Winners and losers from the offseason's early front office changes
While the coaching carousel takes up most of the news space in the opening weeks of the offseason, the fates of those higher up in the organization can have a more lasting effect on the fortunes of a franchise. The ramifications of the 2014 regular season have only just begun to play out, but here's how things stand with seven NFL teams who have already begun significant front office changes.
Washington Redskins: The hire of new general manager Scot McCloughan was universally lauded as a great get, and for good reason. If McCloughan can keep the personal issues that have bedeviled him at bay, he's as good a personnel man as there is in the NFL. As the San Francisco 49ers' vice president of player personnel from 2005-08, the team's general manager from 2008-10, and then the Seattle Seahawks' senior personnel executive from 2010 through 2014, he did as much to build those two powerhouse teams as anyone. McCloughan believes in building for the long haul, he has a great internal clock on when to give up on failed choices, and he understands team dynamics. He's a big believer in physical strength and domination, but he also has an innate instinct for players who simply want to win more than others.
Thus, a franchise that has always been too reactionary throughout the reign of owner Dan Snyder will become one of the models for roster construction -- if McCloughan is allowed to do things his way, and again, if he can manage those personal demons.
New York Jets: In replacing John Idzik with former Houston Texans director of college scouting Mike Maccagnan, the Jets have at least endeavored to put their football operations in the hands of a man with some personnel experience -- Idzik was a salary cap manager with the Seahawks before he joined the Jets, and his lack of skills specific to the GM job showed through over and over. There are some in the league who believe that Maccagnan doesn't yet have the resume for the fairly major reconstruction project ahead for this team, and his longtime relationship with Jets consultant Charley Casserly -- Casserly hired Maccagnan in Houston in 2000 and in Washington before that -- have some wondering if this is more about Casserly getting his own guy in there.
Still, the Jets had nowhere to go but up from here, and Maccagnan's reputation as a quiet and diligent sort may actually do him good in an organization where there are a lot of people stumping for the spotlight -- from the owner on down. If the Jets are able to land current Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the league's hottest head coaching candidate, they'll maintain what they always had with Rex Ryan -- a true understanding of how to select great defensive prospects in the draft.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles' decision to fire vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble after the season set off a chain of events that will radically change how the Eagles do things in free agency and the draft. Head coach Chip Kelly, who was very unhappy about the manner in which Gamble was let go (the two men came to Philly in 2013 and had a strong relationship, by all accounts), was given far more authority in matters of personnel, and former general manager Howie Roseman was bumped up to the position of executive vice president of football operations -- an unwieldy title that will have Roseman dealing with the salary cap and overall strategic matters. In other words, it's Kelly's team from a personnel perspective.
That's a good move in theory, because Kelly's idiosyncratic system would seem to require that he be the one who's selecting the talent for that system, and owner Jeff Lurie may have headed off a power struggle similar to the one that recently boiled over in San Francisco (more on that in a minute). The question now is whether Kelly has the smarts to hire the guys who knows what he doesn't know, and can do what he can't do, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Chicago Bears: Former general manager Phil Emery, a very smart man, was nonetheless doomed in his position by three moves: the decision to hire Marc Trestman as his head coach over Bruce Arians, which lost him defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli in the process; the decision to hire Mel Tucker as Marinelli's replacement; and the seven-year, $126.7 million contract extension given to quarterback Jay Cutler last January. Trestman couldn't handle the job, Tucker was a disaster and Cutler was benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen late in the season. Emery has been replaced by former Saints director of player personnel Ryan Pace, who received glowing recommendations from New Orleans head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis. Pace would seem to have a better eye for talent and a sharper sense of how to put things together, and he might get John Fox as his head coach in the bargain. Bears fans will have to wait and see Pace's initial decisions, but things appear to be trending up in Chicago.
Denver Broncos: Monday's announcement that John Fox and the Broncos had agreed to part ways was a surprise to those not familiar with the tension between Fox and team EVP John Elway that had been simmering for a while. When you essentially fire a coach who went 46-18 in the regular season in four years and took you to the Super Bowl the season before, you'd better have a plan in mind. All reports indicate that the Broncos didn't have an obvious successor; if they want to hire offensive coordinator Adam Gase at that position, they'll have to wait until the 49ers are done interviewing him, which will apparently take all day Tuesday.
Yes, Fox was helped immeasurably by the acquisition of Peyton Manning in 2012, but it's worth remembering that Fox completely changed the corrosive culture that existed when Josh McDaniels was the head coach and actually won a playoff game with Tim Tebow as his quarterback in 2011. The smart money has Elway waiting until Dan Quinn is available to be interviewed and going that way, but this could still blow up in Elway's face.
San Francisco 49ers: It was long known that head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke -- two very intense individuals -- did not have the best relationship through Harbaugh's four seasons in San Francisco. Similarly to Denver's situation, it became a scenario in which the building wasn't big enough for both men, and Harbaugh took off for Michigan to coach his alma mater. With that, the 49ers were left with an undefined coaching search that may leave them with current defensive line coach Jim Tomsula or the aforementioned Gase. And Baalke, whose last few drafts have been anything but spectacular, is left with the corner office.
Did the 49ers back the wrong horse? In spite of CEO Jed York's comical attempts to defend Harbaugh's departure, it's true that Harbaugh wears on people after a while -- but this is a coach who has done as much to transform his team as any in recent years. The franchise has not explained how they expect to replace that, quite possibly because they're not sure themselves.
Atlanta Falcons: The decision to replace Mike Smith as head coach after a 10-22 record over the last two seasons was certainly understandable, but the moves made after that left a lot of people puzzled. Owner Arthur Blank decided to keep general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who came to Atlanta with Smith in 2008 and whose recent drafts make Baalke's look like something out of the 1970s Steelers. Blank also gave pro and college scouting duties to former Bill Belichick assistant and ex-Kansas City Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, with Dimitroff ostensibly taking more of an overseer's role. Pioli's draft history was hit-and-miss in Kansas City from 2009-12, with far more misses than hits, and there were several reports indicating that Pioli's divisive personality led to the departure of many longstanding employees. Perhaps Pioli has learned from his mistakes, but the early outlook is not good.