Category Archives: NFL front offices

Who’s rebuilding, who’s reloading? AFC edition

As the NFL draft wound down, and I tried to get Mel Kiper’s voice out of my head, I had an idea – let’s evaluate which NFL teams are rebuilding and which are reloading, and whether each team is taking the right approach. Here’s the AFC edition; the NFC edition is available here.

AFC East

Buffalo is reloading – This isn’t the wisest approach, because the Bills didn’t have enough premium talent and haven’t been contenders. But instead of churning the roster in search of better players in the first year of Chan Gailey’s tenure as head coach, the Bills have largely stuck to the status quo this offseason. Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Brian Brohm are still the quarterback options, and the Bills haven’t rebuilt an offensive line that struggled last year. The main additions – DE Dwan Edwards and ILB Andra Davis – were designed to help the Bills move from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. And the first round of the draft yielded a specialty player in C.J. Spiller whose best role is as a featured gamebreaker, not an every-down back. The Bills seem to be in denial about how lacking in talent they truly are, especially on offense. Verdict: Wrong approach

Miami is reloading – The Dolphins are closer to the surface than the Bills are, and so their decision to reload makes more sense. Trading for WR Brandon Marshall and signing OLB Karlos Dansby are the kinds of big strikes that teams close to the playoffs make to try to get over the top. The Marshall acquisition makes sense, since Chad Henne shows a ton of promise at quarterback and the offensive line is good enough to provide time for Henne-to-Marshall to become an elite combo. Dansby doesn’t make up for the loss of veteran pass rushers Jason Taylor and Joey Porter, but he is a playmaker who perfectly fits the Bill Parcells prototype. It’s hard to say whether these moves will put the Dolphins over the top, but we are comfortable asserting that the arrow is pointed in the right direction. Verdict: Right approach

New England is rebuilding – There’s a stigma to the word rebuilding, because often teams use it as a synonym for giving up. But it’s possible to rebuild without giving up, and that’s the Pats’ approach right now. While they’ve added veterans like Torry Holt, Gerard Warren, and Damione Lewis to fill bit roles, the larger picture shows that New England is trying to infuse youth into its defense with guys like Devin McCourty, Jermaine Cunningham, and Brandon Spikes, and into its offense with guys like Rob Gronkowski and Taylor Price. These are the players that will determine whether Bill Belichick’s second decade in New England gets off to a good start. But given the age of New England’s offensive and defensive fronts, rebuilding on the fly in the past two offseasons has been the right call. Verdict: Right approach

New York Jets are reloading – There’s not a team in the NFL headed in a win-now direction more than the Jets are right now. Their offseason additions are littered with veterans like Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Jason Taylor, all of whom are proven vets who should step in a lot quicker than draft picks would have. While draft picks Kyle Wilson, Vladimir Ducasse, and Joe McKnight should find roles quickly, it’s the veterans that will determine whether the Jets can get one step further and into the Super Bowl this season. Verdict: Right approach

AFC North

Baltimore is reloading – The Ravens always do a good job in the draft, and that steady talent infusion over the years has put the franchise in position to keep things pointed in the right direction. But this year, the Ravens put the reloading into overdrive by trading for WR Anquan Boldin, who provides the No. 1 receiver the team has been missing since its move to Baltimore. While rookies Sergio Kindle, Terrence Cody, and Arthur Jones add depth on defense, the Boldin move is the one that sets the tone that this franchise is going for glory now. We can’t blame the Ravens for taking that tack. Verdict: Right approach

Cincinnati is reloading – Coming off the second division title of Marvin Lewis’ tenure, the Bengals are looking to fill in holes and keep positive momentum. Antonio Bryant is supposed to be the complement to Chad Ochocinco that Cincy was missing without T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and if he can’t perhaps Matt Jones or rookie Jordan Shipley or even first-round TE Jermaine Gresham can. In the draft, the Bengals continued to take talented guys with question marks in Carlos Dunlap and Brandon Ghee, and both are good enough to fill roles right away. And taking a shot on the talented but troubled Pacman Jones is the ultimate win-now move. The Bengals know they have something going, and so they’re going for it. Verdict: Right approach

Cleveland is rebuilding – The Browns know they’re in need of serious changes, as the hiring of Mike Holmgren in the offseason proved. So the team has made wholesale changes, not just at quarterback where Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, and Colt McCoy arrive, but across the roster. Veterans CB Sheldon Brown, LBs Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, and OT Tony Pashos will help stabilize problem areas, but the team knows they’re not long-term solutions. Instead, the Browns are looking to build around youngsters like Joe Thomas and first-rounder Joe Haden as they try to start a new era in Cleveland. Verdict: Right approach

Pittsburgh is reloading – The Steelers have had a tumultous offseason, but the roster moves they’ve made are a sign that they still consider themselves contenders. Bringing back WR Antwaan Randle El, ILB Larry Foote, CB Bryant McFadden, and QB Byron Leftwich shows that they don’t want much of a learning curve at work in training camp, and drafting C Maurkice Pouncey shows that they wanted immediate help in the first round. The approach is risky, but given how recently the Steelers won the Super Bowl, you can’t blame them for getting the band back together for one last hurrah. They can only hope that the Ben Roethlisberger issues don’t break up the band. Verdict: Right approach

AFC South

Houston is reloading – The Texans are coming off their first winning season, and their offseason approach demonstrates that they think more is in the offing. Unhappy CB Dunta Robinson left via free agency, but first-rounder Kareem Jackson can step in and start. He used the same terminology in college that he will in Houston, and that will ease his transition. The Texans kept WR Kevin Walter and added rookie Ben Tate to a RB group that was problematic at times last year. These moves preserve the status quo and give the Texans a chance to build on their modest ’09 success. Now it’s up to the players and coaches to make the status quo scenario work. Verdict: Right approach

Indianapolis is reloading – The Colts made a few more changes than normal, letting DE Raheem Brock, CBs Marlin Jackson and Tim Jennings, and OG Ryan Lilja go, but in terms of additions they continued to do what they usually do and build through the draft. Sometimes Indy’s rookies contribute immediately, but more often it’s the second- and third-year players who start to flourish the longer they’re in the system. When a team gets that approach going, the smartest thing to do is to keep the train rolling. And since Peyton Manning and Bill Polian are such good conductors, the train continues to roll along. Verdict: Right approach

Jacksonville is reloading – The Jaguars have a long cut list this offseason, but aside from DT John Henderson none of them were core players. Meanwhile, the Jaguars signed veteran DE Aaron Kampman and traded for MLB Kirk Morrison to add veteran experience to the front seven. On offense, it’s status quo, as the Jags rely on David Garrard, Maurice Jones-Drew, and a young corps of receivers and linemen. This team was barely on the cusp of contention last year, so reloading seems like a strange course, and the success depends on whether Garrard can be a top-10 NFL quarterback or just a league average starter. We’re skeptical, and so we disagree. Verdict: Wrong approach

Tennessee is rebuilding – The Titans embarked on a rebuilding project by saying goodbye to stalwarts like Keith Bulluck and Kyle Vanden Bosch. They also seem to be willing to let Kevin Mawae go. That means youngsters like Derrick Morgan and Rennie Curran will need to take on bigger roles. With Vince Young at the helm and Chris Johnson on the run, the Titans now have a young offensive corps, and they’re trying to move the same way on defense. That makes sense, even though holes in the secondary make it appear like the rebuilding project isn’t yet done. Verdict: Right approach

AFC West

Denver is rebuilding – The Broncos continue to chase away the vestiges of Mike Shanahan’s era and move to Josh McDaniels’ desired future. So at wide receiver, Brandon Marshall is out and Demaryius Thomas is in. At quarterback, Jay Cutler is long gone, and Tim Tebow is on the horizon. On the offensive line, Ben Hamilton is gone and Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton are in. Meanwhile, the defensive overhaul continues as the Broncos tried to supplement the new 3-4 defense that fell apart in the second half of last year with NT Jamal Williams, DE Jarvis Green, and ILB Akin Ayodele. At some point, Denver will have to spend its highest draft picks on defense to make the rebuilding project stick. But at this point, McDaniels has changed so much that there’s nothing the Broncos can do but go all out on their rebuild. Verdict: Right approach

Kansas City is rebuilding – The Chiefs still have a long way to go in the rebuilding project that began last offseason and that now continues this offseason. S Eric Berry is the prize of this year’s crew, with fellow SEC products Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas also slated to become key contributors. Most of the veteran additions, notably Ryan Lilja and Thomas Jones, are designed to keep the Chiefs from being abysmal as the talent infusion takes effect. There’s still a long way to go in Chiefs land, but at least they’re on the right path. Verdict: Right approach

Oakland is reloading – The Raiders never admit that they’re in the doldrums, but it actually makes some sense this offseason. The defense has a lot of good pieces, and adding Rolando McClain and Lamarr Houston in the draft and Kamerion Wimbley and Quentin Groves via trades should help the front seven’s performance go up a level. But the biggest change is on offense, where Jason Campbell gives the Silver and Black a qualified pro quarterback who will prepare and take advantage of the talent outside. Campbell’s not great, but he’s better than average, and that should allow Oakland to make the most of its other talents. A run at the playoffs isn’t out of the question, and that makes just win, baby, the right approach – finally – for the Raiders. Verdict: Right approach

San Diego is reloading – The Chargers know that they have talent, and so they once again used the offseason to get pieces that will push them over the top. Paying a ransom for first-round RB Ryan Mathews demonstrates this approach, and the Chargers also added cornerback depth with Nathan Vasher, who knows coordinator Ron Rivera’s system. Is it enough for a team that’s been on the cusp a painfully long time? Reloading as the Chargers are is the only way they’re going to find out. Verdict: Right approach

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86ed 49er

It’s unclear why San Francisco general manager Scot McCloughan was let go by the team, but regardless are some thoughts on the Niners’ fluctuating front-office situation. You can compare it to other major front-office moves this offseason in this accumulated Football Relativity post.

It’s unclear why McCloughan was relieved of his duties, and the timing 5 weeks before the draft seems troublesome. But at that juncture in the offseason, the 49ers knew their free-agency plan and had their draft board basically organized, which makes McCloughan’s absence more feasible. McCloughan was GM in San Francisco for two years, after three seasons as director of player personnel, and during that time the 49ers have moved back toward relevance, primarily by drafting players such as Patrick Willis and Michael Crabtree. McCloughan’s evaluation skills will be missed, but the 49ers seem to have a good plan in that area, and so giving Baalke and his team more responsibility makes sense.

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Seattle, for Pete’s sake

The Seahawks, who fired head coach Jim Mora after a single 5-11 season, are reportedly turning to USC head coach Pete Carroll to lead their organization. Carroll will be head coach and also have leadership over the organization with a to-be-determined title. The team will hire a general manager to be a counterbalance to Carroll. Below are some thoughts on the move from a coaching perspective; we’ll compare it with other hires in an upcoming post.

Carroll built a powerhouse at USC, putting together big talent on the field, finding up-and-coming coaches, and creating a culture of excellence and competition. But the former Patriots head coach was only so-so in his first NFL head coaching stint (although he was a premium defensive coordinator in several stops). Carroll waited for his spot to return to the NFL, and now he’s getting control of an entire organization in Seattle. You can understand why Carroll wants to leave USC – what more can he accomplish there, and with NCAA sanctions possible, hitting the eject button now may be prudent – and he’s getting the situation he wants. But he’s going to need to do a masterful job to turn the Seahawks around. All of Seattle’s so-called stars are either aging or gone, and there just isn’t a class of premium players behind them. And Carroll won’t be able to simply recruit talent to Seattle – he’ll have to maneuver around the salary cap, the draft, and free agency. That’s not to say that this can’t work – Carroll is bright, and he knows the NFL well enough to be able to be successful. But in his search for control Carroll went to a team that’s on a steep decline. He’s getting a five-year deal, and he’ll probably need all of that time to reinvigorate the talent base and make Seattle competitive again. This isn’t an easy task for Carroll, but rebuilding USC wasn’t either, and Carroll thrived there. We’ll see if he has another miracle in him.

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Shanahan crashes the DC party

It’s official – Mike Shanahan is the new head coach and decision-maker with the Washington Redskins. Below are some thoughts on the hiring; we’ll compare it to other hirings this offseason in an upcoming Football Relativity post.

Shanahan, one of the big-name coaches on the market, seemed to be the most eager one to take a job this year. Most of all, he wanted a job where he would have final decision-making power like he had in Denver. He got that job with the Redskins, where he (not owner Daniel Snyder) will have final say. Shanahan’s hand-picked GM, Bruce Allen, will work on the day-to-day personnel responsibilities. On the field, Shanahan is a terrific offensive mind who knows the West Coast scheme as well as anyone and can implement it. That’ll be the plan, but it will probably take multiple years for him to accumulate the offensive talent to do it. Jason Campbell is OK, but unless Shanahan is sold the Redskins will start over at quarterback, and the offensive line is old and brittle while the receiving corps is young and unproven. There’s more talent on defense, which should help Shanahan lure a big-name defensive coordinator, although keeping Greg Blache would be acceptable as well. Shanahan had lost steam with the Broncos at the end of his tenure there, and it’ll be interesting to see whether a new spot reinvigorates him. The questions, however, fall more on the personnel side than the coaching side with him. If he can find the offensive talent, he should be able to build a winner in Washington.

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Buffalo’s Buddy

We’re covering major front-office changes with NFL teams, and the Bills made one on New Year’s Eve by promoting chief operating officer and de-facto general manager Russ Brandon to franchise CEO to make room for national scout Buddy Nix to emerge as the team’s new GM. Below are some thoughts on the Bills’ new front office situation; you can compare it to other front-office changes in the NFL in this accumulated post.

After firing head coach Dick Jauron, the Bills realigned their front office by promting Brandon to the top spot under owner Ralph Wilson in the organization and making long-time scout Nix their GM. Although Brandon had been filling the GM role for the Bills, he is considered more of an overall organization man than an on-field talent evaluator. So now those duties go to Nix, who at age 70 has a long resume working with John Butler and A.J. Smith first in Buffalo and then in San Diego. That’s a pretty good pedigree when it comes to finding players. The question is whether Nix can take off his scout’s hat and begin to put together a team systematically. That’s especially important now considering that the Bills have a vacancy at head coach. The Bills are a team without a true identity and without a clear future at quarterback, and those are big issues that outweigh the presence of good to very good players like rookie safety Jarius Byrd, WR Lee Evans, or DE Aaron Schobel. Nix’s stamp has to go beyond good drafts to an overall plan. Maybe his long tenure in college coaching helps him do that, but getting a first shot at running an NFL front office at age 70 makes it far from a sure thing. Nix will help a ton on draft day; it’s what he does the rest of the year that will determine how the Bills go from here.

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Holmgren thinks Cleveland rocks

It’s not official yet, but all signs point toward Mike Holmgren becoming the president of the Cleveland Browns. In this role, Holmgren will serve as a Bill Parcells-esque figurehead who makes the major hiring decisions and guides the personnel and schematic philosophy on the field. Holmgren has had similar power before in Seattle, where he served as (deep breath) head coach, general manager, executive vice president, COO of Microsoft, shift manager of a Starbucks, and Miss Teen Seattle. All those duties spread Holmgren too thin, and it wasn’t until after Holmgren gave up his front-office job that he was able to coach the Seahawks to the playoffs. But the personnel Holmgren acquired helped the Seahawks’ multi-year run atop the NFC West, showing that he does know what he’s doing in that area. In Cleveland, Holmgren will focus on the front-office side, showing he knows that he can’t do everything. Eric Mangini basically ran the organization this season – ex-GM George Kokinis was his hand-picked guy – and Mangini showed a couple of things. First, his version of discipline was far too petty, and it showed too much disregard for player safety. (Ask James Davis or Syndric Steptoe.) Second, he overvalued guys he had coached before, which led to getting 50 cents on the dollar in trades with the Jets in which Cleveland gave up two of their best assets, WR Braylon Edwards and the fifth overall pick, and didn’t get enough in return. The Browns’ recent wins show that maybe Mangini is salvageable as a head coach, but he needs someone above him holding him accountable on his organizational decisions. Maybe Holmgren keeps Mangini, or maybe he doesn’t. Regardless, this hire is a desperately needed move forward for the Browns organization.

For thoughts on other GM and front office moves this season and offseason, check out this collected post.

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FR: General managers

We’ll follow major front-office changes in this growing post throughout the offseason and compare them using our Football Relativity tool. The 10 level is reserved for what looks to be the best move, and 1 is for the worst. So here are the big changes that have happened thus far in the front offices of NFL organizations.

10 – Cleveland (George Kokinis out as general manager, Mike Holmgren hired as team president, Tom Heckert hired as general manager) – In this role, Holmgren will serve as a Bill Parcells-esque figurehead who makes the major hiring decisions and guides the personnel and schematic philosophy on the field. Holmgren has had similar power before in Seattle, where he served as (deep breath) head coach, general manager, executive vice president, COO of Microsoft, shift manager of a Starbucks, and Miss Teen Seattle. All those duties spread Holmgren too thin, and it wasn’t until after Holmgren gave up his front-office job that he was able to coach the Seahawks to the playoffs. But the personnel Holmgren acquired helped the Seahawks’ multi-year run atop the NFC West, showing that he does know what he’s doing in that area. In Cleveland, Holmgren will focus on the front-office side, showing he knows that he can’t do everything. Eric Mangini basically ran the organization this season – ex-GM George Kokinis was his hand-picked guy – and Mangini showed a couple of things. First, his version of discipline was far too petty, and it showed too much disregard for player safety. (Ask James Davis or Syndric Steptoe.) Second, he overvalued guys he had coached before, which led to getting 50 cents on the dollar in trades with the Jets in which Cleveland gave up two of their best assets, WR Braylon Edwards and the fifth overall pick, and didn’t get enough in return. The Browns’ recent wins show that maybe Mangini is salvageable as a head coach, but he needs someone above him holding him accountable on his organizational decisions. Holmgren can do that. Heckert, meanwhile, brings his personnel acumen to the player selection process. While Heckert implemented Andy Reid’s plan as Philly’s GM, Holmgren says he will have more authority in the draft and free agency with the Browns. Holmgren says his role will be to establish an organizational philosophy and then break ties when Heckert and Mangini differ about how to implement it. Holmgren and Heckert are both tremendous hires for the Eagles, and they’re the kind of people who can get the Browns back on track.

9 – none

8 – Washington (Vinny Cerrato out as VP of football operations out, Mike Shanahan hired as exec. VP/head coach and Bruce Allen hired as exec VP/general manager) – Cerrato, a former recruiting coordinator at Notre Dame, spent most of the last decade as owner Daniel Snyder’s right-hand man. But instead of being a positive influence, Cerrato often appeared to be the errand boy sent out to execute every whim Snyder had. That, plus the fact that Cerrato always emerged unscathed despite the Redskins’ repeated changes at head coach, made him a rather unpopular and disrepected figure. Cerrato has some skills, but he probably fits a little further down the food chain in an organization. Allen, on the other hand, served as Al Davis’ right-hand man with the Raiders and then as a general manager for the Buccaneers. He has chops, as well as D.C. ties because his father George Allen famously coached the Redskins. But Allen’s main job is to caddy for Shanahan, who has final decision-making say there. Shanahan had lost steam with the Broncos at the end of his tenure there, although he showed a knack for drafting offensive linemen who fit his system, and it’ll be interesting to see whether a new spot reinvigorates him. The questions in DC  fall more on the personnel side than the coaching side. But if Shanahan can find talent, especially on offense, he should be able to coach a winner in Washington.

7 – none

6 – none

5 – Seattle (Tim Ruskell out as general manager, Pete Carroll in as executive vice president of football operations, John Schneider in as general manager) – The Seahawks were going to let Ruskell’s contract as general manager expire, and so he chose to leave his post in early December. Ruskell arrived in Seattle from Atlanta to take over as general manager from Mike Holmgren, who maintained his head-coaching role. The duo led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl appearance, but over the past two years injuries have plagued a roster that has gotten too old. While many Seahawks fans point to the departure of OG Steve Hutchinson as the turning point, the fact is that too many of Seattle’s core players – including Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones – have passed their prime, and there simply aren’t elite players around to replace them. Ruskell’s reputation as a scout is still intact, and he’ll get another job somewhere, but Seattle needs a new approach. So they turn to Pete Carroll, an average NFL head coach in the late 1990s who ruled the world at USC. Carroll isn’t the general manager, but he is in a position of authority to at least be equal to and perhaps above the general manager who is yet to be hired. Carroll knows how to run an organization from his time at USC, and that’s going to be a plus. His GM is John Schneider, a long-time football operations guy in Green Bay and Seattle. He and Carroll don’t know each other, which may provide a valuable give and take if they can disagree agreeably. The advanatage is that Schneider knows the NFL and the players in it, which will help speed Carroll’s reacclimation process. The relationship between Carroll and Schneider will determine how this works, but this isn’t a bad plan on paper.

4 – San Francisco (Scot McCloughan out as GM, director of player personnel Trent Baalke gains responsibility) – It’s unclear why McCloughan was releived of his duties, and the timing 5 weeks before the draft seems troublesome. But at that juncture in the offseason, the 49ers knew their free-agency plan and had their draft board basically organized, which makes McCloughan’s absence more feasible. McCloughan was GM in San Francisco for two years, after three seasons as director of player personnel, and during that time the 49ers have moved back toward relevance, primarily by drafting players such as Patrick Willis and Michael Crabtree. McCloughan’s evaluation skills will be missed, but the 49ers seem to have a good plan in that area, and so giving Baalke and his team more responsibility makes sense.

3 – none

2 – Philadelphia (Tom Heckert leaves as GM, Howie Roseman hired as GM) – With Tom Heckert leaving for Cleveland’s GM job, the Eagles promoted vice president of player personnel Howie Roseman into the GM’s job. It’s the right move to hire from within, because the system is working in Philly. But with team president Joe Banner and head coach Andy Reid still in place, Roseman’s job will be finding players, not overhauling the system. That will give Roseman a chance to grow into this job. But largely, there won’t be a lot of changes in how the Eagles get things done because the organization alpha dogs are still in place.

1 – Buffalo (Russ Brandon promoted from chief operating officer to CEO, Buddy Nix promoted from scouting director to general manager) – After firing head coach Dick Jauron, the Bills realigned their front office by promting Brandon to the top spot under owner Ralph Wilson in the organization and making long-time scout Nix their GM. Although Brandon had been filling the GM role for the Bills, he is considered more of an overall organization man than an on-field talent evaluator. So now those duties go to Nix, who at age 70 has a long resume working with John Butler and A.J. Smith first in Buffalo and then in San Diego. That’s a pretty good pedigree when it comes to finding players. The question is whether Nix can take off his scout’s hat and begin to put together a team systematically. That’s especially important now considering that the Bills have a vacancy at head coach. The Bills are a team without a true identity and without a clear future at quarterback, and those are big issues that outweigh the presence of good to very good players like rookie safety Jarius Byrd, WR Lee Evans, or DE Aaron Schobel. Nix’s stamp has to go beyond good drafts to an overall plan. Maybe his long tenure in college coaching helps him do that, but getting a first shot at running an NFL front office at age 70 makes it far from a sure thing. Nix will help a ton on draft day; it’s what he does the rest of the year that will determine how the Bills go from here.

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