Being a good general manager can be as simple as finding the right quarterback. It can be as complicated as a meddlesome owner forcing you into picks and moves you don’t want to make, picks and moves that come to define a reputation.
So we’re not going to pretend this is a straightforward exercise. This is a league where coin flips can determine draft position. You don’t always get a fair shake. But we still know what a good GM looks like. Perhaps more than in any other field, patience is a virtue. GMing like there’s no tomorrow might net you the occasional Josh Gordon. More often, it saddles you with Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson. Even in a “what have you done for me lately?” business, the game is best played long.
When you boil it down, a GM can control:
— Who he hires.
— Who he drafts.
— Who he signs, and for how much.
— Who he lets walk, and when.
If you excel in these four areas, you’re generally headed toward years of playoff contention. If not, regime change. Even in a sport with so many variables, it’s almost always that simple. So as we embark on free agency, here are the league’s top 32 GMs, with this year’s three new hires written up separately at the end. Without further ado.
1. Bill Belichick - Patriots
Belichick has his weaknesses as a general manager. His quest for receivers is long past quixotic, and though his defenses are often effective — typically in a bend-but-don’t-break kind of fashion — they require no shortage of duct tape and super glue to hold together. Belichick’s ego isn’t always checked at the door. He seems to believe anyone can be molded to the “Patriot Way,” while his decision to let Wes Welker walk smacked of hubris. But the only reason we know Belichick’s weaknesses so well is because his strengths have kept him at the top of the NFL for over a decade. Willing to go “multiple” on both sides of the ball, Belichick is only married to one system: Winning. He’s constantly reinventing, and continually ahead of the rest of the league as a result. Belichick’s chameleon ways as a team builder can lead to some flop acquisitions, and lots of hurt feelings. All the while, the bottom line never changes — Belichick’s Patriots are always at the top.
2. Ozzie Newsome - Ravens
How did Newsome celebrate the Ravens’ 2012-13 Super Bowl title? Without emotion. Baltimore’s world championship was won on the back of an aging core. Instead of rewarding the gang with lifetime achievement awards, Newsome soberly evaluated his roster, making tough decisions where others would have gone back to the well one time too many. Ray Lewis? Allowed to ride off into the sunset without a fight. Ed Reed? We’ve appreciated your years of service, but here’s your severance ham. Anquan Boldin? Couldn’t have done it without you, but now we can’t do it with your salary. Paul Kruger? We’ll let you get overpaid, just not by us. That is not to say it all worked out to the Ravens’ advantage. Boldin, in particular, was badly missed for a team that missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. But the future remains bright in Baltimore, and that’s because Newsome plans for it. Whereas teams like the Steelers and Cowboys continue to kick the can down the road on tough decisions and aging players, Newsome plays the long game instead of prolonging yesterday’s game. The moves you don’t make can be just as important as the moves you do make.
3. Ted Thompson - Packers
Like Belichick, Thompson has some weaknesses. Most glaringly, he still seems uncertain about what kind of athletes he wants on defense. He’s had more than a few first-round misses. But also like Belichick, Thompson has kept his team at the top, and like Newsome, he’s done so by keeping emotion out of the equation. Whether it’s in house or on the open market, no general manager overpays fewer players than Thompson. Yes, Thompson’s first first-round pick (Aaron Rodgers) was his best. But he’s spent the past nine years surrounding his quarterback with premium talent found after day one (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Eddie Lacy). Maybe Thompson wouldn’t be so high on this list had he not found Rodgers. That’s beside the point. He did find Rodgers, not only drafting him, but also knowing when to move on from future Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre’s games. Thompson’s had some misses, but he’s not a one-hit wonder.
4. John Schneider - Seahawks
You may be asking yourself, how can a general manager who gave Matt Flynn $10 million guaranteed be considered one of the best in the league? It’s really pretty simple. Even the best GMs make mistakes. What separates executives like Schneider is that they’re willing to admit them, and make very few of them. Schneider not only pulled the plug on his worst signing after just one season, he gave his head coach permission to bench him for a third-round rookie. That’s Schneider in a nutshell, though it’s hardly the only thing that makes him great. There’s his reimagining of the cornerback position (the bigger the better), the dominance of the mid-rounds of the draft (Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor) and the free-agent bargains (Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril). No GM is perfect, but few have come closer than Schneider the past four seasons.
5. Trent Baalke - 49ers
Operating as the 49ers’ de facto general manager in the 2010 draft, Baalke took Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati in the first round, and Navorro Bowman in the third. He’s been on a largely uninterrupted winning streak ever since. Officially named GM in January 2011, Baalke’s first move was hiring Jim Harbaugh, who’s turned out to be the best coaching prospect since Belichick. Together, Baalke and Harbaugh cleaned up the 2011 draft, and have sent three straight teams to the NFC Championship Game. The paint is peeling in some places. Baalke’s 2012 draft class was one of the worst you’ll ever see, while his relationship with Harbaugh has reportedly seen better days. It’s possible Baalke could eventually lose a power struggle. Until that day comes, he’ll continue running circles around his colleagues.
6. John Elway - Broncos
To be clear, Elway would belong in the top 10 even if his lone move was convincing Peyton Manning to come to Denver. It was the most important free-agent signing of the past five years. But Manning wasn’t Elway’s first home run. That would be Von Miller at No. 2 overall in 2011. Elway is only an average drafter, but has shown an uncommon proficiency at mining the open market. Shaun Phillips, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Wes Welker weren’t just excellent free agent signings last season, they were cheap excellent free agent signings. It’s true that Elway has an unfair advantage in Manning as a recruiter, but that’s not his problem. Elway’s problem is exploiting that unfair advantage, and it’s something he’s done masterfully since luring Manning to the Rocky Mountains. Elway also has remarkable patience for a man who’s overseeing a team that practically defines “win now.” He didn’t panic when “Faxgate” inadvertently made Elvis Dumervil a free agent. He waited for Phillips to fall into his lap. And where some teams would be doing all they could to retain every last piece of an AFC champion puzzle, Elway has wisely resisted overpaying free agent Eric Decker. Elway hit the longest home run of the past five years, but it’s hardly the only time he’s rounded the bases.
7. Marvin Lewis/Mike Brown - Bengals
It’s not entirely clear who has final say in Cincinnati. What is clear is that the Bengals have turned into one of the NFL’s most quietly consistent drafters, and found one of the league’s best young defenders (Vontaze Burfict) on the 2012 undrafted scrap heap. The Bengals have a deep, young roster, and seen their win total go up each of the past three seasons. The problem is that they haven’t answered the big question: Which quarterback can take this team to the promised land? Unless Brown and Lewis hit home run after home run in this year’s draft and free agency, it’s unlikely to be Andy Dalton. But even getting to the point where the quarterback is the last piece of the puzzle is an accomplishment in the modern NFL, and a testament to the talent the Bengals have slowly stockpiled.
8. Mickey Loomis - Saints
Loomis’ tenure has produced the greatest moment in Saints’ franchise history. It’s also been responsible for the worst. Loomis’ twin coup of Sean Payton and Drew Brees in 2006 changed New Orleans football forever. His complicity in the “Bountygate” scandal made it the shame of the NFL. With Payton away for all of 2012 and Loomis banned for half of it, the Saints fielded literally the worst defense in the history of the league. Thankfully for Saints fans, that wasn’t all she wrote. The Saints bounced back to 11-5 in 2013, picking up their first ever road playoff win in the process. That’s the good of Loomis. The bad has been his over allegiance to veteran defenders, and generally shaky drafting. But when you get the broad strokes right — in this case coach and quarterback — you have room for error. Loomis uses that room quite frequently, but has made a formerly moribund franchise relevant, and is poised to keep it that way for at least as long as Payton and Brees are in town.
9. Jerry Reese - Giants
Reese has been one of the league’s better GMs since replacing Ernie Accorsi in 2007, but his boat has begun to take on water. The pass rush that fueled two title runs in five years has aged out and moved on from the Big Apple. With Eli Manning “leading” the charge, the Giants’ offense has become an increasingly dysfunctional mess. Though injuries were a big part of the problem, Reese’s offensive line was an utter embarrassment in 2013. In other words, there’s much work to be done. Whether it’s Rueben Randle in the 2012 draft or S Will Hill in free agency, Reese has a knack for finding diamonds in the rough. Even his acquisition of a battered and brittle Jon Beason turned out better than expected. But the questions he has to answer this offseason are the toughest of his career. Who will get after the passer opposite Jason Pierre-Paul? How much does Manning have left in the tank? Which side will OT Justin Pugh man in 2014, and who will line up opposite? Does David Wilson have a future as a lead back? Reese’s history suggests he’ll find the answers. If he doesn’t, he’s going to be asked “what have you done for me lately?” in a city where time passes faster than anywhere else.
10. Thomas Dimitroff - Falcons
By any measure, Dimitroff’s Falcons tenure has been a success. A team that had never had back-to-back winning seasons before his arrival has reached the playoffs in 4-of-6 years, and came within five points of the Super Bowl in 2012-13. Dimitroff found a franchise quarterback in his fourth month on the job. A bold trade three years later landed him one of the league’s best receivers. But as the Falcons ascended, Dimitroff allowed certain problems to fester as the good times rolled. He paid the piper in 2013. Both his offensive and defensive lines were exposed as woefully undermanned, while a team that had been described as “finesse” even when it was winning proved to be a paper tiger as it got battered en route to 4-12. The Falcons’ running game continued its downward spiral as Steven Jackson continued his. None of these trouble spots came as a particular surprise to outside observers, but Dimitroff apparently had to have his problems sock him in the kisser before he decided to address them. That’s exactly what he plans to do this offseason, stocking up in the trenches while getting tougher everywhere. That might not be the easiest thing to do for a general manager who’s notoriously obsessive about “character,” but he’s just as fixated on something else: Winning. The whole football world knows what adjustments Dimitroff needs to make. Now expect him to make them.
11. Phil Emery - Bears
The first thing you notice about Emery is his footwear. He rarely goes anywhere without his signature cowboy boots. There’s your first sign that this is no ordinary GM. Emery fired a coach after a 10-6 season and replaced him with somebody from Canada. This is not a man who’s constrained by “the way things have always been done.” He’s also not a man who’s gotten many things wrong in his two years on the job. That erstwhile CFLer Marc Trestman turned out to be just the man for the job in a city that’s more used to defensive touchdowns than offensive ones. Emery’s broad strokes have been genius. He paid a pittance for all-world receiver Brandon Marshall, found the next Brandon Marshall in the second round of his first draft and made the difficult, but correct, decision to avoid Greatest Hits tours with declining veterans Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester. The only problem is, while Emery has built the Bears offense up from the ashes of the Mike Tice “era,” some of Chicago’s signature defense has gone out the door. Emery doesn’t need to restore the unit to its Monsters of Midway-era glory, but he does need to restore order. Judging by his track record, it’s a challenge he’ll be up to.
12. Steve Keim - Cardinals
Let’s just say Keim wouldn’t have wanted to check the CARFAX upon inheriting his roster from Rod Graves. Graves left behind some talent on defense, a few good receivers and … a smoldering crater where the quarterback, running back and offensive line were supposed to be. Keim didn’t just give the Cardinals a new coat of paint, however. He found them a whole new engine. The rookie GM hit a home run at head coach (Bruce Arians), found a quarterback (Carson Palmer), had faith that two fading defensive stars could remain relevant (Karlos Dansby and John Abraham) and found some nuggets in the draft (Tyrann Mathieu and Andre Ellington). It translated to a 5-11 team improving to 10-6 in the toughest division in football. That’s despite the fact that Keim’s first-round solution to some of the Cardinals’ line woes, LG Jonathan Cooper, didn’t play a single snap thanks to a broken leg. Keim engineered one of the quickest one-year turnarounds you will ever see. Expect him to turn it into staying power.
13. Howie Roseman - Eagles
You could argue this is too high for one of the architects of the most disastrous free-agent class in recent memory. Roseman’s role in Philly’s ill-fated “Dream Team” will be a stain he wears until he trades in his suits for pleated-retirement khakis. But he couldn’t have bought a better detergent than Chip Kelly. Roseman replaced a weary Andy Reid with arguably the brightest offensive mind of a generation, and has put his team one step ahead of an ever-changing NFL as a result. As an evaluator and player procurer, Roseman leaves much to be desired. But Kelly provides an easy-to-follow blueprint, lessening the room for error. The degree to which Roseman is tied to his head coach is highly unusual for a modern GM. Thankfully, he’s chosen the right one — the kind that should make him look like a genius in due time.
14. Dave Gettleman - Panthers
It would be incorrect to say Gettleman’s predecessor left the cupboard bare. Gettleman inherited one of the league’s best young linebackers, one of its fiercest defensive lines and a franchise quarterback. But it was a damn expensive cupboard, with money tied up in some curious places. The ridiculous contracts Martin Hurney handed out to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, among others, left Gettleman with precious little wiggle room. Worse yet, thanks in part to a terrible trade, the Panthers had only five 2013 draft picks. To make an impact as a rookie general manager, Gettleman had to nail his first-round pick and find bargains in free agency. He did both, stealing DT Star Lotulelei at No. 14 overall, keeping CB Captain Munnerlyn on a shoestring deal after he reached the open market and paying Ted Ginn just $1.1 million to have a career year. With gaping holes in his secondary, receiver corps and offensive line, Gettleman now needs to repeat the feat in 2014. If he does, he’ll take his place amongst the game’s best GMs.
15. John Idzik - Jets
One of the most valuable assets Idzik inherited upon replacing Mike Tannenbaum was his coach, Rex Ryan. The problem? General managers and inherited coaches are almost always a match made in hell. Idzik and Ryan not only flipped the script, however, they agreed on a contract extension. As this Week 17 scene suggests, the duo’s respect for each other appears to be genuine. But Idzik accomplished far more than simply cozying up to his head coach. He drafted the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, DT Sheldon Richardson, at No. 13 overall. Where’d he get the pick? From the Bucs in the Darrelle Revis trade. That would be the same trade where all of one team was believed to be willing to surrender its first-round pick. In barely three months on the job, Idzik played his only card perfectly, and turned it into a player who could be a defensive cornerstone for years to come. Not bad, right? Now Idzik must pass every GM’s litmus test: Find a quarterback. If he can, Gang Green might finally crash through the door it’s been banging on since 2009.
16. Rick Smith - Texans
Smith has done it all as a general manager. There have been bad picks (Amobi Okoye) and brilliant ones (J.J. Watt). Arian Foster is one of the best undrafted free agent signings of the past 10 years, Matt Schaub one of the best trade acquisitions. But a largely competent reign has still produced a sub-.500 record (61-67), and only two playoff wins in eight years. That’s not a résumé you can coast on forever. That’s why Smith has to get the No. 1 overall pick in May’s draft right. The correct choice could buoy a talented roster back to the upper reaches of the NFL, and buy Smith another 3-4 years of job security. The wrong choice would likely be the straw that broke the camel’s back on a perfectly fine, but ultimately unmemorable era of GMing in Houston.
17. Tom Telesco - Chargers
Telesco didn’t undertake a Keim-style overhaul his first year on the job so much as get his ducks in a row. He hired the right coach, who in turn hired the right offensive coordinator, who in turn helped revive the right franchise quarterback. There was nothing particularly dramatic about it, though Telesco made arguably the best pick of the draft, snatching No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen at No. 76 overall. Of course, Telesco also handed CB Derek Cox one of the worst deals of free agency, and watched second-rounder Manti Te’o turn in 538 lousy snaps. There’s still much work to be done. Telesco has to shore up one of the league’s worst secondaries and infuse his pass rush with young talent. He needs to find a left tackle. These are big problems, but Telesco displayed the wherewithal as a rookie general manager to solve them.
18. Ryan Grigson - Colts
First things first, yes, Grigson deserves credit for selecting Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Grigson received a gift horse and didn’t look it in the mouth and overanalyze it until the cows came home. If you want to complain about luck in the Luck matter, that’s your prerogative. The rest of the Grigson debate isn’t so easily settled. T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen joined Luck as 2012 draft home runs, while convincing Reggie Wayne to stay with a rebuilding team was an unexpected coup. He acquired a legitimate No. 1 cornerback in Vontae Davis for the price of a second-round pick. That’s where things get shaky. Perhaps emboldened by his Davis acquisition, Grigson surrendered his 2014 first-rounder for a runner who went on to be the worst in the league last season. He spends like a drunken sailor in free agency, where the bigger the name, the better. Fading run plugger D’Qwell Jackson is the latest recipient of Grigson’s Monopoly money. Grigson’s 2013 draft failed to produce an impact rookie. With no first-rounder this May, that could easily be the case again in 2014. Grigson GMs with the manic energy of his owner Jim Irsay, quite possibly at Irsay’s behest. It’s made for splashy headlines, but murky results. General managers have to be willing to take chances, but they also have to be willing to suffer the consequences. So far for Grigson, they’ve been mixed, at best.
19. David Caldwell - Jaguars
Caldwell replaced a man who took a punter in the third round, so there was nowhere to go but up. Up he went, stabilizing a free-falling franchise by making a savvy hire at head coach, and refusing to reach for a franchise quarterback in the draft when there was none. Caldwell’s first year wasn’t without its curiosities. He took a tackle at No. 2 overall despite already having one of the league’s better blindside protectors in Eugene Monroe. He then sold low on Monroe in October. The No. 8 overall pick of the 2009 draft is now one of the more attractive free agents in this year’s crop. But Caldwell is clearly planning for the long haul, and isn’t going to force a rebuild that needs to be A-Z. The jury is still out, but Caldwell appears poised to present some compelling evidence in his favor.
20. John Dorsey - Chiefs
The Chiefs hired Dorsey to be coach Andy Reid’s eyes and ears. He’s turned out to be a pretty good brain. Although Reid has final authority, Dorsey was his partner in crime on several good moves his first year on the job. The oft-mocked acquisition of Alex Smith for the No. 34 overall pick proved to be one of the trades of the year, while a similarly snickered at signing, Donnie Avery, proved slick in its own right. To date, Dorsey and Reid have largely pushed play on a roster that was readymade to win. There hasn’t been a signature signing, and the duo’s first draft class appeared highly ordinary in 2013. No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher looked lost. Awakening the Chiefs’ beast within was no small feat, however, and even if Dorsey is only a co-pilot, he’s looking like he could take over the plane if need be.
21. Les Snead - Rams
Snead has been nothing if not bold. One of his first moves as general manager was parlaying the No. 2 overall pick of the 2012 draft into three first rounders, with a second-rounder thrown in as the cherry on top. He traded up last April to make a 5-foot-8, 176-pound receiver the first skill player off the board at No. 8. Snead has handed out eye-popping deals in free agency, giving Cortland Finnegan and Jared Cook a combined 10 years and $85.11 million. The problem? Snead has missed as much as he’s hit. A stockpile of 10 2012 draft picks was supposed to supply Sam Bradford with the supporting talent he’s never had. Instead the Rams have Brian Quick, Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. Chris Givens has proven to be a one-dimensional deep threat. Finnegan? He’s already been cut. Cook? He’s the same straight-line speedster who caught balls up the seam in Tennessee, but did little else. Snead has been dealt some unlucky blows. One free-agent signing that did work, LT Jake Long, is now recovering from a torn ACL. The same is true of Bradford. GMing in the same division as the league’s two best teams, Snead is operating with zero room for error. That may not be fair, but them’s the breaks. Now Snead has to create a few breaks of his own, and clean up the errors.
22. Doug Whaley - Bills
Whaley has a major problem. His hand-picked quarterback, E.J. Manuel, looked nothing like a future franchise player as a rookie. If Manuel continues on his “bust” trajectory, it could be a mistake that ends the Whaley era in Buffalo before it ever really begins. That’s a shame, because elsewhere Whaley hit the right notes as a rookie general manager. Alongside Buddy Nix, Whaley oversaw an otherwise strong draft, and set an aggressive tone that’s been missing from one of the league’s most staid franchises for over a decade. As Manuel has already proven, if Whaley is going to go down, it will be swinging. Sometimes that’s all you can hope for when you’re a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since Bill Clinton was president.
23. Kevin Colbert - Steelers
There’s actually a game Colbert likes more than football: Kick the can. Colbert believes the primary function of a general manager is to restructure contracts. With Colbert perpetually sending the bill down the road, the Steelers have gone from one of the league’s elite rosters to one of its most stale. It’s a curious form of management, but not one Colbert seems ready to change. Just this month, the contracts of Troy Polamalu (33 in April) and Heath Miller (32 in October) were extended through 2016, while Antonio Brown’s deal was restructured less than 20 months after the ink dried. If there’s one thing a GM can’t fear, it’s tough decisions, but Colbert seems petrified by the harsh realities of his job, unwilling to move on from the core of yesteryear. Complicating matters is Colbert’s increasingly-mediocre draft record. Impact first-rounders have been in short supply, which is a major problem since Colbert is no longer finding late-round studs with any real regularity. Cooking the books while disappointing on draft weekend is a recipe that will doom any franchise, no matter how storied. He can keep forestalling it for however long he likes, but Colbert’s day of reckoning is a slow train that won’t be derailed unless he makes drastic changes.
24. Rick Spielman - Vikings
Elevated from the Vikings’ GM-by-committee in 2012, Spielman’s tenure hasn’t suffered from a lack of imagination. The problem is that his ideas are typically of the “throw ‘em against the wall and see what sticks” variety. Cordarrelle Patterson at No. 29 overall was a gamble more teams should have been willing to take. Mike Zimmer was a strong hire at head coach. But five years for Greg Jennings? $2 million for Josh Freeman? They were desperate ideas that produced predictably uninspiring results. Spielman hasn’t come close to solving the Vikings’ woes at quarterback, and may not be in position to do so at No. 8 overall in May. Spielman is not an abjectly bad general manager, but one without vision. If he can’t soon chart a long-term course, someone else will.
25. Martin Mayhew - Lions
Mayhew’s first draft pick was a franchise quarterback who’s still only 26 years old. The next year, he landed one of the best defensive players of a generation. That’s on top of the all-time great he inherited at receiver. So the question is, why has Mayhew’s team been so bad for the majority of his tenure? Mayhew has building blocks that are the envy of the league, but has too often surrounded them with knuckleheads and busts. One thing Mayhew got right was firing the league’s most undisciplined head coach, Jim Schwartz. Who did he replace him with? Jim Caldwell, a coach who oversaw one of the worst implosions in league history at his last job. Mayhew knows high-end talent when he sees it. He rarely misses in the first round. It’s the rest of the roster that seems to elude him. Mayhew has built an impressive foundation in Detroit, but doesn’t appear to be the man to finish the building.
26. Ruston Webster - Titans
Webster has found himself a good coach in Ken Whisenhunt, and has some talent on defense. He’s been a perfectly-fine drafter. The problem has been his attempts to build his team through free agency. There is not a planet in the universe where giving Shonn Greene three years and $10 million would have made sense. Granted, Webster often appeared to be operating under orders from late owner Bud Adams, but he’s whipped up a roster that has some rhyme, but almost no reason. Webster has just enough building blocks in place — Whiz, DT Jurrell Casey, a solid offensive line and young talent at receiver — that he could still salvage his tenure. But he’s got to formulate a more coherent plan, preferably one that involves moving on from Jake Locker.
27. Jerry Jones - Cowboys
Jerry Jones is a clown. We’ve known this since he first bought the Cowboys in 1989. It becomes more apparent every time he opens his mouth. But there was a time when Jones was actually underrated as a general manager. That ship has sailed. Increasingly aware of his own mortality, Jones has become increasingly desperate to return the Cowboys to playoff glory. It’s resulted in the league’s most over-leveraged roster, not to mention its most nonsensical power structure. “Jason Garrett has a very high tolerance for ambiguity.” ‘Ol Jer meant this as a compliment. In reality, it’s a more damning indictment of his managerial style than I could ever hope to write. No one wants to win more than Jerry Jones. This, I actually believe. But no one has less of an idea of how to do so in the 21st Century. Jones is too meddlesome with his coaching staff, too loyal to his own players and just too damn ill-considered with everything. He’s patient when he should be rash (Jason Garrett), and rash when he should be patient (his recent approach to Day 1 of the draft). No one in the history of the league has handed out more ludicrous in-house contract extensions. Jones is a giant of the game, but he’s gone from winner to laughingstock.
28. Bruce Allen - Redskins
The difference between Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder? Jones at least admits he wants to run things, and doesn’t bother funneling his moves through a puppet general manager. Snyder also has a shorter attention span. From what we can gather, he only seems interested in meddling with the big moves. But meddle he does, making a mess of his once-storied franchise, and making Allen extremely difficult to evaluate on his own merits. Under Allen/Snyder’s guidance, the Redskins have gotten extremely little bang for their buck, running up huge cap charges while nevertheless fielding one of the league’s thinnest rosters. That’s due in part to the duo’s cheating. They dumped an illegal amount of money into the uncapped year of 2010, resulting in the loss of $36 million in cap space to be spread out over 2012-13. The money is back for 2014, but coach Mike Shanahan is gone. It was alongside Shanny that Allen oversaw four relatively strong draft classes. Allen is also absent the Redskins’ No. 2 overall pick in May’s draft, the final price for the 2012 Robert Griffin III trade. Moths to the big-name flame, there’s little doubt Allen and Snyder will look to compensate for the absence of their first-rounder by spending big in free agency. There’s also little doubt that like the duo’s previous spending sprees, it will result in more “offseason victories” than actual wins.
29. Reggie McKenzie - Raiders
“Just wait till the Raiders get cap space” has been the most common refrain from McKenzie’s (surprisingly numerous) defenders. Well now the Raiders have it. Roughly $65 million of it. What was McKenzie’s first move with it? Letting his two best free agents, LT Jared Veldheer and ascendant RE Lamarr Houston, reach the open market. It was a baffling decision from the overseer of by far the league’s least-talented roster, but McKenzie has made no shortage of baffling decisions since replacing Hue Jackson. McKenzie’s ineptitude has been most striking on draft weekend. If there’s one thing the Raiders had in 2013, it was available playing time for young players. That’s why it was simply stunning that of the 16 draft picks McKenzie made between 2012-13, two played more than 353 snaps last season, TE Mychal Rivera and LB Sio Moore. None played more than 622. Again, there wasn’t a team in the league with less veteran talent, but there wasn’t a team in the league giving less playing time to young talent. Fourth-round QB Tyler Wilson was released before Week 1. That’s simply unheard of for a mid-round quarterback. On the free agency front, let’s just say McKenzie literally signed Alex Barron, and that he almost made the team. McKenzie finally has cap space, but nothing he’s done in his first two years on the job suggests he has a clue.
The New Guys
Ray Farmer - Browns
Farmer’s only been on the job one month, but he’s already made one good decision, and one bad one. The good? He turned down the Dolphins’ job. The bad? He accepted the Browns’ job. Considered a rising front-office star before his promotion, Farmer has cast his lot with an owner in Jimmy Haslam who’s been impatient in football, and (allegedly) felonious outside of it. He’s going to be a hard man to win with. The same is true of Farmer’s coaching situation. The Browns have accomplished the rather astounding feat of having a rookie general manager who wasn’t a package deal with his rookie coach. We all know how shotgun coach/GM marriages generally turn out. But aside from his bedfellows, there’s no obvious reason Farmer can’t find success where so many others have been failed, or been run out of town.
Dennis Hickey - Dolphins
Hickey is supposedly “in charge” of the Dolphins’ 53-man roster, but it’s coach Joe Philbin who has the ear of owner Stephen Ross. The Dolphins’ Plan Z to replace Jeff Ireland, Hickey was set to be released from the Bucs’ front office until he got the call to come 250 miles down I-75 to South Beach. Hickey has plenty of experience — he was with the Bucs for 18 years — but nothing could prepare a man for the chaotic nature of Miami’s power vacuum (if you insist, “power structure”). Unless Hickey proves to be a true diamond in the rough, he’s not going to be the answer for one of the league’s most dysfunctional franchises.
Jason Licht - Bucs
Hired to be Lovie Smith’s caddie in Tampa, Licht is a blank slate, albeit one with a strong scouting background. Smith has final say on the 53-man roster, but an infamously tin ear for offensive talent. That means that even though he doesn’t have the final word, Licht has an extremely important job to do.