Many of our NFL Network analysts dedicated years to perfecting their craft and becoming the best players they could during their respective football careers, navigating difficult decisions along the way. What were the best decisions they made? They supplied those answers on Monday. What were their biggest regrets? That is today's topic of discussion:
LaDainian Tomlinson, running back (San Diego Chargers, 2001-09; New York Jet, 2010-11): For me, it's never winning a Super Bowl. I made five postseason appearances with the Chargers (hitting the AFC Championship in the 2007 season) and one with the Jets (again, to the conference title game), but our teams never made it to the Super Bowl. So many things have to go right to win a team championship, and injuries seemed to pop up at the wrong time. I realize that winning a title isn't technically a decision, but it's the one thing that eluded my football career.
James Jones, wide receiver (Green Bay Packers, 2007-2013, 2015; Oakland Raiders, 2014): I had one drop in our Super Bowl XLV win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it was a big one. It was our opening drive of the third quarter and we faced a third-and-5 at our own 25. Cornerback Will Gay undercut me on a slant route, and it looked like Aaron Rodgers' pass was going to be intercepted. Gay swung his hands at the ball but missed, causing the ball to sneak up on me. Had I made that catch, I would have scored a 75-yard touchdown in the Super Bowl and would probably still be playing today.
DeAngelo Hall, cornerback (Atlanta Falcons, 2004-07; Oakland Raiders, 2008; Washington Redskins, 2008-2017): When I signed to play half the season with Washington in 2008, there was a line in my contract that said the team could not franchise tag me that next season. I remember negotiations for a new deal with Washington weren't going well, and there were other teams in the picture, including New England. At that time, players didn't take short-term deals, but Randy Moss had just signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Patriots. I couldn't believe it. In my own contract discussions with the Pats, I recall Bill Belichick telling me they couldn't give me the contract Moss signed. Being a young and greedy knucklehead, I chose to stay in Washington on a long-term deal (six years, $54 million), which ultimately had me making the same per-year salary as Moss. Over a few million, I could've changed my legacy by being part of that dynasty. That was on the table for me, and I wish I would've made the decision to take less money and play for Belichick.
Nate Burleson, wide receiver (Minnesota Vikings, 2003-05; Seattle Seahawks, 2006-09; Detroit Lions 2010-13): My biggest regret? Trying to save that pizza while driving. I'm dead serious. I swerved three or four times during that 2013 accident and remember getting out of the car to check my legs. There was a short sigh of relief when I realized my legs were fine, but that's when I noticed my arm was broken (an injury that required surgery). I looked down and remember saying out loud, "I just messed up OUR season." The Lions were 2-1 at the time and I had just recorded a 100-yard receiving game. We were trending in the right direction and then I missed seven games. We finished 7-9 that year (going 1-5 down the stretch after my return) and missed the playoffs. And that ended up being my last NFL season.
Who knows how that season would've played out or how many more years I would've been in the league if it weren't for that deep dish pizza. For the record, though, I still eat it all the time. I just have it delivered now.
Maurice Jones-Drew, running back (Jacksonville Jaguars, 2006-2013; Oakland Raiders, 2014): Training together and building team chemistry is such a big part of high school and college football, and that's exactly what I experienced at De La Salle and UCLA. When I stepped into a leadership role in Jacksonville, I should have encouraged my teammates to train together in the offseason rather than going our separate ways. There were several seasons where we were one or two games out of the playoffs and -- who knows? -- we might've been in the mix had we been pushing each other all spring and summer. I was one of the people who left Jacksonville in the offseason, and although I was improving my own game, how could I lead by not being present? I couldn't.
Joe Thomas, offensive tackle (Cleveland Browns, 2007-2017): My biggest regret is never playing in a playoff game. Don't confuse this with my decision to be a Cleveland Brown throughout my career. I believed we were a playoff team and I wanted to be part of building something. If I would have played a year or two somewhere else to simply play on a playoff team, I would've felt hollow. Being part of the team-building process was important to me, and that's a decision I'll never regret.
Brian Baldinger, offensive lineman (Dallas Cowboys, 1982-87; Indianapolis Colts, 1988-1991; Philadelphia Eagles, 1992-93): When I was released by the Eagles in 1994 after an injury that was slow to heal, I desperately wanted to play one more year. At that time, San Francisco was a desired destination for free agents, and the 49ers actually flew me out to Santa Clara for a workout and visit. I remember meeting Neal Dahlen, who was part of the personnel department at the time, along with many of the players and a few coaches. My dreams were as big as could be heading into my 13th NFL season and wanted to see what that Niner mystique was all about. I never felt so high walking into their practice facility and never felt so low when I walked out after my visit without a deal. A deciding factor for them was that my knees looked real arthritic on several X-rays they took that day. It was deflating and I knew that the idea of finishing on top was over when I walked out that day. And the dream of playing one more season was over.
A quarter-century later, I am so grateful that the 49ers didn't sign me because my knees and body are still in pretty good condition. Who knows what they would be like had I played another grueling NFL season. BUT ... I have always respected the way the 49ers go about their business and wish I could've huddled up with some of the Niner greats.
David Carr, quarterback (Houston Texans, 2002-06; Carolina Panthers, 2007; New York Giants, 2008-09 and 2011-12; San Francisco 49ers, 2010): Before I signed with the 49ers in 2010, the Arizona Cardinals wanted me to come out for a visit. Kurt Warner had just retired and then-head coach Ken Whisenhunt was looking for his next quarterback. At the time, I was on vacation with my wife and some of my former Panthers teammates, so I didn't go out to the desert for a visit. I've thought a lot about that decision since, and realize it could've been a great opportunity (had they signed me) to become a starter again -- which is what my aim was when I signed with San Francisco later on that offseason. To this day, Whisenhunt still gives me crap about it.