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.