Patrick Daugherty

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NFL's Best GMs 2018

Friday, May 18, 2018


The seas are changing in NFL front offices. Analytics can no longer be kept at bay. The Philadelphia Eagles have seen to that. You can either get in line or fall behind. This makes for an awkward balancing act for the league’s general managers, many of whom still believe in their eyes more than anything else. As some fully embrace the new paradigm, others remain steadfast in their resistance. Most seek an imperfect truce, holding fast to the old ways while letting the new slowly creep in. But the creep will soon become a flood, as it has in baseball and basketball. You can’t defeat math before it solves you. The sooner all 31 of the Eagles’ rivals figure this out, the better off they will be.


For the purposes of this article, I consider the “general manager” to be whomever is believed to have the biggest role in shaping the roster, irrespective of who has the official title. The criteria is the same as always. All front office activity — from players and coaches to draft picks and contracts — is taken into consideration. Past achievements are not written off, but recent history is given greater emphasis. Even in a results-based business, the process is vital. Last year’s list can be found here. 2016’s can be found here.     


1. Bill Belichick, Patriots  


There is no separating “Bill Belichick, head coach” from “Bill Belichick, general manager.” Those desperate to ding Belichick’s peerless reputation often look to his sometimes questionable personnel acumen, as if reaching for Ras-I Dowling is a legitimate counterpoint to winning five Super Bowls. Along with lieutenants like Nick Caserio, Belichick picks his own players and they have gone 214-74 since 2000. Great coaching has been paramount, but no amount of scheming or motivating can turn the wrong group of 53 into five-time Lombardi hoisters. The reason Belichick wins is the rosters he supplies himself. He might pursue different kinds of players than other teams — hopefully you’ve played for Rutgers — but they are the kind he knows how to coach. If a general manager’s job isn’t to provide his coach with the right talent, then what is it? Belichick does it, and by every available avenue. Draft pick accumulation, trades, tactical strikes in free agency, mining restricted free agency and even claiming injured players. No general manager is as creative as Bill Belichick. No general manager is as ruthless as Bill Belichick. No general manager is as successful as Bill Belichick.       


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2. Kevin Colbert, Steelers


When I first started this exercise in 2014, Kevin Colbert was at a low ebb. In salary cap hell and featuring fewer impact players than usual, his teams were coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons. Everything that has happened since has served to reinforce the long view: Colbert is an elite general manager. Despite those lean times earlier this decade, Colbert’s rosters have gone 188-99-1 since he first came onto the scene in 2000. They have won two Super Bowls and reached a third. That’s a track record only Bill Belichick can better. Where Colbert’s early-decade squads were aging and top heavy, his most recent have been deep and dynamic. Colbert has found talent everywhere, from Day 1 of the draft (T.J. Watt, David DeCastro), Day 2 (JuJu Smith-Schuster, Stephon Tuitt) and beyond (Ali Villanueva, Antonio Brown). Colbert has had plenty of misses. You would too if you had been on the job for 18 years. Perhaps Colbert will have more lean years in the future. He has proven he has the ability to move past them.    


3. Howie Roseman, Eagles


Winning an NFL power struggle can be a Pyrrhic victory. Oftentimes, you’re the next one out the door. When Howie Roseman bested Chip Kelly in late 2015, he inherited a roster at a crossroads, one without a quarterback and pruned of much of its veteran talent. Roseman wasted no time in planting the seeds for its revival. Attacking his second chance with ferocity, Roseman made reputation-risking moves at both head coach and quarterback. His hiring of Doug Pederson felt flat. His trade up for Carson Wentz seemed desperate. Both proved to be inspired, serving as the twin pillars of the first Super Bowl championship in Eagles history. Now the boss of an imposingly deep roster, Roseman has complemented his major moves with quieter ones, like his pilfering of Timmy Jernigan from the Ravens. It’s been only eight years since Roseman first started assisting Andy Reid as his general manager. There have been some lows along the way. Roseman learned from them on his way to the highest of highs.      


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4. Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons


On the job long enough to reinvent himself, Thomas Dimitroff finds himself in the middle of his second sustained period of success. Bookending the 18-30 malaise of 2013-15 are rosters that have posted six 10-win seasons in 10 years. Matt Ryan has been the cornerstone, but the supporting cast has been rebuilt to Super Bowl levels following the hangover from the Falcons’ should-have-been Super Bowl season of 2012-13. There was no such hangover after 2016-17’s 28-3 debacle. Adjusting to life without Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons were far less explosive but still just six points shy of another NFC Championship Game appearance. Looking for more fire to pair with Matty Ice this offseason, Dimitroff went back to the Alabama receiver well, using his first-round pick on Calvin Ridley. Like anyone else, Dimitroff’s rosters are imperfect. They can lack for a defensive identity. The same is true of his coaches. Dan Quinn is almost as anonymous as Mike Smith. But Dimitroff has accomplished three critical things: 1. Find a quarterback and build around him. 2. Find the right deputy in Scott Pioli, who has been instrumental in the Falcons’ recent turnaround. 3. Accumulate depth. The results have fallen just short, but Dimitroff’s process is Lombardi worthy.     


5. Ozzie Newsome, Ravens


The only general manager the Ravens have ever known, Ozzie Newsome is one of the greatest executives in league history. He is also going on four seasons without a playoff victory. The Ravens have one postseason win in five years since Ed Reed and Ray Lewis rode off into the sunset. That sounds worse than it is, as Newsome’s rosters have finished below .500 just once since 2007. Nevertheless, a shake up has felt necessary for some time. Newsome is going about it in two ways: 1. By trading up for Lamar Jackson. 2. By retiring. 2018 is Newsome’s last year leading the Ravens’ front office. In drafting Jackson, he’s opted for a bold finish instead of a valedictory sign off. A Hall-of-Fame player, Newsome has long since established himself as a Hall-of-Fame GM. Jackson successfully succeeding Joe Flacco would only further burnish Newsome’s Lombardi-lined résumé.       


6. Rick Spielman, Vikings


There is never a dull moment in Rick Spielman’s front office. That includes this offseason, when, coming off the Vikings’ best season since 1998, Spielman handed out an historic contract. All three years and $84 million of Kirk Cousins’ deal is guaranteed. Maybe that’s reckless. It’s certainly in line with Spielman’s philosophy, which is to aggressively move to make his roster better. It’s produced hits (Brett Favre, Jared Allen) and spectacular misses (Christian Ponder, Cordarrelle Patterson). It’s also kept the Vikings interesting and away from prolonged slumps. The Vikes have never had more than two losing seasons in a row on Spielman’s watch despite starting 15 different quarterbacks. Perhaps you would like a little more consistency. Spielman’s squads can vary wildly from year to year. It’s possible he’s finally fixed that. He enters 2018 with his best coach (Mike Zimmer) and deepest roster. Spielman’s kinetic approach provides the occasional low. It might also be ready to supply a Super Bowl.  


7. John Schneider, Seahawks


Together with Pete Carroll, John Schneider has made two first-round picks in the past six years. This is not a typo. In and of itself, it is not a bad strategy. Teams habitually overvalue the promise of tomorrow vs. the proven production of today. The problem is that the Seahawks have little to show for their first-round selloffs. Percy Harvin was a bust. Jimmy Graham was never fully integrated into the offense. Paul Richardson, the Seahawks’ first pick in 2014 after a series of trade downs, bolted for the Redskins after finally having a productive 2017. Excluding this year’s selection of Rashaad Penny, Schneider’s lone first-rounder since 2012, G/T Germain Ifedi, has been one of the worst players in the NFL. The consequence of all this trading and busting has been a once-deep defense aging out and a never-deep offensive line sinking to comic lows. Thanks to Schneider and Carroll’s gangbusters 2010-12 draft classes, the Seahawks have still managed to win at least nine games each of the past six years. But the roster is in trouble. A team that went 9-7 in 2017 did little to claim it got better this offseason. Rebuilding could be a 2-3 year project. Schneider has assembled a championship core before. Now he needs to do it again.   


8. Steve Keim, Cardinals


The Cardinals have played in Arizona since 1988. Before Steve Keim arrived, they had finished above .500 in back-to-back seasons only once. They have averaged 10 wins on Keim’s watch, finishing below .500 one time in five years. Of course, that one time was 2017, and Keim’s roster has some glaring holes. The Cardinals’ offensive line remains undermanned, while the corner spot opposite Patrick Peterson has long needed upgrading. Keim has addressed his biggest issue, trading up for a quarterback in Josh Rosen. Without Rosen, the Cardinals would be in crisis as a franchise. With him, they have four credible building blocks in Rosen, Peterson, Chandler Jones and David Johnson. Even if Keim’s squad lacks depth in some areas, that’s a lot of high-end talent at premium positions. 2018 isn’t going to be Keim’s best team. His first half-decade on the job shows he should know how to make it better.      

      

9. John Elway, Broncos


After a stretch where he could do no wrong — Von Miller, Peyton Manning, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, etc. — John Elway has lost his Midas Touch. His post-Peyton quarterback plans have gone awry, while the Broncos’ championship-winning defense of 2015-16 has slowly been dismembered. Case Keenum is a Band-Aid under center. Both lines need talent infusions. The secondary is no longer all world. Absent another Manning falling into his lap, Elway lacks a quick fix. He recognized reality this spring, staying quiet in free agency while passing on quarterbacks he did not deem worthy of a top-five pick. Elway took pass rusher Bradley Chubb at No. 5 before using his Day 2 selections on a runner, receiver and corner. Maybe it’s not a full-on rebuild, but the revamp has begun in earnest on both sides of the ball. It could be a lengthy process but it’s what Elway needed to do.      


10. Mickey Loomis, Saints


Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton needed a near-perfect draft to save their roster in 2017. Miraculously — perfect drafts don’t really exist in the NFL — they got it. The Saints landed a new No. 1 corner (Marcus Lattimore), their future left tackle (Ryan Ramczyk) and one of the most electrifying young players in football (Alvin Kamara), all within the first 67 picks. It was a haul that changed the Saints overnight, transforming them from thrice-repeating 7-9ers to division winners for the first time since 2011. If there’s a nitpick, it’s that Loomis and Payton seemed to let it go to their head in this year’s draft. The duo made a daring, quite possibly reckless, trade up from No. 27 to No. 14 for small-school pass rusher Marcus Davenport, surrendering their 2019 first-rounder in the process. They may have also donated a fourth-round pick in the form of mega-project OT Rick Leonard. Intoxicated by last year’s return to relevance, Payton and Loomis are all in on 2018. It’s a defensible approach with Drew Brees headed into his age-39 campaign. It’s also something they could immediately regret.   


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Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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