going to start until that morning. That moment reminded us that too often Singletary looked like a man in over his head yet thoroughly convinced he could will his team to success. That approach may work in Disney films, but it doesn't play long in the NFL. To be honest, I liked the guy better when he was dropping his pants during locker room speeches and booting players off the sideline during games. At least then you could say he was entertaining.

Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.