The NFL boils down to scheme and personnel. With so little time to implement the former this year, 2020 will be all about the latter. Does your roster have the horses or not?
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, regardless 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 forgotten, 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. 2018’s is here.
1. Bill Belichick, Patriots
The Bears traded a fourth-round pick for Nick Foles. The Raiders made Marcus Mariota the highest-paid new backup at any position. Bill Belichick? He signed Cam Newton for $550,000 guaranteed on June 28. The move was the latest in a long-running trend. As the rest of the league ties itself up into knots trying to catch up with the Patriots, Belichick makes staying on top look easy. Belichick is not perfect, especially as a general manager. His roster failings are often wielded against him as a weapon, as if he is supposed to bat 1.000. A GM who does not make frequent, annual mistakes is a GM who does not exist. It is how you work around them that bakes the cake. Belichick left himself undermanned on offense last season. How did he compensate? By putting together the best defense of his entire tenure in New England. Belichick never focuses on what he doesn’t have. He takes his best shot at putting together a 53-man roster then molds and manipulates it as needed. It’s never flawless, but there are no excuses. Only Bill.
2. Kevin Colbert, Steelers
What does depth get you? An 8-8 record in a year where you had to trade the best receiver in football and your quarterback played six quarters. Kevin Colbert has been getting the big things right for his entire two-decade run as general manager. It was a little thing that tripped him up in 2019: Backup QB. The lack of a Nick Foles or Teddy Bridgewater undermined an otherwise heroic playoff pursuit. That glaring hole remains for 2020 as 38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger returns from an injury to his throwing arm. All the other pieces are in place. Arguably the league’s keenest eye for high-end defensive talent and wide receiver gems, Colbert’s loaded roster has upside to spare. It is lacking a first-round rookie after last year’s aggressive acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick, though Fitzpatrick is still only 23 years old. Colbert has a little less margin for error than usual, but he has his team well positioned for its 20th winning season in 21 years.
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3. Andy Reid/Brett Veach, Chiefs
The rich don’t necessarily get richer in the NFL. In a salary-capped league, the best teams are frequently victims of their own success. Too many star players can mean too many bloated contracts, limiting roster flexibility and curtailing depth. Knowing who to let walk and who to re-sign is a balancing act many GMs never master. Ex-Chiefs GM John Dorsey couldn’t manage the cap, and it cost him his job coming off a 12-4 season. Brett Veach has better walked Andy Reid’s tightrope, executing Reid’s orders like trading Dee Ford and acquiring Frank Clark. He gave Sammy Watkins a bad contract only to get out from underneath it. Those moves were the opening act for Veach and Reid’s jujitsu of making Patrick Mahomes the highest-paid athlete in American history while maintaining balance and maneuverability. Right on cue, the Chiefs were then able to extend defensive linchpin Chris Jones. Past “imperial phase” teams like the 2000s Colts accepted flawed rosters as the cost of doing elite quarterback business. The Chiefs have solved the big problem, positioning themselves well for the 1,000 little ones that come after.
4. Howie Roseman, Eagles
A roster that had won playoff games with its backup quarterback in back-to-back years finally reached January with its starter. Then he got hurt again. It was that kind of year — again — in Philadelphia, but even “those kinds of years” have produced postseason appearances under Howie Roseman. Only one other team the entire decade, the 2011 Texans, won a playoff game with its backup quarterback. Roseman has accumulated depth even as it has been lacking in a few critical areas. Try as he might, Roseman can never seem to find enough cornerbacks or wide receivers. He aggressively addressed both this offseason, taking Darius Slay off of Matt Patricia's hands before spending a first-round pick on Jalen Reagor. Roseman added three other wideouts, joining a hopefully healthy DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery. Despite a steady stream of bad injury luck since December 2017, the Eagles keep winning games — one of them Super Bowl LII — and making the playoffs. If Roseman’s squad ever regresses back to the health mean, it won’t just sneak into the playoffs, but contend for another Lombardi.
5. Mickey Loomis, Saints
Mickey Loomis’ second act has featured everything but a parade. Built on the back of Loomis and Sean Payton’s legendary 2017 draft class, the Saints have stockpiled 37 wins over the past three seasons, coming within a Nickell Robey-Coleman of Super Bowl LIII. Loomis and Payton have accounted for every contingency, including backup quarterback. When Drew Brees was lost for five games last year, insurance policy Teddy Bridgewater guided the team to a 5-0 record. Loomis deserves credit not only for signing Bridgewater, but building a roster good enough to go undefeated with its No. 2 QB. The same was true at running back, where free agent addition Latavius Murray helped spell an ailing Alvin Kamara. As was the case during the Saints’ first championship window under Loomis and Payton, the bill could come due at any moment. The Saints are not playing for tomorrow. Trades have left them with only nine total draft picks over the past two years. Just four of those came on Days 1 and 2. Open market additions have tended to be on the older side, including this spring’s signing of Emmanuel Sanders. Loomis and Payton just want to win. They aren’t thinking about 2025. It’s a breath of fresh air in an increasingly calculated front office world.
6. John Lynch, 49ers
The 2019 NFC champion 49ers were a case study in how to build a winning roster. There were nailed early-round picks along the defensive line. Mid-round finds in George Kittle and Fred Warner. Instant rookie contributors in Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel. A reclamation project in Richard Sherman. Scrap heap phenomenons in Raheem Mostert and Kendrick Bourne. Trade acquisitions in Emmanuel Sanders and Dee Ford. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan pursued every avenue, and the road led them to the Super Bowl. They stayed in the zone this offseason, turning DeForest Buckner into a first-round pick after they determined they would not be re-signing him and acquiring LT Trent Williams for pennies on the dollar. Perhaps the scariest part about this group is that it has yet to be maximized on offense and is already a championship contender. Lynch and Shanahan could be just a player or two away from building one of the teams of the decade.
7. Rick Spielman, Vikings
Working on five straight winning campaigns, Rick Spielman has been uncharacteristically quiet since his historic Kirk Cousins deal in 2018. Spielman was forced to play defense this spring, trading an unhappy Stefon Diggs to the Bills for first-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round picks. Three of those selections were part of this year’s comically large 15-man class, the biggest in NFL history for a seven-round draft. Spielman had seven of the first 132 picks, including four in the top 90. That infusion of young, cost-controlled talent will be an asset if Spielman decides to return to his aggressive ways in 2021. Although he’s known for gambling, Spielman has not gone bust since hiring coach Mike Zimmer as his top lieutenant. With rare exceptions, a Spielman team is always going to be in the mix. That’s all a fan can reasonably hope for.
8. John Schneider, Seahawks
The Seahawks make first-round picks again. After a five-year period from 2013-17 where John Schneider and Pete Carroll made all of one Night 1 selection, they have now held onto their top pick each of the past three seasons. Good news, right? Not so much. Groupthink can be a pernicious force in football. You don’t want to follow the leader when it comes to your draft board. You do want to stay on the same planet. That is not where the Seahawks have been with Rashaad Penny, L.J. Collier and Jordyn Brooks. Penny is already a bust. Ancient for a rookie, 24-year-old Collier was not impressive in 2019. Brooks is unproven in pass coverage. You do not draft an off-ball linebacker in the first round if you’re not sure how they will hold up in the air. Schneider and Carroll have made hay elsewhere even as they continue to botch their most important annual decision. DK Metcalf was a second-round steal. They pilfered Jadeveon Clowney from the Texans and Quandre Diggs from the Lions. It’s just impossible not to focus on the way the Seahawks make things harder on themselves. Despite Carroll’s stubborn game-day strategies and Schneider’s questionable roster building, the ‘Hawks keep winning. The question is whether they know something we don’t or if Russell Wilson papers over every mistake.
9. Brandon Beane, Bills
Rick Spielman has company. Like his Vikings counterpart, Brandon Beane only speaks in big moves. The two worked together on one this offseason, with Beane avenging last year’s Antonio Brown near miss by acquiring Stefon Diggs. It is Beane and Sean McDermott’s last-ditch effort at salvaging their front office-defining move of trading up — twice — for Josh Allen. Beane and McDermott are in perfect harmony on defense. The pieces are also falling into place on offense, but Allen is a literal and figurative wild card. If he’s the next Blake Bortles, the Bills’ defensive foundation won’t amount to much. If he’s something more, the Patriots’ reign of AFC East terror might finally be over. Beane and McDermott have been good enough that they should survive a potential Allen failure, but it will represent a massive missed opportunity with an otherwise readymade roster.
10. Chris Ballard, Colts
Some problems cannot be fixed. Your 29-year-old franchise quarterback retiring 15 days before Week 1 would be one of them. Left in a daze by Andrew Luck’s stunning decision, the Colts’ 7-9 2019 record was something of an accomplishment. It was made possible by a roster Chris Ballard set up for success on both sides of the ball. With Luck gone, the Colts’ new foundation is a 2018 draft class that produced a pair of All-Pros with its first two picks, OG Quenton Nelson and LB Darius Leonard. That core has been fleshed out with a series of 2020 moves. New quarterback Philip Rivers had the best years of his career under Frank Reich in San Diego. Rivers’ supporting cast was fortified with Ballard’s first two 2020 selections, WR Michael Pittman and RB Jonathan Taylor. Both picks came on Day 2 after Ballard flipped his first-rounder for interior force DeForest Buckner. Beyond quarterback, Ballard had identified defensive tackle as one of his biggest needs. Ballard’s entire Colts career has been off his back foot. His first move — hiring Josh McDaniels — lasted less than one day. Ballard hasn’t made excuses. He’s simply kept improving his roster. Rivers may not work out, but Ballard has earned the right to draft his successor.
11. Jon Robinson, Titans
Jon Robinson’s rosters have never won more than nine games. They’ve also never won fewer. The man in the middle got a whole lot closer to the top in 2019. Robinson reclamation project Ryan Tannehill lit the fuse for a powder keg finish, guiding the Titans to a 7-3 record as a mid-season replacement. Robinson draft picks Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown carried the offense. Robinson hire Mike Vrabel whipped the defense into a top-10 unit. The Titans still don’t have the deepest or most talented roster. Tannehill is, at best, a stop gap. The defense’s whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Big draft decisions and free agent signings like Corey Davis and Malcolm Butler have not provided the expected return on investment. But Robinson has done something every good general manager does: Lay the foundation to overcome mistakes and shortcomings. It should surprise no one if Robinson eventually assembles a group capable of reaching the Super Bowl.
12. Eric DeCosta, Ravens
With no need to reinvent Ozzie Newsome’s wheel his first year on the job, Eric DeCosta was judicious with high-profile moves, signing Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram before drafting Marquise Brown. (Not to mention acquiring Marcus Peters for a mid-season song.) Pushing play on Newsome’s Lamar Jackson death star resulted in the most wins in franchise history, and one of the best regular seasons of the decade. With little broken to fix, DeCosta was similarly tactical this offseason, stealing Calais Campbell from the Jaguars and turning redundant TE Hayden Hurst into a pair of picks. The one spot that really needed reinforcements, the receiver corps, was patched instead of revamped with third-rounder Devin Duvernay. J.K. Dobbins’ selection made it clear there won’t be any major tweaks to last year’s run-dominant attack. When you inherit a roster this good, your first order of business is not to screw it up. DeCosta has so far passed with flying colors.
13. Jerry Jones/Stephen Jones, Cowboys
Of all the owners to have too much patience. Clearly liking that Jason Garrett would never challenge his authority, Jerry Jones allowed his longtime head coach to spin his wheels with too many talented teams. Now Jones has ushered in Mike McCarthy, someone known for doing the same thing in Green Bay. Jones and his cronies have built a bully on offense. On defense, Jones has proven surprisingly adept at on-the-fly retoolings. It’s a crime the Cowboys have only two playoff victories to show for the past six years. They have been ever-so-close to taking the next step, though McCarthy should not have been anyone’s first choice to get them there. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Football is a personnel business, and the Cowboys’ is strong. Long brash and impulsive, Jones has learned to ignore the Johnny Manziel siren’s call. It has him closer than ever to getting back to the promised land. If only he had picked someone more inspiring than McCarthy to help seal the deal.
14. Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons
Thomas Dimitroff’s second championship window closed as quickly as it opened. 14-18 over the past two seasons, Dimitroff’s roster lacks high-end talent on defense. The offensive line is below average. The head coach is overmatched. Dan Quinn was allowed to fire everyone but himself last season and it produced zero more victories. It was time to move on, but Dimitroff stayed the course with a coach who seems to have been a product of ex-OC Kyle Shanahan’s wizardry and nothing more. Dimitroff secured a genuine franchise quarterback his first year on the job. He added one of the players of the decade in Julio Jones three seasons later. That’s been enough to fuel two separate title runs. For a third, Dimitroff must break a long downturn on defense and find more ways to keep an aging Matt Ryan upright. He got off to a bad start for 2020, reaching for CB A.J. Terrell in the first round of the draft and failing to supply meaningful upgrades for Ryan. Only three teams have allowed more sacks over the past three seasons. The Falcons need a little magic in 2020. That is never a good recipe.
15. Tom Telesco, Chargers
Tom Telesco has had little trouble assembling talented rosters. Putting them over the top is another matter. Although the Chargers have two playoff wins in Telesco’s six years on the job, that nagging Bolts feeling remains that they should have accomplished more. Perhaps you think it’s Philip Rivers’ fault. Telesco apparently did, pulling the plug on his longtime franchise quarterback at a time where many other teams are doubling down on their 35-plus signal callers. It’s an audacious bet, though one Telesco ended up playing as conservatively as possible. Justin Herbert is a bizarro Josh Allen, all vanilla to Allen’s wild horse upside. There is something to be said for banking on safety, but Herbert has fewer projectable traits than you will usually find in a No. 6 overall pick. His checkdown cake seems mostly baked. If Rivers was dragging down Joey Bosa’s defense, Herbert isn’t about to put them on his back. Telesco can build a roster, but he has lacked the finishing touch. With Herbert now locked in, he seems unlikely to find it any time soon.
16. Les Snead, Rams
Did the Rams stay at the casino for too long? After a multi-year stretch of big bets and bigger returns, 2019’s roster entered the season looking bloated. As the sun started rising following an all-nighter at the poker table, Les Snead and Sean McVay pushed their chips to the middle one final time. The resulting win may have been pyrrhic. The Rams came away with Jalen Ramsey, but at the cost of two first-rounders. They made the move without signing Ramsey to an extension first, providing the 25-year-old Laremy Tunsil-style leverage. Tunsil parlayed his pocket aces into a contract that left him “speechless.” Ramsey will undoubtedly do the same, sticking the Rams with yet another mega deal and dwindling flexibility. Instead of getting better after last year’s 9-7 disappointment, the Rams spent the offseason trying to get out from underneath their past Ramsey agreements, swallowing a record amount of dead money by releasing Todd Gurley 18 months after giving him a four-year, $60 million extension. Brandin Cooks was dealt 18 months after a five-year, $80 million deal of his own. Lacking a first-rounder, the Rams then used their first two picks on a running back and receiver. McVay’s mind is an incalculable asset, but he and Snead are making life harder on themselves with aggression that often seems just for the sake of it.
17. Brian Gutekunst, Packers
Locker rooms remain a black box for fans. We never truly know what is going on behind the scenes. Perhaps Aaron Rodgers’ ego has grown so monstrous that everyone from the general manager on down is ready to see him go. If not, Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur are embarking on one of the riskier rebuilds in recent memory. Determined to turn the Packers into a smash mouth, Titans-eque offense despite the presence of one of the greatest players in league history under center, the Packers focused their entire draft on the running game. Free agency added only tight end-lite Devin Funchess to a receiver corps that is one of the league’s most undermanned. Rodgers did not look like himself last year. The Packers have put it solely on him to change that. If he doesn’t, it will be on to Jordan Love, a prospect so volatile he makes Josh Allen look like Andrew Luck. The safe move would have been to milk the remaining years of Rodgers’ career for whatever they were worth. Just 18 months after extending him, Gutekunst has charted the opposite course. It’s a pass/fail decision that will determine his future in Green Bay.
18. Chris Grier, Dolphins
That sound you heard was a window opening earlier than expected. Just one year after gutting the roster and selling the frame for scraps, Chris Grier decided to beef it back up, cashing in six top-70 picks and spending like a wild man in free agency. The open market is not where championship teams are built, but the stakes were low for the Dolphins, who needed to splurge just to reach the salary cap floor. Even after inking Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson and Ereck Flowers — amongst many others — the Dolphins entered late July with $20.7 million on hand, the eighth most in the league. None of those additions complicate Grier’s long-term goal of returning the Dolphins to relevancy. The draft is where he placed his big bet, No. 5 overall pick Tua Tagovailoa. Openly coveted by the Dolphins for two years, Tagovailoa would have been a contender for the top selection if not for his serious hip injury. There’s a chance Grier landed his quarterback of the future at a deep discount. If not, it won’t be a franchise-crippling mistake thanks to Grier’s unprecedented picks cache. We are likely still a ways away from the result, but Grier’s process has been sound.
19. John Elway, Broncos
The past four years haven’t been so easy after Von Miller and Peyton Manning made it look so in 2011-12. On his ninth life trying to replace Manning, John Elway has gone all in on Drew Lock after the 2019 second-rounder oversaw a 4-1 finish last season. It’s a high-risk bet on a high-risk prospect, but it is understandable after Lock showed more than expected in his injury-shortened rookie campaign. After one ill-considered half measure after another under center, Elway is building the roster around his latest quarterback of the future. That means game breakers in the passing game and reliable runners to fall back on. Lock has mastered the deep ball. It’s everywhere else he remains unproven. Most general managers might have been more conservative after Lock’s limited, inconclusive 2019, but a man who is impatient even in the best of times is running out of time. This will be Elway’s final big bet if it doesn’t hit.
20. Marty Hurney, Panthers
Whatever the Panthers’ new team-building philosophy is, it still allows Marty Hurney to pay running backs. Christian McCaffrey is now the highest-paid runner in league history. Don’t try this at home, as they say, but it would not have mattered who was signing the checks. CMC was always going to get paid. Now we wait for what comes next. David Tepper is the latest in a long line of new owners who have insisted they are going to lean into analytics. Tepper’s claim is given more credibility by his success in the ruthless, bottom-line world of modern hedge funds. That he retained Hurney at all was an upset, though it might not be for long. "We are going to take a comprehensive and thorough review of our football operation to make sure we are structured for long-term sustained success," Tepper said when announcing Hurney’s return. A reassignment could be in the old war horse’s future. Nevertheless, Hurney’s present went well in the spring with solid draft and free agent classes. The rebuild from Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly may not be as painful as expected. Operating at the owner’s pleasure even more than most general managers, Hurney has nothing to lose as his second go-around as Panthers personnel boss winds down.
21. Duke Tobin/Mike Brown, Bengals
After nearly hacking the system with safe drafts and limited free agency adventurism, the Bengals have tumbled back to the bottom of the pile. The past four seasons have produced zero playoff appearances and a .328 winning percentage. With owner/GM Mike Brown not about to fire himself, the team’s options boiled down to “luck” or a change in philosophy. They got both this offseason. Brown finally opened the purse strings on the open market before accepting his gift of Joe Burrow at No. 1 overall. Brown even refused to trade A.J. Green, opting to set Burrow up for rookie success instead of bagging an extra pick or two. In theory, that was not a smart long-term move, but it could still pay dividends. A frightening number of otherwise talented quarterbacks fail to overcome early-career chaos. Burrow will have the supporting cast to build confidence right away. Going on 85, perhaps Brown is finally ready to stop holding himself back and embrace full-bodied roster building that relies not just on acing the draft, but actually spending a dollar or two.
22. Mike Mayock/Jon Gruden, Raiders
Jon Gruden is the man behind the curtain, but Mike Mayock’s first two drafts have been all over the map. Whereas No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell was one of 2019’s least-impactful first-rounders, Josh Jacobs was one of the most. This spring, Henry Ruggs ably filled a need at No. 12, but like Ferrell before him, Damon Arnette was a jaw-dropping reach at No. 19. Elderly for a rookie (24), Arnette moves glacially slow for a corner, checking in with 4.56 wheels. Despite his advanced age, he “didn’t show up for some post-season meetings” at Ohio State. Mayock and Gruden sent similarly mixed messages in free agency, where they made Marcus Mariota one of the highest-paid backups at any position. Derek Carr needed to be challenged, but not by the worse version of Derek Carr. At the mercy of his hundredmillionaire boss, it is going to be difficult for Mayock to break through the noise in Vegas.
23. Steve Keim, Cardinals
The easy part — taking Kyler Murray — is over for Steve Keim. What comes next? As it turns out, it was drafting yet another defensive tweener in the first round. There is no reason Isaiah Simmons can’t be a star. The same was also true of previous Keim selections Haason Reddick and Deone Bucannon. That is to say nothing of the players who actually had positions, like Josh Rosen, Robert Nkemdiche and Jonathan Cooper. Shaky drafter or not, Keim still managed to win his second consecutive offseason, acquiring DeAndre Hopkins for the price of David Johnson and a second-round pick. He also snagged Kenyan Drake for a bag of footballs last October. Keim was just fine when he had an engaged Bruce Arians to drag him along. The core of Kliff Kingsbury, Chandler Jones, Murray and Hopkins may be ready to do the same thing.
24. Bill O’Brien, Texans
Bill O’Brien doesn’t lose confidence in his shot. Like J.R. Smith, he will never stop letting it fly. Also like Smith, he will need someone else to get him a ring. Whereas O’Brien is stodgy on the sideline, he is hyperactive in the front office. The man simply cannot stop making trades, treating draft picks like a credit card with no limit. So far, it hasn’t come back to bite him. With BOB in the ascendancy in personnel matters, the Texans have piled up 21 victories over the past two years. They have done so while shedding blue-chip talent, most egregiously a cost-controlled DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson. BOB has managed to assemble a decent post-Nuk receiver corps, though it required surrendering a second-round pick for Brandin Cooks and paying 30-year-old Randall Cobb $27 million. BOB is clearly playing for the now, even though any well-thought-out “win now” plan would not involve trading DeAndre Hopkins. The Saints have found success living in the moment. With O’Brien, it feels like an 0-of-11 from behind the arc waiting to happen.
25. Jason Licht, Bucs
Jason Licht has three coaches and zero playoff wins to show for six years on the job. That he has yet to be pink slipped with that résumé is a remarkable act of front office survival. After attempting to build around 2015 No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, Licht has now resorted to the get rich quick scheme of 43-year-old Tom Brady. Licht needs Brady to accomplish things that have literally never been done before for the move to pay off. To Licht’s credit, he has put the weapons in place for Brady to do so. He also leveraged Brady’s arrival into a zero-downside acquisition of Rob Gronkowski. 2019 Licht stroke of genius Shaq Barrett is back via the franchise tag. The Bucs are not lacking for high-end talent. Licht desperately needs Brady to be the missing piece. If he’s not, someone else will be assembling the Bucs’ puzzle in 2021.
26. Dave Gettleman, Giants
Dave Gettleman finally ran out of big bets to make this offseason, instead settling into filling out a roster that is now quintessentially Gettleman. The first-round running back and high-risk quarterback prospect have been joined by a meat and potatoes left tackle, Andrew Thomas. Although he once again refused to trade down, Gettleman came out of the first two days of the draft with strong value. “Strong value” isn’t how anyone would describe questionable 2019 trade acquisition Leonard Williams on the franchise tag, but that is the kind of hog mollie luxury Gettleman can afford with Daniel Jones on his rookie contract. The same is true of CB James Bradberry, whom Gettleman drafted in Carolina and showered $43.5 million on in free agency. Despite Gettleman’s old school approach, his fortunes are decidedly modern. They live and die with Jones, who was plagued by turnovers as a rookie but supported by big plays. Season two will signal Jones’ future while sealing Gettleman’s.
27. Joe Douglas, Jets
Joe Douglas arrived in New York with a great reputation. He immediately set about letting Adam Gase tarnish it. Nothing has been more damaging than the Jamal Adams affair. The young defensive cornerstone took great offense to his placement on the trade block last October. Douglas insisted he was never made available, but something got lost in the Gase translation. That is Douglas’ biggest problem. Gase feuds with far too many of his players, creating tricky front office situations and locker room landmines. Minus Gase’s numerous imbroglios, Douglas had a decent first offseason. No. 11 pick Mekhi Becton arrives with monstrous upside as the Jets’ left tackle of the future. The same is true of raw-but-explosive No. 59 overall pick Denzel Mims. Douglas committed to upgrading Sam Darnold’s atrocious offensive line, but the third-year pro still has far too few weapons. Darnold’s shaky setup and Gase’s never-ending intrigue are dangerous trap doors for Douglas. If he can make it out of 2020 alive, he will be on to something in the league’s toughest market.
28. Ryan Pace, Bears
When you are a general manager, you pass on great players. That is part of the deal. You would still rather be known for the picks you made than the ones you didn’t. So is life for Ryan Pace after he traded up for Mitchell Trubisky. As Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson have ascended to the top of the NFL, Pace has tread water in the middle. His one year in the fast lane, 2018’s 12-4 campaign, brought Khalil Mack but mortgaged future assets. The Bears have been limited to just 12 total draft picks over the past two years, zero of which came in the top 40. That is no way to build a roster without a franchise quarterback. Things have scarcely been better in free agency, where Pace backed up the Brinks truck for 30-something veterans Robert Quinn and Jimmy Graham. A pass rusher coming off an 11.5-sack effort is one thing. But a tight end who looked dead legged for a division rival last season? Mystifying. Meanwhile, Pace neither spent nor drafted to address his troublesome offensive line. Even for the best GMs, building a roster is more art than science. Through six years, Pace has yet to paint a pretty picture.
29. Dave Caldwell, Jaguars
Dave Caldwell has been a part of seven rosters in Jacksonville. They have won more than six games once. In a league where good men get sent packing after one bad year, Caldwell has somehow survived six of them. There are alibis, of course. A stone-aged Tom Coughlin spent the past three seasons poisoning the well, focusing on things like how an injured Leonard Fournette stood on the sideline. How bad was Coughlin? By the time he was fired in December, over 25 percent of grievances filed by the NFLPA were against the Jaguars. “You as players may want to consider this when you have a chance to select your next club,” the union warned in a memo. Caldwell wasn’t going to be able to overcome that. It’s just unclear why the Jags didn’t make a clean break, sending Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone packing along with Coughlin. Most of Caldwell’s biggest calls — Luke Joeckel, Blake Bortles, Dante Fowler — were duds. The Jags’ Coughlin-influenced drafts of 2017-19 were bad. One of Caldwell’s best decisions, selecting Jalen Ramsey, went down in Coughlin flames. Basically, if Caldwell was so good, why did the Jags big foot him with Coughlin? A team that was crying out for a fresh start will instead try to back the Jeep out of the mud one final time.
30. Bob Quinn, Lions
Do you have strong feelings about Bob Quinn? Does anybody? Where are the impact players? Where is the plan other than cycling through people Bill Belichick allowed to walk in free agency? Why was Jim Caldwell fired after back-to-back 9-7 seasons only to be replaced by Belichick’s least impressive mini-me, Matt Patricia? Nothing has gone right for Caldwell since his Patricia galaxy brain, with Patricia proving more adept at chasing off talent (Darius Slay, Quandre Diggs) than cultivating it. Not that Quinn has been killing it. His 2017 first-round pick, Jarrad Davis, just had his fifth-year team option declined. Quinn continues to overinvest in the running game. To a comical degree — Trey Flowers, Duron Harmon, Justin Coleman, Danny Shelton, Danny Amendola and literally eight others — Quinn only seems interested in ex-Patriots on the trade and free agent markets. How about instead of co-opting someone else’s identity, you create your own? This is the Detroit Lions. It’s going to take a big thinker to turn things around. Quinn only seems capable of copying someone else’s thoughts.
New Hires (Alphabetical Order)
Andrew Berry, Browns
The Browns’ latest savior briefly got away. Andrew Berry traded up from Browns vice president of player personnel to Eagles vice president of football operations in 2019. The 33-year-old has been lured back as the league’s youngest general manager. Each of Berry, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and coach Kevin Stefanski will report separately to owner Jimmy Haslam, which doesn’t seem like the best way to set Berry up for success, but this is the Browns after all. A Harvard alum with a bachelor's in economics and master's in computer science, Berry arrives lab-created for a modern GM. It won’t be the first time in Cleveland. The trick is achieving some sort of harmony with the rash and imperious Haslam. Berry had a strong first offseason, addressing last year’s season-ruining offensive line by signing Jack Conklin and stealing Jedrick Wills at No. 10 overall. He found draft value all down the board. Berry needs time. He would be the first to get it under Haslam.
Ron Rivera, Washington
Underappreciated for much of his nine-year tenure in Carolina, Ron Rivera has been rewarded with the league’s most thankless job. It would be one thing if Rivera merely had to man the sideline for a franchise that has won one playoff game in the 21st century. He also has to fill the power vacuum in the front office and clean up owner Daniel Snyder’s myriad off-the-field messes. How exactly is this man supposed to focus on football? More importantly, why does Washington want his focus elsewhere? Personnel was never Rivera’s forte in Carolina. As they have learned the hard way in Washington, a toxic culture will ruin everything. Rivera is the man for that job. Actually assembling the football team that has to go out there and play games? Your guess is as good as Washington’s.