NFL Front Office Management – Elements of team building

The Football Educator’s guest blogger Jonathan “JP” Fox presents Part I of his position on the various elements of building successful teams in the NFL.

The NFL in 2012 has rapidly evolved on the field and off. Offensive game plans seem to have swayed towards a so called “passing league” with the running game, in most cases, taking a back seat. Defensive coordinators are developing new schemes in an effort to stop these aerial attacks. But while the on-field play has dramatically changed in the last five to ten years, front office executives also have to change their own ways of building a team off the field. The goal is to find players that will mesh well with the coaches’ plans in the present, while also keeping an eye on the future.

32 different ways to skin a cat

There are 32 NFL teams, with 32 men having the title and/or acting as General Manager. Bill Belichick in New England is the head coach, but he is also the GM, no matter the thinking of anyone else. The team doesn’t have a person designated for that role, but Belichick is running the show. On the other hand, Jerry Jones in Dallas, is the Cowboys’ owner, president, and GM. Belichick and Jones are two completely different men, with two completely different outlooks on building a franchise. At the same time, their teams’ recent successes are two polar opposite sides of the spectrum. The Patriots run build their team one way, explained later, while the Cowboys build theirs completely different, also explained later.

While the majority of GM’s decide to go the gambling route of the yearly NFL Draft in an attempt to strike gold, there are teams who would rather gamble in free agency, dish out big dollar contracts, and hope the player ends up being worth the money. You can look at each plan, think of the different teams that do each, and compare their plan to the overall success of the franchise. It’s hardly an exact science, the Draft and free agency. Teams are drafting men in their early twenties, fresh out of college, and putting expectations on them from day one. Teams are also signing veteran players, fresh off of a successful season with another franchise, and hoping their level of play mirrors their past success with the present and future.

An eye on the future

The Draft is more times than not, the reason a general manager is handed his walking papers in the NFL. Having several years of below average drafting can show upper management an inability to piece together a team in a traditional way. According to many avid NFL fans, former Lions GM Matt Millen is a prime example as one of the biggest “busts” as a GM in NFL history. Millen is infamous for using four first round picks on Wide Receivers in as many drafts. It panned out horribly and Millen was shown the door. The Lions drafted horribly while Millen was the GM and he had a less than desirable resume when it came to acquiring players via free agency and trades. It just shows that a GM’s inability to better the franchise through the draft can quickly become a reason to be the scapegoat of teams’ lack of success.

The quick fix

Free Agency, on the other hand, has become a race for teams to hand out the richest contract to a player who has had success in recent years with another team. Some franchises, (the Cowboys and Redskins come to mind), rely on this form of team improvement more than others. Others, (the Patriots and Steelers come to mind), lay low in free agency, looking for successful players at a way less expensive price than the sprint in the first three days of free agency. The Patriots and Steelers also are a prime example of, in my opinion, a very smart approach to sustaining their team success. Both teams opt against spending freely in free agency, instead spending their money to reward their own players’ development and not letting them leave when their contracts are up. Compare the Redskins and Cowboys recent track record to the Patriots and Steelers, and you’ll see a clear difference in each franchises approach to free agency and success on the field.

The art of the trade

Lastly, an underrated part of helping in the building of a team, is obtaining as many draft picks as you can, under the right circumstances. Trading a veteran player for picks, trading down in the draft for various picks that year, or a pick or two in the following draft, all go a long way in helping a team now and down the road. Some teams value obtaining a proven player with their draft picks instead of gambling on a young college kid, and others would rather use the draft to move around in each round, acquire more picks and take the chance of developing them with the hope of them panning out.

Next up – Part II of JP’s Elements of Team Building

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