Build an NFL roster using Jack Welch’s 20-70-10 approach

It’s important to note the GM’s role keeping the big picture in focus when building an NFL roster. There are numerous avenues & angles to take when adding talent to your club; reserve futures, the draft, undrafted free agents, unrestricted free agents, trades. Like a master chef, the right combination of ingredients can bring success in the kitchen, for a GM – success on the football field.

The “Business” of Football

After reading former General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s Straight From The Gut, it appeared to me that there might a good recipe here with which to assemble a professional football team from the “big picture” aspect – the 20-70-10 approach.

Described on Welch’s official website, 20-70-10 or “Differentiation” is;

Very simply, …. based on the principle that the team with the best players wins.

So in a nut shell, Welch encouraged GE’s businesses to identify and categorize their senior executives into one of three distinct categories.

  • A (the top 20%) the Producers
  • B (the middle 70%) those Vital to group as they make up the majority
  • C (the bottome 10%) the Non Producers

Welch surmised your top 20% (A players) were the “best of the best” and all resources/top compensation should be thrown their way.  The middle 70% (B players) were a vital part of operations, the core of your workforce.  You should continue to motivate and train your B’s to eventually move into the A category and push other B’s down a level.  The bottom 10% (C players) should be immediately replaced.  Some call it the “rank and yank” method.

Relating it to Roster Building

For football purposes the “ranking” evaluation MUST be based entirely upon ability & production as evaluated by your personnel staff(coaches/scouts), then handed over to salary cap administrators for proper contract structuring and negotiation via market values (not the other way around).

A 53 man roster (in theory) should be made up with your top 10 to 11 players as the very best compensated.  A club should lean hard on self-evaluation to ensure that the best stay in the top for a long while.  It’s a burden on the club to drop out of the A (20%) category if a player is not performing (due to contract structuring and CAP hit).  Not many alternatives are left other than to force a reduction or cut the player before he ever drops to the C level.

Level B (70%), or approximately 35 players, should (in theory) have true potential to move into your A range.  These players are nurtured and coached hard to maximize next level opportunity.  They should be identified for future extensions & compensation, but GM’s might want to even break this group into 1/3’s.

  • 1/3 – Your top players ready to be extended into the A range.  (the core of youth of your team)
  • 2/3 – Journeyman players, roll players, special teams contributors
  • 3/3 – Young developmental types, vets knowingly in their final year or falling in production.

The last level (C) should be targeted (5) players a club tries to replace throughout the season with street FA’s, practice squad raids & recently released players from other clubs.  These players are the bottom performers as evaluated by Player Personnel.  (In theory) They are lower salaried, but could be paid higher and out of their market value range as well.  Hard decisions must be made to release and take the CAP hit, or restructure the contract down.  Get these guys out at the end, replace them with better players when they become available.

To help rank players a club might want to require having coaches sort the squad from 1 to 53.  Then have the defense rank the offense and vice versa (based on talent and not emotion).  Finally, have the scouting staff do the same.  An alternative could be to use an outside source for categorizing your roster.

*Note – Key must be to differentiate based on performance and ability and not just $’s being paid.  Low $ players could be A level and deserving of a raise.  C level players could be grossly overpaid and in need of restructure or cut.

It’s not the perfect recipe, but certainly a good menu with which to start.

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