The seas are changing in NFL front offices. Analytics can no longer be kept at bay. The Philadelphia Eagles have seen to that. You can either get in line or fall behind. This makes for an awkward balancing act for the league’s general managers, many of whom still believe in their eyes more than anything else. As some fully embrace the new paradigm, others remain steadfast in their resistance. Most seek an imperfect truce, holding fast to the old ways while letting the new slowly creep in. But the creep will soon become a flood, as it has in baseball and basketball. You can’t defeat math before it solves you. The sooner all 31 of the Eagles’ rivals figure this out, the better off they will be.
For the purposes of this article, I consider the “general manager” to be whomever is believed to have the biggest role in shaping the roster, irrespective of who has the official title. The criteria is the same as always. All front office activity — from players and coaches to draft picks and contracts — is taken into consideration. Past achievements are not written off, but recent history is given greater emphasis. Even in a results-based business, the process is vital. Last year’s list can be found here. 2016’s can be found here.
1. Bill Belichick, Patriots
There is no separating “Bill Belichick, head coach” from “Bill Belichick, general manager.” Those desperate to ding Belichick’s peerless reputation often look to his sometimes questionable personnel acumen, as if reaching for Ras-I Dowling is a legitimate counterpoint to winning five Super Bowls. Along with lieutenants like Nick Caserio, Belichick picks his own players and they have gone 214-74 since 2000. Great coaching has been paramount, but no amount of scheming or motivating can turn the wrong group of 53 into five-time Lombardi hoisters. The reason Belichick wins is the rosters he supplies himself. He might pursue different kinds of players than other teams — hopefully you’ve played for Rutgers — but they are the kind he knows how to coach. If a general manager’s job isn’t to provide his coach with the right talent, then what is it? Belichick does it, and by every available avenue. Draft pick accumulation, trades, tactical strikes in free agency, mining restricted free agency and even claiming injured players. No general manager is as creative as Bill Belichick. No general manager is as ruthless as Bill Belichick. No general manager is as successful as Bill Belichick.
2. Kevin Colbert, Steelers
When I first started this exercise in 2014, Kevin Colbert was at a low ebb. In salary cap hell and featuring fewer impact players than usual, his teams were coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons. Everything that has happened since has served to reinforce the long view: Colbert is an elite general manager. Despite those lean times earlier this decade, Colbert’s rosters have gone 188-99-1 since he first came onto the scene in 2000. They have won two Super Bowls and reached a third. That’s a track record only Bill Belichick can better. Where Colbert’s early-decade squads were aging and top heavy, his most recent have been deep and dynamic. Colbert has found talent everywhere, from Day 1 of the draft (T.J. Watt, David DeCastro), Day 2 (JuJu Smith-Schuster, Stephon Tuitt) and beyond (Ali Villanueva, Antonio Brown). Colbert has had plenty of misses. You would too if you had been on the job for 18 years. Perhaps Colbert will have more lean years in the future. He has proven he has the ability to move past them.
3. Howie Roseman, Eagles
Winning an NFL power struggle can be a Pyrrhic victory. Oftentimes, you’re the next one out the door. When Howie Roseman bested Chip Kelly in late 2015, he inherited a roster at a crossroads, one without a quarterback and pruned of much of its veteran talent. Roseman wasted no time in planting the seeds for its revival. Attacking his second chance with ferocity, Roseman made reputation-risking moves at both head coach and quarterback. His hiring of Doug Pederson felt flat. His trade up for Carson Wentz seemed desperate. Both proved to be inspired, serving as the twin pillars of the first Super Bowl championship in Eagles history. Now the boss of an imposingly deep roster, Roseman has complemented his major moves with quieter ones, like his pilfering of Timmy Jernigan from the Ravens. It’s been only eight years since Roseman first started assisting Andy Reid as his general manager. There have been some lows along the way. Roseman learned from them on his way to the highest of highs.
4. Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons
On the job long enough to reinvent himself, Thomas Dimitroff finds himself in the middle of his second sustained period of success. Bookending the 18-30 malaise of 2013-15 are rosters that have posted six 10-win seasons in 10 years. Matt Ryan has been the cornerstone, but the supporting cast has been rebuilt to Super Bowl levels following the hangover from the Falcons’ should-have-been Super Bowl season of 2012-13. There was no such hangover after 2016-17’s 28-3 debacle. Adjusting to life without Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons were far less explosive but still just six points shy of another NFC Championship Game appearance. Looking for more fire to pair with Matty Ice this offseason, Dimitroff went back to the Alabama receiver well, using his first-round pick on Calvin Ridley. Like anyone else, Dimitroff’s rosters are imperfect. They can lack for a defensive identity. The same is true of his coaches. Dan Quinn is almost as anonymous as Mike Smith. But Dimitroff has accomplished three critical things: 1. Find a quarterback and build around him. 2. Find the right deputy in Scott Pioli, who has been instrumental in the Falcons’ recent turnaround. 3. Accumulate depth. The results have fallen just short, but Dimitroff’s process is Lombardi worthy.
5. Ozzie Newsome, Ravens
The only general manager the Ravens have ever known, Ozzie Newsome is one of the greatest executives in league history. He is also going on four seasons without a playoff victory. The Ravens have one postseason win in five years since Ed Reed and Ray Lewis rode off into the sunset. That sounds worse than it is, as Newsome’s rosters have finished below .500 just once since 2007. Nevertheless, a shake up has felt necessary for some time. Newsome is going about it in two ways: 1. By trading up for Lamar Jackson. 2. By retiring. 2018 is Newsome’s last year leading the Ravens’ front office. In drafting Jackson, he’s opted for a bold finish instead of a valedictory sign off. A Hall-of-Fame player, Newsome has long since established himself as a Hall-of-Fame GM. Jackson successfully succeeding Joe Flacco would only further burnish Newsome’s Lombardi-lined résumé.
6. Rick Spielman, Vikings
There is never a dull moment in Rick Spielman’s front office. That includes this offseason, when, coming off the Vikings’ best season since 1998, Spielman handed out an historic contract. All three years and $84 million of Kirk Cousins’ deal is guaranteed. Maybe that’s reckless. It’s certainly in line with Spielman’s philosophy, which is to aggressively move to make his roster better. It’s produced hits (Brett Favre, Jared Allen) and spectacular misses (Christian Ponder, Cordarrelle Patterson). It’s also kept the Vikings interesting and away from prolonged slumps. The Vikes have never had more than two losing seasons in a row on Spielman’s watch despite starting 15 different quarterbacks. Perhaps you would like a little more consistency. Spielman’s squads can vary wildly from year to year. It’s possible he’s finally fixed that. He enters 2018 with his best coach (Mike Zimmer) and deepest roster. Spielman’s kinetic approach provides the occasional low. It might also be ready to supply a Super Bowl.
7. John Schneider, Seahawks
Together with Pete Carroll, John Schneider has made two first-round picks in the past six years. This is not a typo. In and of itself, it is not a bad strategy. Teams habitually overvalue the promise of tomorrow vs. the proven production of today. The problem is that the Seahawks have little to show for their first-round selloffs. Percy Harvin was a bust. Jimmy Graham was never fully integrated into the offense. Paul Richardson, the Seahawks’ first pick in 2014 after a series of trade downs, bolted for the Redskins after finally having a productive 2017. Excluding this year’s selection of Rashaad Penny, Schneider’s lone first-rounder since 2012, G/T Germain Ifedi, has been one of the worst players in the NFL. The consequence of all this trading and busting has been a once-deep defense aging out and a never-deep offensive line sinking to comic lows. Thanks to Schneider and Carroll’s gangbusters 2010-12 draft classes, the Seahawks have still managed to win at least nine games each of the past six years. But the roster is in trouble. A team that went 9-7 in 2017 did little to claim it got better this offseason. Rebuilding could be a 2-3 year project. Schneider has assembled a championship core before. Now he needs to do it again.
8. Steve Keim, Cardinals
The Cardinals have played in Arizona since 1988. Before Steve Keim arrived, they had finished above .500 in back-to-back seasons only once. They have averaged 10 wins on Keim’s watch, finishing below .500 one time in five years. Of course, that one time was 2017, and Keim’s roster has some glaring holes. The Cardinals’ offensive line remains undermanned, while the corner spot opposite Patrick Peterson has long needed upgrading. Keim has addressed his biggest issue, trading up for a quarterback in Josh Rosen. Without Rosen, the Cardinals would be in crisis as a franchise. With him, they have four credible building blocks in Rosen, Peterson, Chandler Jones and David Johnson. Even if Keim’s squad lacks depth in some areas, that’s a lot of high-end talent at premium positions. 2018 isn’t going to be Keim’s best team. His first half-decade on the job shows he should know how to make it better.
9. John Elway, Broncos
After a stretch where he could do no wrong — Von Miller, Peyton Manning, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, etc. — John Elway has lost his Midas Touch. His post-Peyton quarterback plans have gone awry, while the Broncos’ championship-winning defense of 2015-16 has slowly been dismembered. Case Keenum is a Band-Aid under center. Both lines need talent infusions. The secondary is no longer all world. Absent another Manning falling into his lap, Elway lacks a quick fix. He recognized reality this spring, staying quiet in free agency while passing on quarterbacks he did not deem worthy of a top-five pick. Elway took pass rusher Bradley Chubb at No. 5 before using his Day 2 selections on a runner, receiver and corner. Maybe it’s not a full-on rebuild, but the revamp has begun in earnest on both sides of the ball. It could be a lengthy process but it’s what Elway needed to do.
10. Mickey Loomis, Saints
Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton needed a near-perfect draft to save their roster in 2017. Miraculously — perfect drafts don’t really exist in the NFL — they got it. The Saints landed a new No. 1 corner (Marcus Lattimore), their future left tackle (Ryan Ramczyk) and one of the most electrifying young players in football (Alvin Kamara), all within the first 67 picks. It was a haul that changed the Saints overnight, transforming them from thrice-repeating 7-9ers to division winners for the first time since 2011. If there’s a nitpick, it’s that Loomis and Payton seemed to let it go to their head in this year’s draft. The duo made a daring, quite possibly reckless, trade up from No. 27 to No. 14 for small-school pass rusher Marcus Davenport, surrendering their 2019 first-rounder in the process. They may have also donated a fourth-round pick in the form of mega-project OT Rick Leonard. Intoxicated by last year’s return to relevance, Payton and Loomis are all in on 2018. It’s a defensible approach with Drew Brees headed into his age-39 campaign. It’s also something they could immediately regret.
11. Dave Caldwell/Tom Coughlin, Jaguars
Most general managers view spending big in free agency as the wrong way to build a team. It’s taken a year or three, but Dave Caldwell has proven you can sometimes buy happiness. The Jaguars’ 2017 ascension was fueled in part by high-dollar acquisitions like Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and A.J. Bouye. Nevermind the misses (Julius Thomas, Jared Odrick, Davon House, etc.) Caldwell stayed true to the formula this offseason, making Andrew Norwell the highest-paid guard in the league. It’s a risky approach, but one Caldwell can continue to pursue thanks to recent draft hits like Jalen Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue and Myles Jack. Finding cheap young talent on draft weekend helps subsidize aging hardware on the open market. None of Caldwell’s big spending or shrewd drafting has turned up a quarterback, though Blake Bortles is at least capable of keeping the seat warm. At some point, Caldwell will probably have to pay the piper. You can’t shell out forever. It’s just possible he will have already purchased a Lombardi.
12. Les Snead, Rams
The Rams’ current power structure is unclear. Previously, Jeff Fisher had final say. It stands to reason Les Snead exerts more influence than he did under his old boss, but Sean McVay’s clout will only grow after his sensational first year on the job. Whatever the balance of power is, McVay and Snead are striking while the iron is hot following last year’s historic turnaround. Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh and Brandin Cooks have been added to a squad that went 11-5 in 2017. That’s a serious talent infusion. It’s also a gamble that Jared Goff’s sophomore turnaround was real. Talib is the most uncertain addition of the group. Now 32, he’s at an age where many cornerbacks fall off a cliff. Cooks, meanwhile, is still quite youthful, but like Sammy Watkins, seemingly a poor fit for Goff’s conservative skill-set. If Snead and McVay are correct in their evaluation that Goff can game manage a team to the Super Bowl, their offseason acquisition spree will go down in NFL lore. If not, the theme of McVay’s second year on the job could be buyer’s remorse.
13. Jerry Jones/Stephen Jones, Cowboys
The Cowboys have finished below .500 just one time since 2010. They have won at least nine games three of the past four seasons. So why do they have only one playoff victory to show for it? A roster that always tantalizes but is never deep enough. In recent years, Jerry Jones has relied on a ball-control offense to keep a shorthanded defense off the field. The formula failed in 2017 thanks to injury to Tyron Smith, suspension to Ezekiel Elliott and ineffectiveness from Dez Bryant. Jones’ issues could be much larger in 2018. The offense is bereft of playmakers behind Elliott and Dak Prescott, and a defense that finished 25th in DVOA last season added only one meaningful reinforcement, first-round LB Leighton Vander Esch. Jones’ squads have surprised more than once recently. What they have not done is get over the hump. At least on paper, this year’s group doesn’t look like the one poised to break the cycle.
14. Tom Telesco, Chargers
Tom Telesco’s rosters have yet to produce a 10-win season, though they have reached nine three times in five years. 9-7 may be a .563 winning percentage, but it’s not the recipe for job security in the NFL. Telesco is working on it. He’s built an imposing secondary behind front seven linchpins Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and continues to stockpile talent on the offensive side of the ball. Telesco does remain all in on Philip Rivers, which is not without risk but is still better than the quarterback situations many of his peers find themselves in. Anthony Lynn has the looks of a strong hire at head coach. Telesco isn’t going to survive much longer without a 10-win campaign or division title, but he has laid the foundation for what could be a long tenure in Los Angeles.
15. Marvin Lewis/Duke Tobin/Mike Brown, Bengals
2017 was not a good year for the Bengals’ front office, perhaps the most opaque in the NFL. Both LT Andrew Whitworth and RG Kevin Zeitler were allowed to walk in free agency. The offensive line promptly collapsed. As usual, the Bengals’ open market traffic was one way, with the talent only flowing out, not in. In the draft, the Bengals selected extremely fast but extremely injury prone receiver John Ross at No. 9 overall. He proceeded to make zero impact, alternating knee issues — heavily foreshadowed from his time at Washington — and healthy scratches. The end result was the team’s second straight nine-loss campaign on the heels of five straight playoff appearances. After surprisingly retaining coach Marvin Lewis, owner Mike Brown and his subordinates have attempted to right last offseason’s wrongs, acquiring LT Cordy Glenn and drafting interior lineman Billy Price at No. 21. You are forgiven if you don’t think that’s enough to snap Lewis’ career-defining January 0-fer. With the Bengals’ 2010-11 core of Geno Atkins, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton either aging or plateauing, Brown and company need to start thinking bigger as they seek the franchise’s first postseason win since 1991.
16. Jon Robinson, Titans
No longer content with 9-7, Jon Robinson had an eventful offseason. He fired coach Mike Mularkey, made Malcolm Butler one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league and traded up for both Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry in the draft. After stockpiling picks his first two years on the job — the Titans made 19 combined selections between 2016-17 — Robinson came out of this year’s event with only four new players. He has switched from rebuilding to loading up as he tries to take the Titans to the next level in what’s looking like a more competitive division. Never afraid to spend money on the open market, Robinson was equally aggressive in compiling his new coaching staff. Mike Vrabel, though long considered a rising star, was put in charge after just one year of coordinating an NFL defense. New OC Matt LaFleur was a hot name as Sean McVay’s top assistant, but like Vrabel, has only season of coordinating experience. With 24-year-old Marcus Mariota heading into his fourth season, Robinson is done waiting around. He is banking on impatience being a virtue as the Titans seek their first 10-win campaign since 2008.
17. Reggie McKenzie, Raiders
Reggie McKenzie was close to completing his turnaround. After a painstaking teardown of the remains of Al Davis’ roster, McKenzie’s squad went 12-4 in 2016, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2002. 2017 should have been the next step forward, but injury to Derek Carr and ineptness from coach Jack Del Rio resulted in two steps back to 6-10. Instead of giving McKenzie the chance to further refine his roster with improvements to the defense and coaching staff, owner Mark Davis went back to the future, making Jon Gruden the highest-paid coach in league history. McKenzie trusted his process. The result has been his “effective replacement” by Gruden. Per Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, Gruden has “consolidated power to the point where he’s effectively the head coach, general manager, CEO and just about everything else.” McKenzie has made plenty of bad moves in seven years. He also made more than enough good ones to earn the opportunity to see his project through. Instead, he’s now a supporting player in Chucky’s latest movie.
18. John Lynch, 49ers
John Lynch did in 10 months what many general managers can’t do their entire career — find a quarterback. When it comes to grading Lynch’s rookie season, everything else is immaterial. There were certainly head scratchers. $21 million was way too much for FB Kyle Juszczyk. Lynch’s first-round selection of troubled ILB Reuben Foster was successful on the field but has already been a headache off of it. Before Jimmy Garoppolo’s insertion under center, Lych’s squad had won just one of 10 games. None of that is enough to mar what was ultimately an extremely successful first year on the job. Together with coach Kyle Shanahan, Lynch has a building block in Garoppolo that should make everything else easier. That is half the battle in a quarterback-driven league.
19. Bob Quinn, Lions
Each of Bob Quinn’s first two years on the job have produced 9-7 records. While Fisherville is nothing to call home about, it is the first time since 1994-95 that the Lions have finished over .500 in back-to-back seasons. Quinn has set about stabilizing his Matthew Stafford-led roster by limiting his open market activity and extricating the Lions from salary cap hell. Quinn’s two big free agent additions, Marvin Jones and Rick Wagner, have both proven to be solid moves. While the patience has suited Quinn’s roster building, the same was not true at head coach. That’s why Quinn made the difficult but necessary decision to move on from Jim Caldwell. Caldwell is a true professional. He is not someone you get over the hump with. An ex-Patriot, Quinn has cast his lot with another ex-Pat in Matt Patricia. Ex-Bill Belichick assistants typically offer equal upside and downside. Patricia’s tenure has already been rocked by the resurfacing of a sexual assault allegation from the ‘90s. Although Patricia’s job appears secure for now, Quinn could have another difficult decision on his hands if the facts at hand change.
20. Chris Ballard, Colts
Chris Ballard’s first year on the job was a 4-12 time bider. Missing his quarterback and suffering through the Colts’ second worst season since 1998, Ballard kept his eyes fixed on the future. Focused on cleaning up ex-GM Ryan Grigson’s mess, he made moves like cutting D’Qwell Jackson and trading Dwayne Allen. In the draft, he took the best player available at No. 15, S Malik Hooker. This offseason, Donte Moncrief was allowed to walk while Ballard traded back from No. 3 to accrue more picks. That he did so while standing landing one of the class’ most lauded prospects, Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson, has made for a successful spring. Ballard also handed out a discount deal to WR Ryan Grant, who had originally signed for four years and $29 million in Baltimore before mysteriously failing his physical. Ballard is operating as the low-key antidote to Grigson’s years of profligate spending and draft reaching (Phillip Dorsett, Bjoern Werner, etc.). Just because it’s the opposite approach doesn’t mean it’s the best approach, but the early returns are what the Colts needed.
21. Brandon Beane, Bills
Handpicked by coach Sean McDermott last May, Brandon Beane helped oversee a squad that clinched the Bills’ first playoff appearance in 18 years, albeit in less than impressive fashion. The Bills’ -57 point differential was the 12th worst in football, and the worst for a playoff team since Tim Tebow’s Broncos. McDermott and Beane also made things harder on themselves, selling low on Marcell Dareus while falling into the trap of being too in love with former players, in this case Kelvin Benjamin. That did not dampen McDermott and Beane’s appetite to deal this spring. They made not one, but two trade ups for Wyoming’s Josh Allen, the riskiest high-end quarterback prospect in ages. The Bills have hitched their wagon to last year’s Honorable Mention Mountain West quarterback. It was certainly daring but perhaps not the right approach for a team that needs an infusion of young talent on both sides of the ball. The Bills surrendered the No. 53 and 56 picks for the right to move up five spots. However it turns out, it will be a career-defining move for Beane. His predecessor — Doug Whaley, who engineered the Bills’ 2013 selection of E.J. Manuel — knows a thing or two about that.
22. Mike Maccagnan, Jets
5-11 is a matter of perspective. In 2016, it was calamitous for the Jets, an epic fail of a season after the previous year’s narrow playoff miss. In 2017, it was a pleasant surprise, proof things could turn around faster than expected in Florham Park. At the center of it all is Mike Maccagnan, who has managed to see it all in just three years on the job. After reloading in 2015, doubling down in 2016 and rebuilding in 2017, Maccagnan now has something he previously lacked: A potential franchise player. Thanks to the Jets’ stadium mates in the Giants, Sam Darnold fell into Maccagnan’s lap at No. 3 overall. Like all quarterback prospects, Darnold divides opinion, but his upside is immense at only 21 years of age (in June). He’s a building block the Jets have lacked since 2009, the last time they traded up for a signal caller. Maccagnan needs Darnold to be better than Mark Sanchez, but his presence allows Maccagnan to better focus on the Big Picture now that he’s finally answered the Big Question of quarterback.
23. Ryan Pace, Bears
At long last, Ryan Pace has the Bears pointed in the right direction. There is still much work to be done. Pace has rid himself of Jeff Fisher lite in John Fox, replacing him with Doug Pederson lite in Matt Nagy. To work with, Nagy has second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, a 2017 trade up target who did not disappoint as a rookie but hardly set the world on fire. One reason was how little he had to work with. That’s on Pace, who let Alshon Jeffery walk and replaced him with an embarrassing assortment of also-rans. To Pace’s credit, he’s worked hard to change that this offseason, signing Allen Robinson, play-making tight end Trey Burton and big-play specialist Taylor Gabriel. He also drafted impressive college compiler Anthony Miller at No. 51. Of course, this was after Pace seemed to miscalculate restricted free agent Cameron Meredith’s market, losing him to the Saints after using only an original-round tender. Pace also did little to improve his shaky pass rush or offensive line. That’s not a cardinal sin. There’s only so much you can accomplish in one spring. The problem is that Pace let himself accumulate so many needs to begin with. He needs Trubisky and Nagy to springboard a fourth-year turnaround.
24. Jason Licht, Bucs
Jason Licht has just 22 wins to show for four years on the job. He’s on the spot heading into 2018, something easy to ascertain from his offseason moves. Licht aggressively added to his undermanned defensive line, signing Vinny Curry, acquiring Jason Pierre-Paul and drafting Vita Vea. He got younger and cheaper at running back, swapping out enigmatic Doug Martin for second-rounder Ronald Jones. Typically a big spender, Licht was no different this spring, shelling out for DT Mitch Unrein, C Ryan Jensen and even K Chandler Catanzaro in addition to Curry. He also re-signed Cameron Brate to a surprising six-year, $40.8 million deal, committing even more resources to tight end after using his 2017 first-rounder on O.J. Howard. Despite the flurry of activity, the move Licht didn’t make could be the most consequential. Coach Dirk Koetter seemed behind the times in 2017, employing predictable schemes. Licht stuck with him. It’s up to Koetter and Jameis Winston whether Licht gets a sixth season in 2019.
25. Bruce Allen/Doug Williams, Redskins
How has Bruce Allen held off would-be usurpers since his restoration to the Redskins’ throne? By not hiring any. The Redskins no longer have a general manager. It’s Allen, owner Daniel Snyder and VP of player personnel Doug Williams. With no Scot McCloughans to rock the boat, the Redskins apparently prefer a power vacuum to a power structure. Coach Jay Gruden presumably does his part to fill it, too. The Redskins’ first GM-less season was a dreary 7-9 affair punctuated by their exile of Kirk Cousins, a man Allen once called Kurt. Upset that Cousins continued to bet on himself and win, the Redskins let him walk, making sure to besmirch him on his way out. His replacement is Alex Smith, a perfectly-fine quarterback who comes with a ceiling so hard the Chiefs saw fit to trade him after a career year. The Redskins have a .406 winning percentage since first hiring Allen in 2010, a number that drops to .364 if you exclude McCloughan’s two seasons at the helm. If Allen deserves to lead Washington’s front office, he’s yet to provide proof.
26. Mike Tannenbaum, Dolphins
In the midst of a typically noisy and expensive free agency in 2017, Mike Tannenbaum signed S T.J. McDonald to a one-year, $1.34 million deal. It was a low-risk flier on a player facing an eight-game suspension, the sort of move a shrewd general manager might make. Except then Tannenbaum gave McDonald a four-year, $24 million extension before he ever even played a down for the Dolphins. Nothing had changed. McDonald’s suspension remained. Tannenbaum simply thought he deserved an extension for … a strong preseason? It’s unclear what exactly the thinking was. That’s been a standard theme for Tannenbaum, both in MIami and New York. McDonald’s new deal joined a rich tradition of dubious extensions Tannenbaum began with Andre Branch and Kiko Alonso. So the process was bad. What about the result? Zero games into McDonald’s Dolphins career? Extension. Eight games into McDonald’s Dolphins career? His replacement is drafted with the No. 11 overall pick.
Tannenbaum is a man without a plan, with the one constant being bad deals. Acquiring Alonso and Byron Maxwell. Signing Jermon Bushrod to play guard. Re-signing Jermon Bushrod to play guard. Replacing Olivier Vernon with Mario Williams. Surrendering 2017 third- and fourth-rounders to trade back into the third round for Leonte Carroo in 2016. Taking on Julius Thomas’ contract. Giving every last Albert Wilson a multi-year deal. This is just a sampling of Tannenbaum’s questionable moves, and says nothing of the Dolphins’ baffling tendency to avoid second contracts with homegrown players. Maybe Chris Grier would be a good general manager with Tannenbaum out of his way. Maybe coach Adam Gase is deserving of greater influence. Maybe meddlesome owner Stephen Ross makes all of this impossible. Maybe. What’s for certain is that Tannenbaum has made it clear he should not be leading an NFL front office.
New Hires (Alphabetical Order)
John Dorsey, Browns
“I’ll come straight out with it,” John Dorsey said after being hired. “The guys who were here before … they didn’t get real players.” Those guys were former EVP Sashi Brown and “chief strategy officer” Paul DePodesta, who is still a part of the Browns’ front office. Dorsey’s comments were eye-roll inducing, and another salvo in the NFL’s analytics war. They also proved to be a red herring about how Dorsey would approach the offseason. Dorsey was both disciplined and aggressive, largely keeping the Browns’ treasure trove of picks intact while making defensible trades for Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry. In the draft, Dorsey made the surprising — and analytically-approved selection — of Baker Mayfield at No. 1 overall, resisting the RealFootball™ temptation of Saquon Barkley. He took a corner three picks later, further addressing a position of critical importance after signing T.J. Carrie and Terrance Mitchell. There’s still much work to be done. Although the skill players should finally be watchable, the offensive line hasn’t come close to making up for the loss of Joe Thomas. The coaching staff is also a disaster, though keeping Hue Jackson seems to have been a precondition of Dorsey’s hiring. He can take care of that next winter. Dorsey will keep giving colorful, RealFootball™ quotes, but at least so far, he is knocking down the pins his analytic forebear set up for him.
Brian Gaine, Texans
It had become a matter of when, not if, Texans coach Bill O’Brien and GM Rick Smith would part. They simply could not get on the same page. Sadly, their inevitable split was not football related. Smith has taken an indefinite leave of absence after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. When he returns, it will be as executive vice president, not general manager. In his place, the Texans have hired Brian Gaine, who returns after a one-year stint in the Bills’ front office. Gaine arrived in Houston at the same time as O’Brien in 2014, and talks as if the two are football soulmates. “Bill and I are very philosophically aligned in terms of how to do that, how to build a right program,” Gaine gushed after his hiring. Message sent. The two spent free agency trying to upgrade the Texans’ depressingly bad offensive line, signing C Zach Fulton, OG Senio Kelemete and OT Seantrel Henderson. There are no franchise changers in that group, but they do provide badly needed depth and a little upside. The Texans had little to work with in the draft after last year’s trade up for Deshaun Watson. As is the case so many other places, it’s the quarterback Watson who will decide which direction Gaine’s Texans tenure heads.
Dave Gettleman, Giants
Dave Gettleman’s Panthers firing sent shockwaves through the NFL. His Giants hiring has made things clearer. Gettleman did everything short of getting “Real Football Guy” tattooed on his forehead this offseason. One commonality between Gettleman’s final year in Carolina and first in New York was his use of a top-eight pick on a running back. Although Saquon Barkley is twice the prospect Christian McCaffrey was, his selection was more egregious. It’s one thing to take a runner on Day 1. Heck, Bill Belichick just did it. It is something else entirely to do it at No. 2 overall when your team has a glaring quarterback need and Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen are on the board. Maybe Gettleman didn’t believe in them. That’s fine. You should never force a pick. But Gettleman literally didn’t listen to offers to move down once he was on the clock. There’s a chance he could have still landed Barkley while snagging a few extra picks in the process. To not even consider maximizing his draft capital in that way is indefensible. It’s a long-running theme for Gettleman, who has never traded down. That’s the bad. The good is that Barkley is a special talent, and the Giants had an otherwise solid draft. In free agency, Gettleman made a nifty trade for Alec Ogletree and signed Nate Solder to help reinforce the Giants’ horrid offensive line. It was not a terrible spring. With 37-year-old Eli Manning looked cooked, it just wasn’t the one the Giants needed.
Brian Gutekunst, Packers
Bob McGinn, the dean of Packers reporting, once branded Ted Thompson a “glorified director of college scouting.” Thompson, who famously regards the open market as the last refuge of scoundrels, proved McGinn right with his retreat to “senior advisor to football operations.” With Thompson back to being a full-time scout, former director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst is the new leader of the Packers’ front office. He’s charting a different course, signing Jimmy Graham, Muhammad Wilkerson and Tramon Williams this offseason. Even with the more aggressive free agent posture, Gutekunst still managed to make 11 draft picks, three of which he used on receivers after cutting Jordy Nelson. Thompson’s aversion to the open market was never necessarily bad, just notable. The same is true of Gutekunst’s new approach. Right now, it’s merely notable. It will likely take years for him to either escape Thompson’s shadow or cast a new one.
Marty Hurney, Panthers
We may now have a better idea of why the Panthers fired Dave Gettleman but it remains unclear why they didn’t think bigger than Marty Hurney when replacing him. Although a punchline by the end of his first Panthers tenure, Hurney did have some good years, building a Super Bowl roster in 2003 and laying the foundation for another in 2015. For all his issues — chiefly, managing the salary cap — Gettleman has a nose for high-end talent. Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross, Thomas Davis, DeAngelo Williams, Jon Beason, Jonathan Stewart, Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly are amongst his first-round picks. In the crapshoot that is the NFL draft, that’s an impressive haul. It’s supplementing that elite talent that has always been Hurney’s biggest weakness. Only four of Hurney’s 12 rosters have produced more than eight wins. 2018 will be a major test. The Panthers are coming off an 11-5 campaign. If they finish above .500, it will be the first time they have done so in back-to-back years under Hurney’s leadership.
Brett Veach, Chiefs
Andy Reid’s latest disciple, 40-year-old Brett Veach had an eventful first year on the job. Although it is Reid calling the shots, Veach has had a hand in transitioning from one franchise quarterback to another, dealing a talented-but-volatile young corner in Marcus Peters and surprisingly signing Sammy Watkins to pair with Tyreek Hill. That was the easy part. With Reid gearing up for another run behind Patrick Mahomes, Veach’s challenge starts now. He must avoid the salary cap issues that plagued John Dorsey and funnel young talent to an aging and undermanned defense. That second task was made more difficult by this year’s paucity of draft picks. The Chiefs had just one selection in the first 74 after 2017’s trade up for Mahomes. Hired last July, Veach will largely get a pass for his first 18 months on the job. It’s next offseason that he needs to come ready to play.