As a few franchises search for a new roster architect, a look at the NFL's five most successful ones
What makes a good general manager?
Coaches can be measured in something far less nebulous than “depth” or “culture” or “workplace harmony,” but for owners evaluating the state of their team, they have to decide how best to judge the man or woman picking the players and managing the money.
“It can’t just be the meathead football guy,” said an NFC GM. “That doesn’t fly with ownership, it doesn’t fly with community relations, and that’s not how a lot of the younger scouts think. You have to be able to lead in a different way. … We’re doing our draft meetings now, we have ‘kids’ in there, 26, 27, 28 years old, and they’re all very different in how they think.”
And from an AFC GM:
“You’re really touching everything that has to do with the football team. It’s the field, video, trainers, doctors, the players, coaches; you’re involved in football ops, travel, logistics. And yeah, you have other people who are in charge of that stuff, but they look to you for the final stamp on it. … Why is the footing on the field bad? Stuff like that, being on the road, that you’d never think of.”
If that is the criteria by which GMs evaluate themselves, then how would the current crop of executives rank in the NFL? Based on Breer’s notes, here’s a swing at the top five who currently hold office:
1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots: This one is a guarantee, but for several reasons beyond the obvious. Belichick helped usher in a new era of logistical planning, going out of his way to ensure that his players are prepared for just about anything. From redesigned practices to a player evaluation technique that may not produce the best athletes, but finds players who will fall into order, it will be almost impossible to recreate the Patriots of the last 20 years. As with most on this list, Belichick doesn’t go at it alone. Player personnel director Nick Caserio, one of Breer’s top general manager candidates, is highly sought after but so far has opted to stick in Foxboro.
2. Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers: Colbert, who has had his current gig since 2010 (he was the Steelers’ director of football ops from 2000-10), perennially boasts one of the top rosters in football. His best player, and perhaps the best individual skill position player in the NFL (Antonio Brown) was a sixth-round pick in Colbert’s first year calling the shots. He has not muddled the finances despite having to carry three massive paychecks on the roster at once, and could again find his team playing for a conference championship in January. Aided by VP of football administration Omar Khan, a former candidate for Jets general manager, the pair has accomplished plenty during their run together.
3. John Schneider, Seattle Seahawks: The team is still clinging to playoff hopes at 8-6 despite the loss of Kam Chancellor, George Fant, Richard Sherman, C.J. Prosise, Cliff Avril, Chris Carson and more. Schneider’s success in the mid to late rounds has been phenomenal as GM, as has his ability to find players who will thrive in Pete Carroll’s culture. The pair have worked together well for a GM who inherited his head coach, with few behind-the-scenes mishaps spilling out into the public eye. Schneider has also built a desirable staff underneath him. John Idzik was hired as the Jets’ general manager and currently works for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner, as Breer noted, is expected to hear from other teams this winter.
4. Ted Thompson, Green Bay Packers: Thompson has come under fire for his stubbornness when it comes to free agency shopping, but in a high-stress job with heavy expectations, he has missed the playoffs just four times (including this year) since 2005 when he took over. Packers fans who rail against their team need a heavy dose of perspective. Not only has Thompson created a Patriots-esque culture, but has a pipeline that includes Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst, two names on Breer’s watchlist.
5. Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore Ravens: Year in and year out, Newsome mentors one of the most bandied about protégés on the market—Ravens assistant general manager Eric Decosta. That seems to say something not only about the work Newsome has done in Baltimore (10 playoff appearances and two Super Bowl wins since 1996) but the front office structure he’s created.
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1. The Seattle Seahawks were fined $100,000 for mishandling Russell Wilson during a potential concussion evaluation. While the fine seems small for a billionaire NFL owner, team medics are now officially on notice.
2. An encouraging update on Ryan Shazier, courtesy of his father.
3. The use of paper index cards as a visual affirmation device when measuring first downs has been outlawed. We have officially complained about everything in 2017.
4. Josh Gordon seems to be settling in for the long haul in Cleveland.
5. Jadeveon Clowney called Blake Bortles trash. Now, a hardcore sect of Jacksonville Jaguars fans are mailing Clowney trash cans. (While I appreciate the sentiment, trash cans are not cheap. Wouldn't it be more of a statement to mail him actual trash?)
6. Louis Riddick enters the Giants' search for a general manager.
7. The data wonks at FiveThirtyEight have concluded that five years is the appropriate amount of time to decide whether a coach and QB combo is crappy or not (just pointing out that they used a photo of Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton).
8. Muhammad Wilkerson is now out of Todd Bowles' doghouse. He is free to enjoy his final two weeks as a member of the Jets.
9. Packer faithful are being recruited to shovel out their stadium once again. (It's a time-honored tradition even a selfish millennial like myself can appreciate.)
10. In perhaps the most obvious statement of the year, the Cowboys offensive coordinator expects to get Ezekiel Elliott the ball a lot with Dallas's season on the line. In related news, water is still wet.
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For those readers celebrating the holiday season this weekend, here's the Grateful Dead taking on a classic, "Run, Run Rudolph," from Ann Arbor in December 1971.
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