Lucky moves that shaped all eight NFL playoff rosters


Every single team to win a Super Bowl has needed to get lucky along the way. A key fumble bounced into their hands. A dangerous player who was struggling with injury. Luck might be the reason of design, but in the NFL, so your luck can be a product of someone else's subpar design.

Each of the eight remaining playoff teams made brilliant draft picks, found smart coaches, and devoted hours upon hours to scouting the right talent for their roster. They were lucky. The hands of fate conspired to open up opportunities to look very smart after the fact. Stand behind their playoff teams today. Fortuitous timing and other teams were helping to build some of the best teams in football.

The Super Bowl contenders were built by accident. I'll start in the AFC, where the Patriots' dynasty was built upon a move nearly 20 years old …

Jump to a team:


March 12, 1999: The Rams sign away LB Todd Collins from the Patriots.

What happened next: The Patriots get a compensatory pick and use it on QB Tom Brady.

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Bill Belichick might have drafted Brady, but the draft pick the Patriots used to select Brady Belichick was a defensive coordinator of the jets. When I analyzed Belichick's propensity for absorbing picks back in 2015, I found Pats Carroll's administration during the 1999 offseason and had several starters leave in free agency. They are now signed and have been awarded four compensatory picks in the 2000 draft: a fourth-round, two-sixth-rounders and a seventh-round selection.

Mark Wheeler and linebacker Todd Collins, who shares a title with a longtime backup quarterback. I'm going to guess that Collins, who was signed by the Rams to a four-year deal, what the free-agent loss who handed the Patriots the 199th pick in the 2000 draft. The Patriots famously debated between Brady and Louisiana Tech product Tim Rattay, who would eventually go to the 49ers.

Todd Collins kicks off 53 games for the Patriots from 1992 through '98. Jim Davis / The Boston Globe / Getty Images

Brady, who is unquestionably the best draft pick in league history. Drew Bledsoe and led New England to the Super Bowl, where it beat those very same Rams. Patriots fans might already feel like Carroll handed them one more Super Bowl, but that's the end of Brady.

March 1, 2017: The Bills decline to the franchise day on CB Stephon Gilmore,

What happened next: Gilmore signs with the Patriots.

March 2017 was a weird period for the Bills, who had hired Sean McDermott to replace Rex Ryan. Doug Whaley Was Still The Team's General Manager, But It's Hard To Believe In The Bottles Of The Bills Whaley immediately after the 2017 draft and replaced him with Panthers executive Brandon Beane.



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The key free agent for the Bills was Gilmore. Buffalo, who finished his fifth year in Western New York by picking five passes and making his first Pro Bowl appearance. Gilmore's rights with the franchise day, which would have come in at $ 14.2 million. Buffalo would eventually come to terms with the South Carolina product on a contract extension.

Instead, Gilmore went into free agency. Amid reported interest from the Bears, Gilmore instead signed with the Patriots on a five-year, $ 65 million deal that has just returned under $ 42 million over its first three seasons. Malcolm Butler, Who Was Frozen Out During The Super Bowl LII Losing To The Eagles. Gilmore got off to a slow start in Foxborough, but he has emerged as one of the best corners in football and just named a first-team All-Pro.

Aug. 31, 2003: Seth Burford and Cleo Lemon.

What happened next: TE Antonio Gates makes the 53-man roster.

NFL veterans Kris Dielman (a defensive tackle who would eventually convert to guard), Stephen Cooper, Jacques Cesaire, The Chargers first signed Gates as an undrafted free agent in the hours after the 2003 draft, as part of a rookie and Kassim Osgood. It's one of the best undrafted free-agent classes in league history, and Gates is the most notable contributor.

The odds were against him making the roster, given that the Kent State basketball had not even played college football. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Gates caught only three passes for 62 yards during the preseason, and in most cases, teams tend to try to stash athletes like this on the practice squad if they can get away with it. The Chargers read the situation differently. They decided to make four tight ends on their roster, clearing out the room by cutting both of their third-string quarterback options behind Doug Flutie and Drew Brees.

Antonio Gates' future Hall of Fame career started in 2003 when he was signed as an undrafted free agent. G. Newman Lowrance / AP Photo

Gates into the starting lineup. Justin Peelle, but after the Chargers started. Gates was relatively anonymous and lost the starting job for a week before breaking out with a 117-yard game against the Packers in Week 15. He had two touchdowns on 24 catches as a rookie; the following year, Gates would score 13 times as the Chargers made an unexpected return to the postseason. He has been around ever since.

March 2016: The Browns decide QB Carson Wentz is not worth the second overall pick and start shopping their selection.

What happened next: Wentz and the Chargers draft Joey Bosa with the third overall pick.

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It does not seem quite painful after the Browns eventually landed their quarterback with Baker Mayfield, but one of the first acts of the Sashi Brown regime in Cleveland what to evaluate Wentz as a long-term quarterback. The brain trust, which included former Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta and coach Hue Jackson, Wentz was not worth the no. 2 pick. Wentz second, but's Mike Silver Hue felt otherwise in 2016.)

The Browns traded down the Eagles, who grabbed the North Dakota State and won the Super Bowl two years later. Myles Garrett with the first overall pick the following year. Bosa reportedly had a promise the Chargers would take him with the third overall pick, which might be why he was sweatpants to his pre-draft visit with the Browns. The Browns ended up drafting since-cut wide-out Corey Coleman with the No. 15 pick, while the Chargers found a star pass-rusher.

June 22, 2017: The Chiefs part ways with general manager John Dorsey.

What happened next: With Chris Ballard in Indianapolis, Kansas City promotes Brett Veach to GM.

In this case, it's more about what happened first. After the interview with the Buccaneers, Bears and Titans before the 2016 season, Ballard eventually found the right job when he took over Colts general manager in January 2017. He inherited a roster of subpo veterans, but within two years Ballard manages to clear the deadwood and build a playoff team. After an excellent 2018 draft, the Colts are heading into the offseason with a talented young core and more than $ 122 million in cap space.

It could have been a little different, though, if the Chiefs had acted earlier. Ownership parted ways with Dorsey at a strange time in the NFL calendar and after a sustained run of success for the organization. The move came just after Andy Reid was given a contract extension, while reports later suggested that communication and management issues were at the core of Dorsey's problems.

Chris Ballard and the Colts had one of the NFL's best draft classes in 2018. Jeffrey Brown / Icon Sportswire

What are the chiefs they have been missing from the 2016 postseason, or allowed him to leave for a similar job with the Packers? They lost to the Steelers on Jan. 15, two weeks before Ballard was hired by the Colts. Had they fired Dorsey, the most obvious candidate to take on the role of general manager would have been Ballard. Instead, with Ballard out of the organization, the Chiefs promoted Veach, the co-director of player personnel, to the role.

The Chiefs are just fine with Veach at the helm, but where would Indy be without Ballard? Their other candidates have not graduated to bigger roles. Eliot Wolf missed out on the Packers GM job and went to work under Dorsey in Cleveland. Vikings assistant general manager George Paton got his name out as a possible candidate in December but did not get the subject of much chatter for a GM job this offseason. Internal candidate Jimmy Raye left to work for the Lions, while Seahawk's executive Trent Kirchner was the subject of a mid-game tirade from Doug Baldwin.

March 15, 2018: QB Kirk Cousins ​​Turns A Big Deal From The Jets To Sign With The Vikings.

What happened next: The Jets trade up with the Colts.

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Could you turn down $ 6 million in guaranteed money? That's exactly what Kirk Cousins ​​did during this season. According to Cousins, the Jets arrived at the beginning of the free-agent period with a three-year, $ 90 million fully guaranteed offer, which was a significant leap from the three-year, $ 75 million deal proposed by the Vikings. Minnesota got to three years and $ 84 million, which was enough to convince cousins ​​to head to Minneapolis.

When the jets miss out on cousins, their next move is to pursue one of the draft's top quarterbacks. To get a good shot at nabbing one, the Jets were forced to move from the sixth pick to the third overall selection, which cost New York their own first-round pick and three second-round selections. The Jets chose Sam Darnold, and after a while, they're understandably excited about what Darnold might do in a jets uniform.

The Colts are not upset about trading down, either. They've managed to turn the second pick into some significant assets. Indy used the No. 6 pick on guard Quenton Nelson, who was a first-team All-Pro in his rookie season. They turned one of the Jets' second-rounders Into Braden Smith, who started 13 games and appears to be Indy's right tackle of the future. Kemoko Turay and Jordan Wilkins are showing each other in their roles during their rookie campaigns. They also have the Jets' second-rounder in 2019, coming out of their way, and the Colts will be inheriting the 34th overall selection.

April 27, 2017: The Bills decide Patrick Mahomes is not a franchise quarterback.

What happened next: They trade their first-round pick to the Chiefs, who do.

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This season's most likely MVP. The Bills were getting married to Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, although they had already taken the Ravens backup to take a $ 10 million pay cut on his March extension. Sammy Watkins and Reggie Ragland have just completed two big trades for Sammy Watkins and Reggie Ragland, but did not seagull like Whaley was the one who made the call on Buffalo trading out of the 10th overall pick.

If the Bills had been evaluated Mahomes and thought he could have made up for the NFL this season, they obviously took him with their first-round pick. Instead, they'll pick the 10th selection for the 27th and 91st selections, along with Kansas City's 2018 first-round pick, which ends up as the 22nd pick. The Bills drafted star cornerback Tre'Davious White with Kansas City's 2017 first-rounder, and then the other two picks in trades that eventually netted them Zay Jones and Tremaine Edmunds. Sean McDermott undoubtedly loves his two defensive building blocks, and the Bills believe that Josh Allen, their other first-rounder in 2018, can turn into a viable starter, but they would undoubtedly trade for Mahomes in a heartbeat.

March 2016: The Browns decide to accept the compensation.

What happened next: The Chiefs sign OT Mitchell Schwartz.

With the Browns quite clearly tanking to amass as many as possible, one of DePodesta and Brown's tactics during their first off-season in charge of the organization. Jets linebacker Demario Davis. The Browns saw six veteran free agents departing while signing just one who counted against the compensatory formula.

Several of the moves made sense. Mack voided the final three years of his contract with Cleveland. The previous administration had been Alex Mack in town against his will when the Jaguars signed. Players such as Tashaun Gipson and Travis Benjamin were talented but had only one year of significant production on their respective résumés.

The exception was Schwartz, who had gone into one of the league's finer right tackles. If there is any place to spend their money on the Browns to spend their roster, it would be on the offensive line, which would be the latest quarterback of the future. Instead, the Organization yanked a $ 7.5 million per year offer off the table and let him hit free agency.

Schwartz landed with the Chiefs on a five-year, $ 33 million deal, which has become one of the biggest bargains for a non-rookie in all of football. The 29-year-old has allowed 2.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons, via Stats LLC, and while the Pro Bowl tends to reward left tackles, Schwartz was named as the first-team All-Pro at right tackle this season , Chris Hubbard gave a five-year, $ 36.5 million deal to take on the right side. He allowed 8.5 sacks in his first season with the Browns.


Jan. 12, 2006: The Packers hire Mike McCarthy as coach.

What happened next: Sean Payton settles for the Saints job.

New Orleans, Payton admitted early in the year after that. Hurricane Katrina. Payton told Graham Bensinger that he was "checked out" during his visit to Mickey Loomis and wanted to take on the role of coach of the Green Bay Packers.

The packers make their move first, choosing to hire McCarthy. Payton told Bensinger that he heard the news from Ted Thompson and threw his phone into his pillow. Six days later, the Saints hired Payton away from the Cowboys. Both coaches won Super Bowls with their respective franchises, so it's hard to argue that things did not work out well for all involved.

The list of other candidates for the Saints is not exactly inspiring with the benefit of hindsight. None of the other interviewees are still active in the NFL. Mike Martz spent several more years as an offensive coordinator but was out of the league after 2011. Mike Sherman went to Texas A & M and then spent two years as Dolphins offensive coordinator, but he has been out of the NFL for five years. Maurice Carthon, a fellow Bill Parcells coach, has been out of the league since 2012. Then-jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson is the longest, but hey, let's go bills when they fired Rex Ryan after the 2016 season. The Saints chose wisely.

April 27, 2017: The Chiefs trade and use the 10th overall pick on QB Patrick Mahomes.

What happened next: The Saints CB Marshon Lattimore with the next pick.

I've already covered the Drew Brees alternate histories earlier this season, so I will not go through them again. Instead, let's talk about what might have happened.

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As I mentioned earlier, the Bills did not have Mahomes graded as a franchise quarterback. If they had stayed put, they would have taken a player at another position. Kansas City's first-round pick, and while Tre'Davious White has turned utterly transformed the New Orleans defense since arriving. Lattimore at 10. It's quite out of the question to think about.

If they are had drafted Lattimore, the Saints would have gone in an entirely different direction. Payton has so popularly suggested that the Latters and Mahomes in the same animal for the draft, and if another team had drafted Lattimore before the Saints came up, they would have taken Mahomes as the successor to Brees. Lattimore to protect the guy he actually ends up drafting, but let's take his comment at face value.)

Swapping Lattimore for Mahomes is a fascinating proposition. The Saints would certainly be better off in the long term with a franchise, but Lattimore is a valuable player and has dramatically increased the team's chances of winning the Super Bowl during the final years of the Brees era. Mahomes were already on the roster? Would you like to have it anywhere near as effective without Lattimore? Mahomes is fascinating, but I suspect the saints are quite happy with how things turned out.

April 28-30, 2016: Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. QBs Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. The Cowboys.

What happened next: Dallas settles for QB Dak Prescott.

It's better to be lucky, and in the case of the 2016 draft, Jerry Jones was one lucky duck. While the Cowboys ended up finding their franchise quarterback in Prescott, they ended up with their signal-caller only after failing to pay the two quarterbacks they preferred.

First, Jones tried to trade and grab Memphis quarterback Lynch at the end of the first round. Jones dreamed about the tools Lynch developing behind Tony Romo before taking on the Cowboys' starter, but the Seahawks preferred Denver's offer and moved down five spots for a third-round pick. John Elway then pipped Jones to Lynch, while the Cowboys used the picks they were planning to trade for Lynch on Jaylon Smith and Maliek Collins.

On Day 3, the Cowboys were happy to settle for a second option in Michigan State passer Cook, who was resting on the board 100. The Cowboys Cooks, but they did not make the Browns a good enough offer, the Raiders traded up to the 100th selection and nabbed Cook ahead of the Cowboys. Dallas did not even want to prescott all that desperately, given that they were the 101st pick on defensive end Charles Tapper before grabbing Prescott with the 135th selection.

Three years later, you get the feeling that the original scouting reports on Cook and Lynch have gone missing from the Cowboys' facility. Both Cowboys targets were cut by their original teams this past season, with the Broncos preferring Mr. Irrelevant Chad Kelly to Lynch. Injuries led Cook to start the one-of-a-kind playoff game of the Jack Del Rio era at Oakland, but Cook threw three interceptions in what might go down as his lone professional start. He signed a future contract with the Lions on New Year's Day, and Lynch is a free agent. Prescott wants to make his third playoff start this weekend.

Jan. 6, 2018: The Raiders hire Jon Gruden as coach, and quietly hand him personnel control.

What happened next: Gruden decides to rebuild the roster and trades OLB Khalil Mack and WR Amari Cooper.

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This is not just ancient history, but would the cowboys be in the postseason if the raiders had not decided to blow things up last winter? Reggie McKenzie's influence, replacing both with Gruden on that legendary 10-year, $ 100 million deal. If the Raiders had simply stayed the course and made minor changes to the staff, it's likely that McKenzie would have locked up with Mack with an extension and would not be happy with Cooper this off season.

Instead, Mack to the Bears, Gruden sent his No. 1 wideout to the cowboys for a first-round pick. The former Alabama star has helped revitalize a flagging Dallas offense and given Prescott some sorely needed help at receiver. Prescott has posted a pager rating of 104.6 with Cooper on lineup, up 17.8 points from the quarterback's this season without Cooper on the field. Prescott has been deshaun Watson with Cooper and Alex Smith without him. Virtually nobody liked the Cooper trade when it happened, but as wrong as Lynch and Cook, he was absolutely right about trading for Cooper.

Spring 2016: John Elway declines to give Wade Phillips a raise and an extension.

What happened next: Phillips finishes the final year of his deal at Denver before leaving for Los Angeles.

If anyone had the ability to call their own shot after the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, it should have been Phillips. Manning and Brock Osweiler at quarterback: The Legendary Defensive Coordinator had just released the league's top defense by DVOA to a Super Bowl. Denver's playoff run had seven takeaways in three games while shutting down injured Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and League MVP Cam Newton.

Phillips is the highest-paid defensive coordinator in football "by a substantial margin." Elway told Phillips he could have one or the other, but not both. Phillips got a raise, but he left after the following season to take over the Rams' defense. The Broncos promoted Joe Woods, who appears likely to leave the organization after Denver hired Vic Fangio this week.

Wade Phillips has helped turn around the Rams since joining them in 2017. Kevin Sullivan / Zuma Press / Icon Sportswire

Phillips immediately improved the Rams, and while Sean McVay revitalized Jared Goff and added all sorts of offensive help, Phillips did not really make any major additions to the roster. Phillips had the Rams' D playing its best in January?

Jan. 9, 2017: Sean McVay aces his coaching interview … with the 49ers.

What happened next: The Rams hired McVay first.

It has all been different in the NFC West. McVay now, no one wanted to hire McVay before the 2017 offseason. Rams fans who rightfully wanted Jeff Fisher to be fired after the 2015 season could not have realized it at the time, but if the Rams had fired Fisher after his fourth consecutive losing season, they probably did not end up with McVay, who had just finished his second season as Washington's offensive coordinator and what's not on the head-coaching radar.



The Cowboys 'offense with Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott has found his rhythm, and the Rams' defense by Aaron Donald might not be able to disrupt them.

The McVay's grandfather was given to John McVay, who served as a key personnel executive with the Niners through two decades of their glory years. The younger McVay what McVay with possible general manager candidates as Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst to discuss strategy.

Before the Niners could make their move, though, the Rams were pounced. Two days after the 49ers interviewed McVay, the Rams brought him in for a second interview. The following afternoon, they hired McVay as their coach. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have been killed in the fall of the year, McVay has had more wins in his first season (11) than the 49ers and Shanahan have racked up their first two campaigns (10 ). The only coach who might be McVay is Bill Belichick. The Rams got their hire right.

Jan. 2, 2015: The Eagles "promote" Howie Roseman in lieu of her own general manager.

What happened next: Chip Kelly demonstrates the Peter Principle.

Lots of NFL teams go through power struggles. Most times, the guy who loses the battle has a new organization. That was not really the case in Philadelphia when Kelly consolidated power after his second consecutive 10-6 season. After GM Roseman fired vice president of player Tom Gamble, Kelly won the ensuing battle for personnel control and shunted aside Roseman. Amid rumors that the deposed executive talked to the jets about their vacancy at GM, Roseman was handed a contract extension to stick around in Philadelphia as an executive vice president of football operations, but he essentially banned from the front office. Kelly took over as general manager and proceeded to rebuild the roster in his image.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman put together the roster that won Super Bowl LII. Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports

That did not go well. The Eagles traded Nick Foles as part of a package for Sam Bradford, signed LeSean McCoy to the Bills, signed by DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell to big-money contracts, cut veteran offensive linemen Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans, and Nelson Agholor and Eric Rowe. The Eagles went 6-9 before firing Kelly and restoring personnel control back to Roseman.

Roseman moved on from most of Kelly's mistakes, traded up Carson Wentz, signed Foles and hired Doug Pederson. Two years later, the Eagles were Super Bowl champions. Had the Eagles fired Roseman or found him doing his job.

Aug. 3, 2016: Foles decides against retiring and signs with the Chiefs.

What happened next: Foles goes on a special run in Philly.

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You're probably familiar with this last one, given that. He said he would be retiring after the Rams in 2016, spending a week debating his options with his wife and going fly-fishing with his brother-in-law. When he came back and prayed on the matter he decided to return to football.

The story of breaks down there. One month ago, Alex Smith signed for a two-year, $ 11 million deal with Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. He won the Super Bowl in Year 1 and just pocketed a $1 million bonus after Cody Parkey's potential winning field goal attempt was partially blocked by Treyvon Hester in Chicago. He'll probably be franchised after the season and traded for a draft pick, although it seems likely that the playoff hero won't be suiting up for Reid with the Chiefs.

Would Foles actually have retired? It's tough to say. Twenty-seven-year-old quarterbacks with NFL-caliber skills generally don't retire, but spending a season under Jeff Fisher can take a lot out of a man. Foles also had pocketed a $6 million roster bonus for the 2016 season before being released and had made more than $15 million over his pro career, so the Arizona product wasn't strapped for cash. I think Foles probably would have made his way back to the NFL one way or another, but the path he took sent him to Super Bowl glory via Philadelphia's former coach and that coach's protege.



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