For all the advancements the NFL has made in scouting and player development, even the best general managers might as well be wearing a blindfold half the time. Remember Ras-I Dowling? The Seahawks’ Matt Flynn contract? We can land a man on the moon but still can’t tell if Blaine Gabbert is going to be a bust. When everyone is wrong all the time, margins are thin. You have to be willing to go bold. You really have to be willing to admit mistakes. The Pats cut Dowling after two years. The Seahawks benched Flynn before he ever started a game. General managers have to be willing to fail, and fail some more.
The criteria is the same as years past. All hirings, signings, draft picks and contracts are fair game. “Who they hire, draft and sign, and for how much and how long,” is how I put it in 2016. This year’s three new hires are evaluated separately. 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. Last year’s list can be found here. 2015’s can be found here.
1. Bill Belichick, Patriots
Last Year’s Ranking: 1
Bill Belichick has always had a right-hand man in the front office. Mike Lombardi. Scott Pioli. Thomas Dimitroff. Right now, it’s Nick Caserio, who has done so well he was allowed to pose in the GM photo at last month’s owners meetings. That’s lovely. What matters is Belichick, who has more Super Bowl titles than any general manager in NFL history if we assume the personnel buck has stopped with him since 2000. Belichick the coach will always get the accolades, but Belichick the talent evaluator has done a lot more than simply stumble into Tom Brady. Belichick’s record-breaking Super Bowl victory came 98 days after he traded Jamie Collins, arguably his most-talented defender. A stunning move anywhere else, it was routine in New England. Belichick couldn’t see Collins’ Patriots future so he dealt him. He still finished with the league’s No. 1 scoring defense, a fifth Lombardi and third-round draft pick. Belichick couldn’t be nostalgic or sentimental as a general manager even if he wanted to. Those feelings aren’t part of his emotional presets. That might leave you cold, but it keeps Belichick winning.
2. John Elway, Broncos
Last Year’s Ranking: 2
At some point, the hot streak — Von Miller, Julius Thomas, Peyton Manning, Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall, Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, Emmanuel Sanders — was going to end. In 2016, John Elway used his first-round pick on Paxton Lynch. Free agent LT Russell Okung was a bust. A re-signed C.J. Anderson struggled. It wasn’t Elway’s best year, and yet, arguably the top move of free agency was his reluctance to win a bidding war for Brock Osweiler. While Osweiler loads down the Browns’ roster, Elway is still reloading. Quarterback remains a trouble spot for a team adjusting to life without Manning, but Elway has made an executive career out of getting the big decisions right. His refusal to panic at football’s most important position could create headaches now, but leaves the Broncos better off for the long run. That’s not to mention that Lynch could still pan out. Elway’s near perfect streak is over. That’s life. Broncos fans can rest easy knowing they have a general manager with the patience and personnel skills to ensure they’re competitive for years to come.
3. John Schneider, Seahawks
Last Year’s Ranking: 3
John Schneider forgot to field an offensive line last season. It was … unideal. Still, there the Seahawks were, winning at least one playoff game for the fifth time in six years with Schneider and Pete Carroll at the helm. Schneider is no stranger to misses, but can afford them thanks to a string of massive hits. Earl Thomas, fifth-rounder Kam Chancellor, fifth-rounder Richard Sherman, third-rounder Russell Wilson, UDFA Doug Baldwin, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and on and on and on. If there’s a problem, it’s his recent series of unimpressive drafts. Thanks to trades and low picks, Schneider hasn’t landed an impact first-rounder since arguably 2010, and that’s if you’re willing to count Russell Okung. That’s a hard way to make a living. Schneider has pulled it off thanks to his eye for mid-round steals and free agent bargains. With Wilson and company still in their primes, 2017 should be another great year. Schneider just needs to start another hot streak if he wants to keep the party going into the next decade.
4. Ted Thompson, Packers
Last Year’s Ranking: 6
For his first draft pick as Packers general manager, Ted Thompson selected one of the greatest players in league history. Aaron Rodgers has worked out for Thompson and the Pack. What about everyone else? Thompson, devoted to the draft and leery of any player not born into green and yellow, can leave onlookers bemused. We’re not just talking about fans. Last year, the dean of Packers reporting, Bob McGinn, called Thomson a “glorified director of college scouting.” Harsh … but fair? Thompson might agree with what McGinn meant to be a withering takedown. And why not? Let’s allow that Thompson lucked into Rodgers. We can’t ignore that he proceeded to surround him with a roster that’s won at least 10 games seven times since Rodgers replaced Brett Favre in 2008. The Packers have made the playoffs each of the past eight seasons. That’s not all one player. Thompson is destined to remain polarizing. That should be just fine with him as long as the debates are happening after 10-win, playoff-appearing seasons.
5. Ozzie Newsome, Ravens
Last Year’s Ranking: 4
Not only have Ozzie Newsome’s teams won two Super Bowls in his 21 years on the job, they’ve done so without an elite quarterback. That’s unheard of in the modern NFL. Newsome has overseen 10 postseason rosters, 15 playoff victories and a bare minimum of 3-4 current/future Hall-of-Famers. He has earned the benefit of the doubt. That’s good, because he needs it right now. Newsome admitted last year that his recent work had not lived up to his lofty standards. Then he went out and had another 8-8 season. The Ravens have made one January appearance in four years since winning Super Bowl XLVII. A corner needs to be turned in 2017. A poor 2015 draft class isn’t going to help. Newsome’s 2016 group is looking slightly better, but an excellent 2017 haul is a must. If immediate reinforcement isn’t on the way, Newsome could be looking at his first full-scale rebuild since arriving in Baltimore.
6. Steve Keim, Cardinals
Last Year’s Ranking: 7
Steve Keim has yet to hit on a first-round pick in four years on the job. Jonathan Cooper was an outright bust. Deone Bucannon has been inconsistent, at best. The early returns on D.J. Humphries and Robert Nkemdiche have not been promising. So how in the world have Keim’s rosters won 10 games three times in four years? Hiring Bruce Arians was a good start. Day-two steals and the open market have taken care of the rest. Keim has unearthed Tyrann Mathieu, Markus Golden, John Brown and David Johnson in Rounds 2 or 3, while Jared Veldheer, Mike Iupati, Jermaine Gresham and Chris Johnson have filled holes through free agency. Keim’s two biggest moves, acquiring Carson Palmer and Chandler Jones via trade, provided a quarterback and linchpin pass rusher, respectively. Keim hasn’t made it easy on himself with the Day 1 misses, but his other methods of roster construction have been nearly flawless. Keim needs to improve his Thursday night drafting and find Palmer’s successor. If he can do those big things right, the little things could have him on the way to a Super Bowl.
7. Dave Gettleman, Panthers
Last Year’s Ranking: 8
Dave Gettleman has focused on small moves since arriving as general manager in 2013, mixing and matching around a core that features Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Greg Olsen and seemingly boundless defensive line talent. It’s a strategy that’s produced three division titles in four years, one of which was a 15-1 Super Bowl campaign. Gettleman isn’t trying to “win” free agency or stockpile fourth-round draft picks. He’s exploiting the resources he has, keeping most of his homegrown talent and doing a solid job on draft weekend. Gettleman has gotten most of his big decisions right, including nailing all four first-rounders. Of Star Lotulelei, Kelvin Benjamin, Shaq Thompson and Vernon Butler, only Benjamin has even been debatable. Rescinding Josh Norman’s franchise tag was questionable, but hardly haunting. Gettleman needs to improve on the offensive side of the ball. He hasn’t meaningfully addressed running back in four years, and his receivers are one-dimensional. The offensive line has been … interesting. Either way, these weaknesses have yet to obscure Gettleman’s strengths. His first four years on the job have been those of a man who knows what he’s doing.
8. John Dorsey, Chiefs
Last Year’s Ranking: 11
The Chiefs have 43 wins in four seasons since John Dorsey and Andy Reid came to town. That’s after they won 38 games the seven years prior. Dorsey began by supplementing a promising roster and hasn’t stopped since. Second-rounder Chris Jones and fifth-rounder Tyreek Hill were two of the best selections by any team in last year’s draft. Dorsey has nailed his top picks each of the past three years after whiffing on Eric Fisher. Outside the draft, Dorsey’s squad was able to gracefully move on from Jamaal Charles after signing Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West to team-friendly extensions. Dorsey has accumulated talent on defense while creating an offense that’s better than the sum of its parts. Alex Smith remains the elephant in the room, but Dorsey has wisely avoided forcing a solution. That’s a trap many other general managers are all too eager to fall into. When/if Smith’s replacement finally comes, Dorsey could help Reid hoist his long-sought Lombardi.
9. Rick Smith, Texans
Last Year’s Ranking: 10
You are correct. Rick Smith not only signed Brock Osweiler, he then gave up on him after one season, paying the Browns a second-round pick to take him off the Texans’ hands. That was a screw up. But Smith isn’t defined by one move any more than anyone else on this list. The single most important decision a general manager makes every year is his team’s first-rounder. Smith has a track record few can match. Since 2007, here are Smith’s Day 1 selections: Amobi Okoye, Duane Brown, Brian Cushing, Kareem Jackson, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, DeAndre Hopkins, Jadeveon Clowney, Kevin Johnson and Will Fuller. Okoye flopped and the jury is still out on Clowney and Fuller, but that is a ridiculous group. Thanks in large part to Smith hiring one of the game’s best coaches in Bill O'Brien, the Texans have made the playoffs four of the past six seasons. Smith’s team is a quarterback away from true greatness. He may never find it. That doesn’t diminish what he’s already accomplished.
10. Jerry Jones/Stephen Jones, Cowboys
Last Year’s Ranking: 15
Typically, you don’t chase off Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells and live to tell about it. That’s especially true if you’re an oilman who has convinced yourself you’re a personnel director. And yet, here we are, with Jerry Jones enjoying a late-career renaissance that was, frankly, impossible to see coming. Tired of strong-willed future Hall-of-Famers, Jones installed lemonade salesman Jason Garrett at head coach. Instead of failing miserably, the seeming marriage of convenience has gradually grown stronger, organically producing an identity in the process. Spend big on assistant coaches. Draft hog mollies. Run the ball. Bend but don’t break on defense. The result has been two 12-win seasons in three years, the second of which came with a fourth-round rookie at quarterback. Maybe it’s luck. Maybe it’s supernatural. Whatever it is, it’s working, and after two decades of deserved criticism ol’ Jer has earned some plaudits.
11. Marvin Lewis/Duke Tobin/Mike Brown, Bengals
Last Year’s Ranking: 5
Even with the duties split between coach Marvin Lewis, owner Mike Brown and director of player personnel Duke Tobin, the Bengals have emerged as one of the league’s top draft-and-develop teams. The problem lately is how much of that talent has been allowed to walk out the door. Coming off their first losing season since 2010, the Bengals must replace LT Andrew Whitworth, RG Kevin Zeitler and RB Rex Burkhead. This, after Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones departed in 2016. These aren’t the first players to bolt the Bengals on the open market, but a series of uncommonly poor drafts has left the replacement cupboard rather bare. Tackle and corner, in particular, have seen massive draft resources produce very little return on investment. What was looking like a well-oiled machine is suddenly sputtering. Lewis, Brown and Tobin still have a decent core, but could be forced to tear it down if this draft doesn’t go better than the past three.
12. Reggie McKenzie, Raiders
Last Year’s Ranking: 16
Reggie McKenzie’s rosters have produced just 30 wins in five years, but the trajectory is clear: Up. McKenzie almost didn’t survive his necessary teardown of Al Davis’ roster. His drafts were abysmal and his free agent signings even worse. Then Khalil Mack and Derek Carr happened. April 2014 forever changed the course of Raiders football, and reminded of the virtues of patience. I certainly didn’t have it, declaring McKenzie done multiple times. McKenzie turned his corner. Now he needs to get over the hump. 2016 could have been the year, but Carr’s broken ankle derailed the Raiders’ AFC West title aspirations and playoff hopes. This is also still a flawed roster. McKenzie has yet to find the right surrounding talent for Mack on defense. Jack Del Rio is an uninspiring fit as coach. His ceiling has been hard-capped through 11 NFL seasons. These are problems for McKenzie. What they are not is crises. McKenzie survived his. It’s onward and upward until further notice.
13. Kevin Colbert, Steelers
Last Year’s Ranking: 13
Kevin Colbert struggles to draft defensive talent and almost never makes waves in free agency. So how does his team keep making the playoffs? A spread out series of brilliant offensive picks. Ben Roethlisberger has been the backbone of the Colbert era in Pittsburgh, but 2013 second-rounder Le'Veon Bell and 2010 sixth-rounder Antonio Brown have prevented stagnation from taking hold as the Steelers’ once-fearsome defense treads water. Colbert has ridden this shaky formula for longer than he’s had any right to. More power to him, but it’s a balancing act that can’t go on forever. Had Roethlisberger actually followed through on his “I might retire” cry for help, the Steelers would look like one of the league’s more adrift franchises. At some point, Colbert is going to need one of his Cameron Heyward/Jarvis Jones/Ryan Shazier/Bud Duprees to actually be a star. Colbert has maximized his Big Ben leeway. It’s time to start working on another plan.
14. Jerry Reese, Giants
Last Year’s Ranking: 21
Jerry Reese did the impossible after “winning free agency” last year: He won. With his seat getting warm, Reese doled out nearly $200 million in commitments to Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins and Damon Harrison to revive the Giants’ moribund defense. The spending spree vaulted the G-Men from 32nd in total defense to 10th, and produced their best record since 2008. Reese deserves credit for his bold expenditures, but it’s worth remembering why he needed to make them. Reese badly underinvested draft resources in the defensive side of the ball from 2012-15, letting the core of his second Super Bowl winner fade away without replacements lined up. Reese has done his best to correct his errors, not only ponying up on the open market but making the overdue decision to part with coach Tom Coughlin. The big moves produced the desired results in 2016. Now Reese needs to focus on building a roster that requires only yearly maintenance instead of annual engine and body work.
15. Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons
Last Year’s Ranking: 27
The bottom fell out for Thomas Dimitroff following the Falcons’ 2012-13 NFC Championship Game loss. A top-heavy roster suddenly collapsed under its own weight, accumulating only 10 wins in two years despite being one of the few teams to boast a true franchise quarterback. Dimitroff, never the canniest personnel man beyond his rookie act of drafting Matt Ryan, was hanging by a thread. He needed a little help from his friends. He got it. Ex-Chiefs GM and Patriots confidant Scott Pioli aided Dimitroff in slowly replenishing the roster, while coach Dan Quinn and OC Kyle Shanahan revitalized a stagnant on-field approach. You could say Pioli and Quinn deserve more of the credit for the Falcons’ turnaround than Dimitroff, but part of being a good leader is knowing who to hire and trust. Dimitroff put his faith in Pioli and Quinn and was rewarded. 2017 will be a new challenge with Shanahan departed to the 49ers, but this is a much better situation than it was 3-4 years ago. Dimitroff has successfully reinvented himself, saving a job and a franchise along the way.
16. Rick Spielman, Vikings
Last Year’s Ranking: 9
Saying “Rick Spielman has had nine lives” would be a dumb cliché. It would also be inaccurate. He’s had at least 11, one for every year he’s been on the job. Spielman has a flair for the dramatic. On the good end of the spectrum was his signing of Brett Favre. On the bad, his disastrous reach for Christian Ponder. Somewhere in between was last year’s acquisition of Sam Bradford. It was understandable in the context of Minnesota’s 2015, Teddy Bridgewater’s injury and a roster seemingly built to win now. It was completely baffling in the context of “it’s Sam Bradford.” So is the life of a gambling general manager. Spielman has never been one to sit on his hands. It’s a style that keeps both “off the rails” and “surprise No. 2 seed” in play on an annual basis. Harrowing, but there are worse football fates.
17. Jason Licht, Bucs
Last Year’s Ranking: 22
Hired in 2014, Jason Licht has gradually rebuilt a roster that was one of the league’s worst upon his arrival. Mostly quiet in free agency after an unsuccessful 2014 spending binge, Licht made franchise-changing picks in Mike Evans and Jameis Winston. He also selected a kicker in the second round. There has been some bad with Licht’s mostly good, but everything continues to point in the right direction. Licht’s young defense was ferocious down the stretch last season, allowing just 17 points per game as Tampa closed out the year 6-2. With Winston and Evans just now coming into their primes, the Bucs could become an annual contender if Licht can put the finishing touches on his promising squad.
18. Mickey Loomis, Saints
Last Year’s Ranking: 19
2009 was a long time ago. Even with Drew Brees still in his never-ending prime, the Saints have suffered through three straight 7-9 campaigns. Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton have lacked a plan, making a seemingly annual commitment to the run/defense before quickly abandoning it during the heat of the season. Another such makeover is in the works, with Brandin Cooks shipped to the Patriots for a first-round pick, presumably to be used on the defensive side of the ball. Although an adequate drafter, Loomis strikes out far too often in his attempts to “win” free agency. Loomis and Payton can do mediocre in their sleep. If they don’t wake up in 2017, it might finally be time for the Saints to turn the page on their golden age.
19. Sashi Brown/Paul DePodesta, Browns
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
The Browns had 14 draft picks last season, almost one for every loss. Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta’s 2016 roster was truly abysmal. That, of course, was the plan, with the Browns going where no NFL team has gone before. Tanking has become an accepted part of life in the NBA and Major League Baseball, less so in the NFL. Even with the Browns’ intentions wholly transparent, many old school observers feign bewilderment when they aren’t oozing disgust. The Browns’ shrewd acquisition of Brock Osweiler and a second-round pick in the Texans’ March salary dump was one of the best moves of the spring, but don’t tell that to the old guard. The plan could still easily fail. Being bad on purpose is fraught with obvious risk. Fan disinterest, free agent avoidance, culture poisoning. Nevertheless, it’s an experiment the Browns were born to undertake. They’ve had one winning season in 18 years since being brought back from the dead. Attempted quick fixes have produced only longer-term misery. A new foundation is needed. Brown and DePodesta deserve multiple years to see if it takes hold.
20. Jon Robinson, Titans
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
Trapped into retaining Mike Mularkey as head coach, Jon Robinson’s first year as Titans general manager could have been a debacle. Instead, it was the franchise’s first winning campaign since 2011, and only its second since 2008. Marcus Mariota deserves much of the credit, but Robinson buoyed his team with his first offseason of moves. His risky acquisition of DeMarco Murray resulted in the league’s No. 3 runner. In free agency, Robinson made quiet, quality signings in Rishard Matthews and C Ben Jones. Robinson capped off his solid start with a near-perfect draft season. The owner of the No. 1 overall pick in a questionable year at the top, Robinson fleeced the Rams, sending pick 1 to L.A. for two second-rounders, a third and this year’s first- and third-rounders. The Rams got Jared Goff. Robinson got OT Jack Conklin, one of 2016’s best rookies. Derrick Henry and Tajae Sharpe capped things off by flashing promise down the board. Robinson’s reputation will rise as quickly as his team’s if he can repeat 2016 a few more times.
21. Howie Roseman, Eagles
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
Consumed with power struggles for the entirety of the Chip Kelly era, Howie Roseman finally emerged triumphant. His first order of business was draining Kelly’s swamp, ridding the Eagles of most of the old coach’s vanity purchases (DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso). Next up was one of his own, sending the farm to Cleveland for the right to select Carson Wentz at No. 2 overall. The gamble will define Roseman’s second stint as general manager. Wentz flashed plenty of promise as a rookie, buying Roseman some time to accrue more talent on offense. “More” in this instance being “any” since Kelly’s disastrous attempts at roster building left the cupboard completely bare. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith were a good start. Roseman is an ordinary executive talent who will live and die with the fortunes of his hand-picked quarterback.
22. Bob Quinn, Lions
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
Bob Quinn’s roster made the playoffs his first year on the job, but don’t let that fool you. There is still much work to be done with an offense that looked stagnant and a defense that lacked reliable playmakers. Quinn seems to have realized this, taking an aggressive approach his first 15 months on the job. Quinn hasn’t been afraid to spend in free agency, handing out big money deals to Marvin Jones, RG T.J. Lang and RT Rick Wagner while making smaller commitments to veterans like Anquan Boldin, DT Akeem Spence, DE Cornelius Washington and CB D.J. Hayden. Although active on the open market, Quinn hasn’t de-emphasized the draft. He’s yet to trade a pick in two years. Quinn went big for his first selection, taking a shot on a left tackle of the future at No. 16. So far, Taylor Decker is looking like an excellent decision. With Matthew Stafford in his prime, Quinn is trying to win now. It’s a mentality that can create duds, but probably the right approach for a franchise seeking its first postseason victory since 1992.
23. Tom Telesco, Chargers
Last Year’s Ranking: 26
Tom Telesco stared in the face of his football mortality and came away with Joey Bosa and Hunter Henry. Telesco’s back-to-back 2016 draft home runs infused desperately needed young blood on both sides of the ball. Coupled with a resurgent Melvin Gordon and ascending Jason Verrett, Telesco has some high-end talent to show for his past few Aprils. Questions still abound. Gordon and Verrett have both undergone serious knee operations in the past 18 months, and, as you may have heard, aren’t the only Bolts with injury histories. This is a fragile team led by a declining quarterback. New coach Anthony Lynn’s fire will be welcomed on the heels of Mike McCoy and Norv Turner’s passivity, but Telesco needs to come away from the draft with another building block or three. He’s running out of time to create the Chargers’ first 10-win roster since 2009.
24. Dave Caldwell, Jaguars
Last Year’s Ranking: 23
Overflowing with offseason Lombardis, Dave Caldwell is going to need a bigger trophy case. January-August has taken on an annual rhythm under Caldwell. No one wins free agency harder than Caldwell, and very few come away from the draft with more “name” talent. Outside observers have tended to like the process. The results have been far less impressive. Luke Joeckel bombed. Blake Bortles is working on it. Dante Fowler has been inconclusive. Buzzed-about Day 2 picks Johnathan Cyprien, T.J. Yeldon and Myles Jack have all fizzled. Caldwell’s free agent spending, admittedly daring and often hard to quibble with on paper, has yet to produce more than five wins in a season. Almost nothing has gone right. As usual, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Jalen Ramsey flashed as a rookie. The high-priced defense finally took a step forward, and has more reinforcements (A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell) on the way. You can still make the argument that Caldwell has been more unlucky than bad. 2017 will be Caldwell’s latest, and probably final, moment of truth.
25. Ryan Pace, Bears
Last Year’s Ranking: 20
Ryan Pace inherited an awful situation. Has he made it worse? His first draft pick, Kevin White, is shaping up as a certified bust. Last year’s first-rounder, Leonard Floyd, suffered through a concussion-marred rookie campaign. Pace wisely pulled the plug on Jay Cutler, but his backup plan — lavishing $16 million on Mike Glennon — has Brock Osweiler 2.0 written all over it. Pace handed out similarly questionable contracts to Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton. Pace knows he has to fix his offense, but his 2017 offseason has contained more than a whiff of desperation. Pace arrived from New Orleans with an excellent reputation. Right now, that’s all he’s going on. General managers need time. Pace is getting his. 2017 will determine how much more.
26. Mike Tannenbaum, Dolphins
Last Year’s Ranking: 28
Mike Tannenbaum presides over the most confusing power structure in football. Chris Grier has the title of general manager. Coach Adam Gase apparently has final say over the 53-man roster. Who does anything in particular is never exactly clear. Clearer is Tannenbaum’s checkered track record, and devotion to big spending and draft daring. Tannenbaum has established a distinctly-Jets trajectory in Miami except for one key difference: Hiring Gase. That brilliant decision helped mask a lot of bad ones in 2016 (hello, Mario Williams). It didn’t stamp them out, however. Restricted free agent Kiko Alonso’s extension was unnecessary and risky. Re-signing 2016 free agent bargain Andre Branch to a three-year, $24 million contract was one of the worst moves of the offseason. Good franchises don’t extend their Andre Branchs. They try to find the next one. Tannenbaum is going to make life hard on Gase. He could make things easier for both of them by letting Gase’s influence grow. The most promising NFL coaching prospect in years, Gase will almost certainly be the best decision of Tannenbaum’s tenure. Tannenbaum should maximize Gase’s impact by lessening his own.
27. Mike Maccagnan, Jets
Last Year’s Ranking: 12
Sooner or later, it all gets Jets. It was sooner for Mike Maccagnan, who got food poisoning on the way home from his honeymoon season. After everything worked in 2015, none of it did in 2016. Darrelle Revis’ transmission died. Brandon Marshall’s started to lurch. Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson didn’t even bother to start the car. Ryan Fitzpatrick played quarterback like he was on mushrooms, and coach Todd Bowles was bewildered on the sideline. It was a bad, bad year. Things could still get worse. 2016 first-rounder Darron Lee looked lost as a rookie, and second-rounder Christian Hackenberg was a wasted pick from the second it was made. Help is not on the way. Maccagnan made only cosmetic additions in free agency. He has accepted that the Jets cannot be reloaded. They must be rebuilt. It’s anyone’s guess if Maccagnan is the man for the job.
28. Les Snead, Rams
Last Year’s Ranking: 18
Les Snead still has his job, but he no longer has his alibi. With Jeff Fisher gone, there’s no one to hide behind. Snead has to own a roster that’s been historically inept on offense and riddled with underachievers on defense. To his credit, Snead has approached 2017 with a sense of urgency. He replaced Fisher with his polar opposite, making offensive-minded Sean McVay the youngest head coach in NFL history. Next, he lured LT Andrew Whitworth from the Bengals, filling a hole the Rams have had since Orlando Pace left St. Louis. Letting Kenny Britt walk in favor of Robert Woods was questionable, but clearly at the behest of his new head coach. Snead’s biggest problems as he untangles the headphone cords of the Fisher era are directly related. He doesn’t have a first-round pick. He flushed it down the toilet in last year’s calamitous trade for Jared Goff. With no signal caller or first-rounder, it’s going to be hard to get this gas guzzler out of neutral. It will likely end up a job for another man.
29. Doug Whaley, Bills
Last Year’s Ranking: 17
The Buffalo News believes it’s “only a matter of time” until Doug Whaley is fired. If true, Whaley won’t be able to claim he didn’t see it coming. Whaley tied one hand behind his back before he was even officially hired, orchestrating the Bills’ doomed selection of E.J. Manuel at No. 16 overall in 2013. Since, he’s trafficked in big names and bold moves, but not enough wins. Whaley has been a bad drafter whose best pick, Sammy Watkins, was made only after a questionable trade up in the deepest receiver class of all time. Even when Whaley makes good moves he has trouble reaping the benefits. Tyrod Taylor was an afterthought stroke of genius in Whaley’s typically expensive 2015 free agent class. Instead of trying to build around Taylor, he sabotaged him, benching him in Week 17 last season for Manuel(!). He lost the argument he never should have started when ownership sided with new coach Sean McDermott on Taylor, retaining him on a restructured contract. Whaley has never lacked for big ideas. It’s a brave way to attack roster building. What we forget about bravery is that it often ends in failure. It appears that’s what the Bills have deemed Whaley.
Chris Ballard, Colts
Chris Ballard arrives hyped, but is stepping into a pressure cooker. Led by a deceptively-imperious owner in Jim Irsay, the Colts have struggled to back-to-back 8-8 records, squandering two years of Andrew Luck’s prime. With Irsay demanding bad moves and ex-GM Ryan Grigson making plenty on his own, Indy’s roster has become dangerously thin. Knowing he can’t sit back and wait to draft and develop, Ballard has been active in free agency, signing OLB Jabaal Sheard, OLB John Simon, OLB Barkevious Mingo, ILB Sean Spence and Kamar Aiken. Hardly flashy, but necessary depth moves. Known as an expert scout, Ballard’s next order of business will be coming away from the draft with 2-3 immediate contributors. Ballard has a top-three building block in Luck. His chances of success will depend on how often Irsay tears up the blueprint.
John Lynch, 49ers
John Lynch got the 49ers job through a cold call. Seriously. The longtime safety and excellent T.V. analyst dialed up new coach Kyle Shanahan and “volunteered for the job.” It was so crazy, everyone in the Niners’ front office apparently thought it might work. Lynch, a 15-year veteran and former All-Pro, doesn’t lack for football knowledge. After learning from Dennis Green and Bill Walsh at Stanford, he played for Sam Wyche, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan in the pros. Lynch oozed Xs and Os working alongside Kevin Burkhardt at FOX. His résumé is decidedly more impressive than Matt Millen’s, someone he will be compared to often in the early going. All that being said, there’s still no way to sugarcoat it: Lynch is a massive gamble. The 49ers needed a fresh perspective after the decay of the Trent Baalke era. No one can say they didn’t get it.
Bruce Allen, Redskins
The Redskins’ former general manager finds himself back in his old job by way of a shameful power struggle. Bruce Allen undermined Scot McCloughan into the unemployment line, then made sure to smear him with enough innuendo and insinuation to fill a book. McCloughan flatly denies he was let go because of his past drinking problems. He believes it had more to do with Allen’s glaring insecurity. It’s one man’s word against another. Allen’s past — and tacit approval of owner Daniel Snyder — loses him the benefit of the doubt. McCloughan may be the one out of a job, but it's the Redskins who are the real losers. Allen isn’t up to the challenge. He was a disaster in Tampa Bay and an even bigger one in Washington. Fans can only pray his second go-around is temporary.