FILE – In a Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016 file photo, Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott (4) and Tony Romo (9) talk on the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys went on a record-setting run without quarterback Romo, thanks to a pair of star rookies, Dak Prescott and Esekiel Elliott. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File)
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer
The Houston Texans’ decision to break the bank for Brock Osweiler was among the worst calls of 2016, aside from Jacksonville’s color rush mustard yellow jerseys , of course.
The Texans soon realized that just because you pay a quarterback $18 million a year on average doesn’t mean you have an $18 million quarterback, but maybe just an average one.
Osweiler is a backup heading into the playoffs, just like last year, when he was supplanted by Peyton Manning in Denver. This time, he’s behind Tom Savage, who’s making $600,000.
“Unfortunately I’ve been down this road before,” Osweiler said. “I understand what it’s like to get benched in the middle of a football game. And ultimately having a big picture view on the deal, it’s all about the next man up and being a good teammate.”
The other team from Texas also has an expensive backup, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made one of the best calls of 2016 when he kept his $18 million QB on the sideline in light of rookie Dak Prescott’s success.
Prescott ($450,000) has capitalized on the NFL’s best offensive line and the league’s top rusher, fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, to guide Dallas (13-2) back to elite status after Tony Romo broke a bone in his back in a preseason game.
To think, Prescott was Jones’ consolation prize after John Elway outmaneuvered him on draft day to select Paxton Lynch, who’s 1-1 as Trevor Siemian’s backup in Denver.
Other front office moves that paid off handsomely included: Oakland signing Kelechi Osemele, the capstone of the AFC’s best O-line; New England bringing back O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia; and Atlanta signing Alex Mack, who transformed the Falcons’ O-line into one of the league’s best.
The Browns were ridiculed early on for their trade with the Eagles and missing out on Carson Wentz. But they could have two top-10 picks in April, allowing them to get Myles Garrett AND a quarterback, setting up a potential franchise-transforming draft.
Jack Del Rio shed his conservative credentials and went for 2 at New Orleans in Week 1, setting the tone for the Raiders’ return to the playoff party for the first time since 2002, even if Derek Carr (broken leg) won’t lead the way.
Among the moves that backfired: Carolina not re-signing Josh Norman;the Rams’ decision to retain Jeff Fisher during the move to L.A., which means Jared Goff has to learn a new scheme in his second season; and the Jets dithering at quarterback, then re-signing Ryan Fitzpatrick late for $12 million, leading to another lost season.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell found his office embroiled in another controversy over player discipline and domestic violence. After mishandling the Ray Rice case two years ago, Goodell vowed not to make the same mistake again. But the league’s handling of Josh Brown (one-game suspension) raised doubts that the NFL learned its lesson after police released journal entries and emails in which the Giants kicker acknowledged repeatedly abusing his former wife.
Other notable calls in 2016:
CALICO CLEATS: Some of the league’s most colorful characters are fined just about every week for wearing kaleidoscopic cleats during games. The league’s one-week reprieve was called “My Cause, My Cleats,” and allowed players to wear custom cleats in Week 13 and then auction them for charity.
JUMP FOR JOY: Will Parks’ white cleats and Justin Simmons’ 40-inch vertical leap both came in handy when the Broncos visited New Orleans. Simmons leapt the long snapper and blocked the potential go-ahead extra point with 1:22 left and Parks scooped up the football and raced 84 yards. Officials upheld the first game-winning 2-point play in league history when they couldn’t determine whether Parks stepped out of bounds because his white cleats blended in with the sideline.
HARLAN’S CALL: Radio announcer Kevin Harlan offered spirited play-by-play commentary as security chased down a fan on the field in the fourth quarter of San Francisco’s 28-0 win over the Rams on opening weekend. He called out the movements of the “goofball in a hat and a red shirt” like he would a long touchdown run, capping his call by saying, “That was the most exciting thing to happen tonight.”
BLAME EVERYBOD : Referee Walt Anderson didn’t bother collecting the jersey numbers when Tennessee’s offense messed up one play so spectacularly in the game at Indianapolis. He just called false start on “everyone but the center.”
BLAME EVERYBODY II: Anderson’s crew botched the final seconds of the first half of a Bills-Seahawks game when Richard Sherman was flagged for being offside (the league said it should have been unnecessary roughness) when he crashed into Dan Carpenter trying to block a 48-yard field goal. Carpenter had to leave for a play after trainers ran onto the field to check on him, forcing Buffalo to spike the ball with 1 second left. Officials forgot to reset the game clock and called delay of game before Carpenter missed from 54 yards.
MINNESOTA MUTINY: After the Vikings’ 38-25 loss to Green Bay in Week 16, cornerback Xavier Rhodes said the DBs ignored coach Mike Zimmer’s game plan to have Rhodes shadow Jordy Nelson. After Nelson caught seven passes for 145 yards and two TDs in the first half, Rhodes went back to the game plan and held Nelson to two catches for 9 yards after halftime.
RETURNER REGRETS: Gary Kubiak made the mistake of reinserting Jordan Norwood as his punt returner in a Week 15 showdown against New England three weeks after Jordan muffed two punts against KC. Kubiak needed Norwood in his hurry-up offense, but Norwood promptly muffed his first punt and coughed up his only catch.
CAM’S CONCUSSION: Cam Newton took plenty of punishment this season and even complained directly to the commissioner that officials weren’t keeping QBs safe. But he had no one to blame but himself for the biggest hit. In Week 4 he pulled up in front of Falcons linebacker Deion Jones while he was about to convert a 2-point play. He didn’t brace for the hit that staggered the league’s reigning MVP, giving him a concussion.