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Of the five general managers to be fired or retire after 2021, Ryan Pace is the youngest at 45. Of the five men to replace them, Omar Khan is the oldest … at 45. The Sean McVay-ization of the NFL has not been confined to the coaching ranks, with process-and-efficiency obsession coming to the front office, too. 63-year-old former T.V. stars are out. 40-year-old former Wall Street traders are in.
Not that they have all the power. With sideline savants in the ascendancy for the past half decade, the combination coach/grocery shopper has once again become a powerful force. It’s not just McVay and Kyle Shanahan. Even Matt Rhule has wide latitude in his supposedly analytically-minded front office. It can make it difficult to discern who truly has final say but highlights an enduring truth: This only works if the coach and GM are aligned.
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. 2020’s is here.
1. Les Snead/Sean McVay, Rams
The Rams’ most recent first-round pick was Jared Goff in 2016. The Rams’ most recent game was a Super Bowl victory. Bill Belichick stockpiles draft picks. You never know when a service academy long snapper might be available. Sean McVay and Les Snead pay premiums for established talent. The return on investment has been wildly lucrative despite the high upfront costs. 44 regular season victories in four years heading into last season. Three playoff wins. A conference title. The only thing missing was a Lombardi. McVay and Snead believed they were one player away so they went out and paid their usual price: Two first-rounders and a third for Matthew Stafford. And, oh yeah, Goff, too. The calculation was correct. Stafford made the plays Goff never could and the Rams added 12 regular season victories, four postseason triumphs and, yes, a Super Bowl to their five-year haul. There is room to improve. Of the draft picks the Rams do make, too many are Belichick-ian vanity projects. Tutu Atwell says hello. But as is the case in New England, these are small gripes. This is a group as adept at winning in the boardroom as it is on the field.
2. Bill Belichick, Patriots
While you were busy posting that Bill Belichick has lost his fastball, he was making the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. Of course, many refuse to accept that Belichick has ever had a fastball as general manager, believing instead he was bailed out by his coaching genius and Tom Brady. As I write every year, you cannot separate Bill the coach from Bill the team builder. They are one in the same, and Belichick simply sees the board differently than everyone else. You might not understand why he thinks this group of 53 players is his best bet. Then it goes out and wins at least 10 games. That will be put to the test in 2022 following yet another offseason exodus of talent. Ascendant corner J.C. Jackson and offensive line linchpins Shaq Mason and Ted Karras went out the door. DeVante Parker and Jabrill Peppers were the most notable additions. OL Cole Strange, a selection Sean McVay audibly laughed at — in a respectful way, he insisted — was Belichick’s first-round pick. None of it made consensus sense. But even if BB ends up getting some of those big decisions wrong — it, uhh, wouldn’t be the first time — his mastery of the finest details of coaching and roster-building will keep his team in the hunt until he retires.
3. Brandon Beane, Bills
This was already a Super Bowl-worthy roster in 2021, but the caprices of fate made Patrick Mahomes a coin toss winner. Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott hunted for finishing touches both big and small this offseason, making a splash signing in Von Miller while obsessively searching for a third-down back to pair with Devin Singletary. They drafted a first-round cornerback to replace the outgoing Levi Wallace and upgraded slot man Cole Beasley with Jamison Crowder. While important, none of these moves were Lombardi needle movers. The group was already that good. All Beane and McDermott can do from here on out is rearrange the salary cap chairs and wait for the football gods to bless this Josh Allen house. It can be a frustrating process. It’s also a state few front offices reach. Beane and McDermott have done their roster-building job.
4. Andy Reid/Brett Veach, Chiefs
Andy Reid and Brett Veach have vowed to never repeat the salary cap bloat of the John Dorsey era, even if it means trading one of the best receivers in the league in his prime. Not that the decision was entirely voluntary. Patrick Mahomes’ cap number is leaping from $7.4 million to $35.7 million, while left tackle Orlando Brown is playing on the franchise tag. The Chiefs, of course, could have found a way to keep Tyreek Hill, but dealing him was the kind of tough decision every great team must make if they hope to perpetuate a dynasty. Elsewhere, Reid and Veach have displayed a knack for sustaining roster flexibility and vibrancy during the Mahomes era, keeping the defense stocked with playmakers and retooling the offensive line on the fly in 2021. They attempted a similar project with the receiver corps this year, replacing Hill with a combination of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and second-rounder Skyy Moore. They are also embracing rookie contracts after five straight years of six-man draft classes. The Chiefs made 10 selections this spring, and have another 12 picks lined up for 2023. That also gives them options in the trade market. There have been mistakes — Frank Clark comes to mind — but Reid and Veach have proven they understand how to build around Mahomes regardless of how much money he is making.
5. John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan, 49ers
The 49ers have reached the NFC Championship Game two times in three years. So how has Kyle Shanahan tied himself up in impossible knots at the most important position? Therein lies the Shanny conundrum. Three parts brilliance and one part bafflement. This loaded group was only a quarterback away from reaching the Super Bowl last season. They audaciously traded up to draft said quarterback. Then he didn’t play. There is Shanahan, in the middle of a title window, making what amounted to a luxury pick. There will be no luxury when it comes to Trey Lance in 2022. He has to play, whether Shanny is ready or not. It will be the most fascinating test yet of Shanahan’s football principles. Has he found the man to unlock every contour of his system? Or has an executive known for making aggressive trade ups only to quickly lose interest — Dante Pettis, Trey Sermon etc. — finally made a mistake he can’t scheme around? Whatever the answer is, the rest of this excellent 53-man roster is ready.
6. Jason Licht, Bucs
How do you replace Tom Brady? With Tom Brady. Bill Belichick wishes he had been so bold. It has been that kind of half decade for Jason Licht, who went from hanging on as Bucs general manager by a thread to building a plug-and-play roster for the greatest player of all time. After that stroke of good fortune, Licht knew better than to look his gift horse in the mouth, not standing in the way of what seemed to be a quid pro quo for Brady’s return: He plays, coach Bruce Arians “retires.” That’s the cost of doing business when you are in Brady’s rarefied air. Not all of Brady’s demands have worked out. Signing Antonio Brown comes to mind. Thankfully Licht’s pre-Brady core has been strong enough to endure such hiccups, while he made deft use of the open market to fill 2022 holes. Licht paid a trade penny for Shaq Mason so he could pay a premium for Russell Gage, the kind of middle-of-the-field threat who so often gels with TB12. Post-Brady reality will eventually bite this aging roster hard, but Licht is acing the assignment of maximizing his Super Bowl odds in the present.
7. Mickey Loomis, Saints
January 26 was the first day of the rest of Mickey Loomis’ executive life. It marked the first time since 2005 that he was operating without Sean Payton. Loomis predated Payton in New Orleans by four years, producing a trio of .500 seasons before one 3-13 bottom out. Payton and Drew Brees quickly picked up the pieces and turned them into an NFC Championship Game appearance. The turnaround might not be quite so rapid this time around, though neither is the hole that deep. Jameis Winston is back. So, too, is Michael Thomas. For what the Saints are losing on offense in Payton, they are keeping on defense in new head coach Dennis Allen. This remains a star-laden group in a soft division. How long that will remain the case as Brees and Payton recede farther into the distance is the question. We know where Payton ended. It is time to find out where Loomis begins.
8. Howie Roseman, Eagles
Don’t like the Howie Roseman weather? Just wait five minutes. Somehow already on his second successful post-Chip Kelly rebuild, Roseman has assembled a typically excellent offensive line and typically shaky homegrown receiver corps. Roseman decided to go outside the house for his latest reinforcement, trading first- and third-round picks for A.J. Brown. It was a sound move for a man who keeps bombing his wideout selections, if yet another heavy investment in a position he should have had settled by now. It’s ultimately just a minor quibble for an executive who does an excellent job stockpiling talent in the trenches and hoping the rest works itself out. That plan has come half true at quarterback, where Jalen Hurts didn’t prevent the team from making the playoffs in 2021 but could have had more to do with it. If Hurts lacks a second gear, Roseman has left himself well positioned to find his replacement with another pair of 2023 first-rounders. Roseman is a whirlwind, but one that has made the playoffs four times in five years and has a Lombardi Trophy to show for it.
9. Jon Robinson, Titans
Over the past three seasons, the Titans have won 32 games, earned a No. 1 seed and reached the AFC Championship Game. With Ryan Tannehill. That only happens with the right balance of elite coaching and astute roster building. It has been more the former for Jon Robinson, who has watched Mike Vrabel’s staff continually make the whole of its 53 players greater than the sum of its parts. Vrabel has schemed around talent deficiencies on defense while relying on a punishingly retro, contrarian approach on offense. It would not be possible without some major hits by Robinson — Derrick Henry, Jeffery Simmons, A.J. Brown — but it would be so much easier if Robinson starts nailing more of his big decisions. 2020 first-rounder Isaiah Wilson is no longer even on the roster, while 2021 first-rounder Caleb Farley lived up to his pre-draft durability concerns. The Julio Jones trade was a disaster. Robinson deserves credit for hiring the right leader and refusing to let his mistakes fester. Now he needs to finish the job by getting more of the broad strikes right as Vrabel handles the Sunday details.
10. Brian Gutekunst, Packers
He had to move heaven and earth to do it, but Brian Gutekunst solved his biggest problem. He somehow convinced Aaron Rodgers to stay. “Somehow” in this instance being melting the treasury’s money printers to the tune of $150 million, but it had previously seemed no amount of economic stimulus would save this relationship. The Packers, after all, were not the only team willing to pay Rodgers $150 million coming off back-to-back MVPs. So Gutekunst did it. But at what cost? It’s important to remember Gutekunst’s Rodgers quandary was self-inflicted. That whole no receivers thing? It is infinitely worse after Davante Adams forced his way to Las Vegas. It is fair to wonder if the Packers’ offensive center can hold in a post-Adams environment. Thankfully for Gutekunst, the defense he assembled remains strong, due in equal part to first-round home runs like Jaire Alexander and free agency finds like De'Vondre Campbell. On the whole, Gutekunst has helped keep his roster dynamic with Ted Thompson-esque draft pick accumulation, making a ridiculous 29 selections over the past three years. It’s just whereas before Rodgers was out of Gutekunst’s long-term plans, he is now the only plan. Here is Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, Aaron. Please whip them into shape. If the 39-year-old isn’t up to that rebuilding project, the bottom will drop out of Gutekunst’s high-wire act in a hurry.
11. Chris Ballard, Colts
One problem with never being bad? You might lose your chance to be great. That has been Chris Ballard’s riddle at quarterback, where he is never in position to draft the true heir apparent to Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Instead it has been a series of veteran stopgaps, with 2021 option Carson Wentz going down in flames. This being Ballard, he still managed to put out the fire with a face-saving trade to the Commanders, who were strangely eager to surrender a pair of third-round picks for Wentz. Ballard then … flipped a third-rounder for Matt Ryan. It’s a serious upgrade, if yet another short-term solution. Ballard can afford to think in smaller windows with a defense, offensive line and running game designed to win now. But sooner or later he will have to stop kicking his most important can down the road. Until then, his canny drafting will keep the rest of the roster competitive.
12. Eric DeCosta, Ravens
Eric DeCosta’s 2021 was a lesson in what can go wrong even when you have a franchise quarterback. The league’s run-heaviest offense had its backfield wiped out by ACL injuries before so much as a real snap was played. The secondary soon followed. Despite all that, DeCosta’s club was sitting at 8-4 entering Week 14. That’s what happens when you have a deep roster. Then Lamar Jackson joined J.K. Dobbins, Marcus Peters, Ronnie Stanley, et al. on the injured list and the Ravens didn’t win another game. That challenging year begat a challenging offseason, with No. 1 receiver Marquise Brown demanding a trade out of an already thin receiver corps. Left tackle Stanley still isn’t 100 percent healthy after two years battling ankle issues. DeCosta coped the only way a Ravens executive knows how — by knocking the draft out of the park. Safety Kyle Hamilton was arguably the most talented player in the entire class. DeCosta got him at No. 14. Tyler Linderbaum was unquestionably the best center. DeCosta got him at No. 25, helping to stabilize the Ravens’ road-paving line. S Marcus Williams was one of the glitziest signings of free agency, while Ravens returnee Michael Pierce was one of the most down low. DeCosta’s problems are far from solved. L-Jax is playing out his rookie contract, for example. But DeCosta is showing the same aptitude for adapting and reloading on the fly as his mentor Ozzie Newsome.
13. Various, Bengals
You can question the order of operations, but it didn’t take the Bengals long to find the right Joe Burrow formula. Surround him with weapons then keep him upright. That is usually done in reverse, but Burrow managed to guide his team to a second-year Super Bowl all the same. He led the NFL in yards per attempt and completion percentage — an Aaron Rodgers-ian feat — despite getting sacked a league-worst 51 times. It caused him to miss snaps with a knee injury for the second time in as many years. That’s a scary fact, one addressed with not one, not two but three starting offensive linemen signings. The new arrivals are right guard Alex Cappa, left guard Ted Karras and right tackle La’El Collins. Even if sacks are something of a quarterback stat, Burrow will be taking fewer of them in 2022. That is excellent news for a team with a loaded skill corps and opportunistic defense. After arriving earlier than expected, this roster is positioned to have staying power.
14. Various, Cowboys
Whether it is fourth-rounders Dak Prescott and Dalton Schultz, second-rounders Randy Gregory and Trevon Diggs or first-rounders Zack Martin and Micah Parsons, the Cowboys can flat out draft. For all the jokes, Jerry Jones ignores the Johnny Manziel devil on his shoulder. That’s why this team should be better. One playoff win in the past six years is not good enough for a core led by Prescott. The biggest issue remains Jones’ decisions at head coach. After keeping Jason Garrett for approximately five years past his sell-by date, Jones is now pot committed to Mike McCarthy, a man he openly fantasized about replacing this offseason. Still desperate for Sunday control over his front office’s roster creation, Jones refuses to hire someone who might claim some authority for himself. Jones frequently wins 10 games despite himself, but the Lombardi simply will not be lifted until he learns to let go and give his field general some autonomy. 2023 Sean Payton says hello.
15. Tom Telesco, Chargers
Is Tom Telesco about to have his Jason Licht moment? On the job for nine seasons with only two playoff appearances to show for it, Telesco could have been let go almost any of the past 6-7 years. The Chargers have stayed the course because Telesco has rarely assembled bad 53-man rosters. They have just never been complete. This is as close as Telesco has ever been, successfully rebuilding his post-Philip Rivers offensive line while pairing bounce-back candidate Khalil Mack with annual DROY contender Joey Bosa. Then there is, of course, Justin Herbert, a lightning rod first-round selection who has quickly proven to be one of the five most valuable players in the game. Telesco’s teams are always right there. The time might finally be now in 2022.
16. Chris Grier, Dolphins
First the Dolphins convinced themselves they were one coach away, firing defensive mastermind Brian Flores. Then they decided they were one playmaker away, layering Tyreek Hill on top of 2021 OROY contender Jaylen Waddle. Now we are about to find out if they are one quarterback away. Was Tua Tagovailoa limited by Flores’ lack of belief or his own skill-set? We should get the answer rather quickly with new coach Mike McDaniel, who comes from an offensive system that designs both layups and big plays for its quarterbacks. If Tagovailoa’s 60-yard Alabama play-action bombs are going to return, it will be early. If they do, Chris Grier has assembled a roster ready to take advantage of improved play under center. This is a deep defense and skill corps, one that might finally be flanked by a respectable offensive line. After years of O-line neglect, Grier shelled out the big bucks for LT Terron Armstead and added versatile interior man Connor Williams. However convoluted the process was — I’m still trying to figure out what was going on with the Dolphins’ 2021 first round machinations — the long-sought results are squarely within reach.
17. Andrew Berry, Browns
The Browns made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years during Andrew Berry’s first season in charge. Storybook. Then NFL reality set in. The quarterback got hurt, the star receiver wanted out and the team regressed from 11 wins to eight. The whiplash apparently had Berry pondering philosophical questions. What cost was he willing to pay for victory? It turns out the answer was three first-round picks and $230 million fully guaranteed. That’s the March trade price Berry surrendered for Deshaun Watson even though he was facing 22 sexual assault accusations — a number that has since risen to 24 — and spent 2021 on the sidelines serving a de facto, if highly-paid, suspension. We will never know for certain whose idea it was — owner Jimmy Haslam has insisted it was his “football operations” team, aka Berry — but it will be Berry who is forever defined by it.
18. George Paton, Broncos
George Paton paid his dues — then he got to work. A top personnel man for 14 years with the Vikings, Paton learned football’s most ever-lasting lesson the hard way: It begins and ends under center. Rick Spielman’s rosters flirted with Super Bowl relevance several times, but the quarterbacks were either scams (Case Keenum) or get-rich-quick schemes (Brett Favre). The Broncos, for their part, cycled through an increasingly dispiriting series of statues before John Elway cried uncle and fired himself with a promotion. Enter Paton, who solved the problem in one year. Not only is Russell Wilson a quarterback still in his prime, he is outside the 6-foot-4 mold Elway could never stop pursuing. If that was Elway’s downfall, it was his good deed to leave behind a roster attractive enough for Wilson to saddle up with. Paton did his part, too, highlighting his first draft class with Patrick Surtain II and Javonte Williams. Paton has already done the hard part. Now we’ll see how easy the rest of it is in a division that includes Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.
19. Joe Douglas, Jets
Adam Gase was a long time ago. Joe Douglas has been allowed to build his way since Gase got the slip in January 2021. First he got his coach, defensive motivator Robert Saleh. Then he found his quarterback, toolsy BYU man Zach Wilson. Now he’s building out the foundation, using 2022 first-round picks on a shutdown corner, No. 1 receiver and edge rusher. There remains hope that 2020 stud turned 2021 disappointment Mekhi Becton rebounds as the Jets’ long-term left tackle. If he does, Douglas will have potential cornerstones at all of the most important positions on the roster. Now he just needs them to produce. If they don’t, Douglas’ result will be the same as Gase’s, even though his process has been so much better.
20. Brad Holmes, Lions
Brad Holmes didn’t belabor the point. His quarterback wanted out so he traded him after 16 days on the job, landing a haul that included a pair of first-rounders. Then he didn’t force the issue. Matthew Stafford’s heir apparent didn’t seem to be there at No. 7 so Holmes drafted elite tackle prospect Penei Sewell instead. It was the kind of offseason that can be painful for fans but critical to future success. General managers who take shortcuts tend to end up on television. Holmes wants to stay in the front office. As such, he remained methodical this spring, taking Aidan Hutchinson at No. 2 instead of forcing a quarterback solution in one of the weakest classes in recent memory. It might have served Holmes’ interests to trade down and accumulate more picks, but he already had a tranche from the Stafford deal. That’s how he added a defensive building block in Hutchinson before trading up with the Vikings to take a skill player moon shot at No. 12 in Jameson Williams. Holmes did so for the modest price of picks No. 32, 34 and 66 while still receiving 46 in addition to 12. Holmes surely wishes he had a signal caller by now. He has done the next best thing in staying within himself and finding a building block tackle, pass rusher and offensive weapon.
21. Steve Keim, Cardinals
Steve Keim’s rosters have won one playoff game in nine seasons. It might be time to stop waiting for the Jason Licht light to come on, but unlike Licht in six years before Tom Brady, Keim has at least cobbled together some postseason teams. He had one such squad in 2021. The problem is, all of its deficiencies were laid bare by the time they got dismantled in the Wild Card Round. An offense low on playmakers despite heavy investment. A defense too reliant on aging players and spare parts. A lack of production from first-round picks, with the notable exception of Kyler Murray. Of course, Murray himself was cross enough by the offseason to briefly flirt with forcing his way out of the desert. It didn’t come to pass, but the relationship could get worse before it gets better. The Cardinals shed Chase Edmonds and Christian Kirk in the spring. That was before losing DeAndre Hopkins to a six-game PED suspension. Keim countered by swapping a first-rounder for underachieving Ravens wideout Marquise Brown. Keim survived Josh Rosen and lived to tell about it. He’s probably not going to get a third chance if the Cardinals fail to break through in year four under Murray.
22. John Schneider, Seahawks
The Seahawks’ front office has made two signature moves the past three years: Trading two first-round picks for a safety and acquiring two first-round picks for the quarterback who oversaw at least one playoff victory six of his 10 years in town. I’m not sure which, but that seems like a cardinal sin. It’s definitely a team-building sin. The one thing you do not do in the modern NFL is give away a franchise quarterback. John Schneider and Pete Carroll have done so to double down on the run, despite having one of the league’s best receiver corps. A ball-control approach would perhaps be defensible if the Seahawks had one of the league’s best defenses. They emphatically do not, pairing a limp pass rush with a sieve-like cornerback group. Defensive help did not arrive in the draft, where Schneider finally addressed his longtime offensive line deficiencies with tackle Charles Cross at No. 9 overall. Carroll had success fighting the last war for a surprisingly long time. He is no longer even on the battlefield. Bringing a Drew Lock to a Patrick Mahomes fight will get you killed in this league.
23. Nick Caserio, Texans
It was another quiet offseason — except for when it wasn’t. In between momentous events, Nick Caserio continued to dot his roster with backups and special teamers. A Cedric Ogbuehi here. A Dare Ogunbowale there. Try as he might, however, Caserio could not fly under the radar during his second year as Texans GM. The first disruption was of Caserio’s own making. He fired the previous winter’s head-coaching hire, David Culley, for no good reason. The chaotic search that followed somehow resulted in DC Lovie Smith’s promotion after the public reacted with something less than enthusiasm to the rumored hiring of Josh McCown, who would be making the leap from high school. After Caserio got the sideline sorted out, he dealt with a problem of a different magnitude. Accused of sexual assault by roughly two dozen women, Deshaun Watson spent 2021 as a game-day inactive. For some reason, this did not dent his trade value. Insistent on hardball until the very end even though the Texans had made it clear Watson would never play another down in Houston, Caserio ended up extracting three first-round selections from the Browns, as well as a third-rounder and a pair of fourths. That picks cache is the new backbone of the Caserio project in Houston, one he was finally able to get started on this spring after having zero top-66 selections in 2021. After two painstaking offseasons, Caserio has the board set up. It is time to start making actual moves.
24. Terry Fontenot, Falcons
Terry Fontenot is working on it. It is his only option with a roster that has no offensive line, defensive line, secondary, receiver corps, backfield or quarterback. Any shot at a quick fix went out the window when the Falcons surprisingly went 7-10 last season, a record that belies a group that was 0-7 with a -159 point differential against playoff teams. This is going to get much worse before it gets better. Which, of course, is usually when these things tend to get better. You need a prime draft pick for a prime quarterback. Fontenot did not believe one was there at No. 4 in 2021 or No. 8 in 2022. That does make it a bit curious he has used each selection on a pass catcher, but we digress. Fontenot has been patient. He needs to pray the same is true of his boss Arthur Blank.
25. Scott Fitterer/Matt Rhule, Panthers
Stuck in the middle between an impatient owner and brash head coach, it is unclear how much of Scott Fitterer’s rookie-year work was his own. Matt Rhule was the mouthpiece on 2021 addition Sam Darnold. He was also the driving force behind creative OC Joe Brady’s ouster. Rhule wanted to run the ball more even though all-world back Christian McCaffrey was injured. Fitterer did the best he could between the Rhule lines, finding a first-round keeper in Jaycee Horn and trade market gold in Stephon Gilmore. Of course, Horn was limited to three games by a foot injury while Gilmore is now a Colt. Trades left Fitterer with only six picks in this spring’s draft. He was quiet on the open market. This has the feeling of a front office where power struggles await. If Rhule’s first two seasons are any indication, it’s a battle Fitterer will win. Only then will we learn his approach to the war that is NFL football.
26. Various, Commanders
What exactly is the plan here? One thing is clear: There is no shortage of cooks in the kitchen. Martin Mayhew is the general manager. Marty Hurney is the executive VP of player personnel. Both report directly to coach Ron Rivera, who has final say over the team’s “football and personnel” departments. Somewhere in there is senior adviser Doug Williams and cap manager Rob Rogers. Together, their big offseason gambit was trading a pair of third-round picks for Carson Wentz, a quarterback who just flopped with his self-professed mentor Frank Reich in Indianapolis. Coming off a 2021 draft class that was not productive its first year in the NFL, the Commanders made a polarizing first-round selection in Jahan Dotson. After signing Curtis Samuel last spring and extending Terry McLaurin this summer, they have a huge amount of resources invested in a position Wentz was weirdly indifferent about targeting in both Indy and Philly. Everything will look better if Chase Young and Montez Sweat come back healthy after 2021 injuries, but Wentz was about the least inspiring wagon imaginable for this front office to hitch its fortunes to.
27. Trent Baalke, Jaguars
Promoted to be Urban Meyer’s caretaker last year, Trent Baalke couldn’t keep the clown car from swerving off the road. The Jags fired Meyer but opted to let Baalke consolidate his power. It is quite the vote of confidence in a general manager whose best post-Jim Harbaugh idea in San Francisco was hiring Jim Tomsula. Tasked with rebuilding a roster that has won more than six games one time since 2010, Baalke at least got to push the easy button on his first decision of consequence. Trevor Lawrence had a nightmare rookie year amidst Meyer’s buffoonery, but he remains an enviable building block. Another No. 32 finish has allowed Baalke to pair Lawrence with EDGE rusher Travon Walker, a gifted if curiously unproductive SEC sackmaster. He also made a “safe” head-coaching hire in Doug Pederson, a Super Bowl winner who wore out his welcome surprisingly quickly in Philadelphia. With coach and quarterback set, Baalke threw money at his other problems, lavishing eye-popping deals on Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, CB Darious Williams, LB Foyesade Oluokun and DT Foley Fatukasi, amongst others. That’s not the way you would typically do it, but most teams aren’t typically coming off a 3-14 campaign with quarterback set. Nothing in Baalke or Jacksonville’s recent history suggests this will be a successful partnership, but Baalke’s stabilizing spring has at least given this arranged marriage the opportunity to see if there is some love alongside the dowry.
New Hires (Alphabetical Order)
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Vikings
A former Wall Street trader, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah doesn’t come from the usual hiring trees. He was given his first job by the much-maligned Trent Baalke and first big promotion from then first-year Browns GM Andrew Berry. In between were stints under Chip Kelly and Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. That’s a lot of football life for a 40-year-old, disparate experience that will hopefully be invaluable as Adofo-Mensa replaces a GM in Rick Spielman who was never low on ideas but always just short on execution. Adofo-Mensa’s first big move was nevertheless conventional by the standards of the past five years: Hire the first Sean McVay assistant you can find. Kevin O'Connell arrives as the anti-Mike Zimmer, a coach who wants to embrace the pass and occasionally win by more than a field goal. On the personnel front, Adofo-Mensa maintained Spielman’s philosophy of accruing as many draft picks as possible, making 10 selections in Las Vegas. He also stuck with Spielman’s last great gamble, extending maddening signal caller Kirk Cousins. All in all, Adofo-Mensa nodded to both a more analytically-minded future and enduring NFL realities — you gotta have a quarterback — his first spring on the job. It was a wise approach from what seems to be a wise man.
Omar Khan, Steelers
The Steelers opted not to fix what wasn’t broken when they replaced retiring GM Kevin Colbert with his longtime right-hand man Omar Khan. Only something was broken, and had been for some time. In an era of quarterbacks playing at elite levels until their early 40s, Ben Roethlisberger was an exception, losing his literal and figurative fastball following an elbow injury during his age-37 campaign. With Colbert’s guidance, Khan set about fixing the problem right away. The one team to identify a first-round talent in this year’s quarterback class, Khan made Pitt’s Kenny Pickett the No. 20 overall pick of the draft. Whereas Roethlisberger was a bold bet coming out of small-school Miami (OH), Pickett is a Mac Jones-ian safety hedge. It’s the kind of selection that can be difficult to pull off … unless you’re the Steelers. Khan spent 20 years watching Colbert invest premium picks in high-end defensive talent while drafting and developing Day 2 and 3 offensive prospects. It was a highly successful if difficult to emulate approach, especially since the Steelers aren’t typically operating in the top 20. If Khan can pull it off, more power to him. If he can’t, no one would blame him. Like any man replacing a legend, Khan needs to figure out what to keep and where to branch out. Making himself Colbert Jr. will only result in failure.
Ryan Poles, Bears
Ryan Poles knows a gut job when he sees one. Forever running his roster like he was one player away, Poles’ predecessor Ryan Pace made just 46 total draft picks in seven years. He won 48 games, zero of which came in the playoffs. You can sacrifice picks if you’re the Chiefs, the organization Poles arrives from. If you’re the Bears, you need to build a foundation first. So was the painstaking process Poles began this offseason, where, although lacking a first-rounder because of last year’s Justin Fields trade, Poles made 11 selections. (Never mind the fact that eight of them came on Day 3.) Controversially, Poles’ priorities did not include bulking up Fields’ skill corps supporting cast. There Poles shed talent, letting Allen Robinson walk. It was a vote of no confidence in Fields — as well as a way to finally snag some premium picks in 2023. Poles is several years away from contention and knows it. That means we are several years away from knowing if he was the right man to replace Pace.
Joe Schoen, Giants
Burn the tape. Disconnect the fax machines. This never happened. That is Joe Schoen’s directive with the Dave Gettleman years. Tired of a coach in Joe Judge who quarterback sneaks on 2nd-and-11? Schoen hired his polar opposite, Brian Daboll. Tired of Daniel Jones? Schoen declined his team option for 2023. Tired of some of the worst signings in recent memory? Schoen cut Kyle Rudolph. Tired of never trading down? Schoen did so twice in one round, a real round. It was those trade downs that speak to how large the task at hand is. Schoen knew he must accumulate talent. His 11 draft picks, every one of which came in the first six rounds, were tied with the Ravens, Bears and Packers for the most in the league. He didn’t take a quarterback even though two of those selections were in the top seven. Schoen knew not to force the issue in this shaky signal caller draft class. We won’t know the results for a long time, but Schoen’s initial process has been sound.
Dave Ziegler, Raiders
An ex-Patriot coach hires an ex-Patriot executive to be his general manager. It’s a tale as old as time. Only it was actually Josh McDaniels who hired Dave Ziegler … in Denver. The duo linked back up in New England and the rest is history. Nick Caserio’s replacement as the director of player personnel in Boston last season, Ziegler was a key cog in the Patriots’ post-Tom Brady revamp. Of course, the problem when it comes to ex-Pats is figuring out where Bill Belichick ends and they begin. The track record is not encouraging. It is still a better plan than hiring your general manager off NFL Network, which was the Raiders’ previous idea. After McDaniels pulled the pin on the grenade his first offseason in Denver, it was a more modest first spring in Vegas, with the enormous exception of acquiring Davante Adams. Beyond Adams, there were no Jay Cutler fights or Tim Tebow selections, just McDaniels and Ziegler signing a bunch of former Patriots, including FB Jakob Johnson and special teams ace Brandon Bolden. We will see how Patriots West 2.0 goes in a division that includes Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson.