By David Igono
Success in the NFL as a GM is difficult, to the point where only a handful of franchises experience consistent success. How good or bad the decision making processes are for a particular GM can only be analyzed in that teams specific team-building context. Though the draft is the best way to build a team, it’s not the only way to strengthen a roster. The NFL is a quarterback driven league – so much so that if you don’t have a viable starter at the position, every decision made as GM gets you one step closer to Black Monday. In a league where parity is trumpeted, the dominant few are consistent and stable rather than splashy, offseason champions. The NFL is a win-now environment that rewards teams that have a disciplined, defined process; a process that takes more than one season to implement.
The best way to build a team is through the draft, though it’s not the only way to strengthen a team’s roster. There’s not much there to debate. Five of the most consistent teams build through the draft. Yes, teams miss on projecting players to the NFL. It happens. The basic math leads to a team having about 7 picks per draft. Rarely does a team have seven opportunities to sign that many free agents to bolster a roster. Case in point: Ted Thompson’s Green Bay Packers are notoriously comprised of homegrown, drafted players. The teams that consistently draft consistently well, win.
The NFL is a QB driven league – so much so that if you don’t have a solid starter your team will struggle to finish games, let alone make the playoffs. It is increasingly hard to find a legit starting QB. Not every team has an Aaron Rodgers at QB. Most teams aren’t savvy enough to take a chance on a player like Russell Wilson. Bona fide starting QBs like Peyton Manning rarely hit the free agent market. Fact: Three men in every franchise are marked men. The quarterback, the head coach and the general manager. Quarterbacks have to play well. Coaches have to win. GMs have to find QBs who can play well and hire coaches that can win. Any break in that chain leads to dysfunction. If your favorite team doesn’t have a solid starting QB, even if it’s this guy, expect losses on the field and changes in the front office.
In a league that promotes parity, the dominant teams are consistent regular season and playoff performers, not offseason champions. The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots let Darrelle Revis walk in free agency. They have yet to “replace” with a marquee free agent signing. Bell Belichick and Nick Caserio have a plan and they stick to it. As long as they have and protect Tom Brady they are contenders.
The Baltimore Ravens lose marquee free agents every offseason. It’s part of their process. Ozzie Newsome is one of football’s greatest men. Despite two Super Bowls and constantly unearthing diamonds in the rough (Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith, Marshal Yanda, etc) the Ravens front office has to remind the fan base that their process hasn’t failed them yet.
Jerry Reese’s predecessor, Ernie Accorsi, did a great job stabilizing one of the NFL’s storied franchises in the New York Giants. Reese has taken the team to another level two Super Bowl victories. His QB Eli Manning has his detractors but as he goes, the Giants go. Reese always has an eye on improving the 53 man roster and has drafted well to that end.
Ted Thompson takes a lot of flak. The majority of it is unfounded. His Packer teams are constantly in the playoffs. He stuck to his guns transitioning to Aaron Rodgers. It paid off. Green Bay has taken developing your own players to the next level.
The Steelers and GM Kevin Colbert have had a rocky couple of seasons but don’t be fooled. The Steelers are one of the most stable franchises in the NFL (THREE head coaches since 1969). Colbert has a franchise QB in Ben Roethlisberger and playmakers on offense and defense. The majority of these players are products of the draft.
John Schneider comes from the Ron Wolf (via Al Davis) personnel tree. His Seahawks teams have either played in the Super Bowl or the NFC Championship for the past three years. He’s made his free agent splashes (hey Matt Flynn!) but was bold enough to go with a gem at QB named Russell Wilson, a 3rd round pick. He’s drafted fairly well (Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Max Unger), keeping the core of their roster young and financially flexible.
Success in the NFL as a GM is difficult, to the point where only a few franchises experience consistent success. Analyzing a GM’s decision making and team building processes must be done in each team’s proper context. The best GMs build the core of their teams through the draft. The NFL is a quarterback driven league where you must have a solid starter to sustain success. The dominant NFL teams have a proven infrastructure and don’t have to wildly adjust their process to build their teams. The phrase “any given Sunday” holds a lot of weight in the NFL. However, the teams that consistently win have a defined and disciplined process. A playoff caliber team – and any higher aspiration – requires a GM with an infrastructure that both develops its players and cultivates a QB that gives the rest of the roster the chance to propel itself forward.
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