Winning the Lombardi Trophy is the goal, and the best front offices—like the one Ozzie Newsome has built in Baltimore—are able to give their teams a chance to win it year after year.
Winning doesn’t happen by accident. The best NFL teams are able to win games because they have the best players and coaches.
Good teams don’t come together by natural selection like some kind of primordial NFL soup—that only happens in the NBA. NFL teams are put together by front offices, and the best ones are able to consistently find the talent (including players, coaches and scouts) needed to win on a regular basis.
It’s not a stretch to say the best NFL teams also have the best front offices. Good teams win in the regular season, and better ones also win in the playoffs. But the best teams are able to sustain that kind of success over a long period of time.
In order to decide which front offices are the best in the NFL, I used a simple formula which includes the number of years each general manager has held the position (with some adjustments), wins per year, playoff wins per year under the leadership of each general manager, and bonus points for winning the Super Bowl and developing other NFL general managers.
It’s not a perfect rating system, but it’s also not totally arbitrary. Each metric is measuring something important about the role the front office plays within an organization.
The following eight front offices are the best according to the formula.
Mickey Loomis has plenty to smile about, even if his team had a bad year in 2012.
Since Mickey Loomis became general manager of the New Orleans Saints in 2002, the team has just three losing seasons and has made the playoffs four times. The Saints also won Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
Loomis hired head coach Sean Payton and signed quarterback Drew Brees in 2006, and both are now considered to be among the best at their jobs in the entire league. He has also had a few notable hits and misses in the draft throughout the years, but he’s done enough to have one of the more successful teams over the past decade.
Although the Saints struggled last season, they have averaged 8.8 wins and 0.5 playoff wins per year since 2002. The Saints came away with 27.0 points in my ranking system, over five points more than the team ranked ninth.
Thomas Dimitroff does a good job and looks good doing it.
A lot of people forget about the Atlanta Falcons when talking about the best front offices in the NFL. Only two regimes have more than the Falcons’ 11.2 regular-season wins per year, and one of those teams has only been in place for the last two years.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff has also developed a lot of talent in his front office.
After three years as the Falcons’ director of player personnel from 2009-2011, Les Snead accepted a general manager job with the St. Louis Rams. Snead was replaced by David Caldwell, the director of college scouting at the time. After one year as director of player personnel, Caldwell accepted the job as the general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
What’s even more impressive is that the Falcons have continued to promote from within to fill the major vacancies in their front office positions. Dimitroff seems to have a knack for hiring young scouting talent who hit the market to fill lower-level positions on his staff.
The big problem with the Falcons and the reason they aren’t significantly higher on this list is their inability to win in the playoffs. Despite four appearances in five seasons, the Falcons have managed just one playoff victory.
Among the front offices on this list that have made the playoffs, no team has fewer postseason wins than the Falcons. Only one regime—the Cincinnati Bengals—have fewer playoff wins per season than the Falcons. The Broncos’ front office has the same number of wins in two trips to the playoffs as the Falcons have in four.
The Falcons finally got the monkey off their back last season with a win over the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs but in the following game proceeded to meltdown against the San Francisco 49ers by letting a 17-point lead slip away to lose the NFC Championship.
Trent Baalke and the 49ers' front office are soaring.
The San Francisco 49ers’ front office has only been in place for the last two years, but in that time, it’s done a lot of great things. Not only has the 49ers' regime averaged 12 wins per year, but it’s also won three playoff games.
It can be hard to give a new regime the credit for being successful this early because it may indicate that the heavy lifting was done by the previous regime, but in this case, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
San Francisco’s front office is led by general manager Trent Baalke, and he deserves a lot of the credit for building the 49ers. Baalke was promoted from within the existing front office structure and therefore is a key reason the team has been one of the best in the NFC for the last two years.
Baalke also reeled in Jim Harbaugh from across the murky waters of the San Francisco Bay to be his head coach—a move that has paid significant dividends. Harbaugh straightened out a talented roster and installed schemes that would play to its strengths.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the 49ers cracked the top five in the near future, but two years is a relatively short amount of time, and it remains to be seen how they handle the departure of director of player personnel Tom Gamble.
Ozzie Newsome (middle) and Eric DeCosta (right) form one of the best front office duos in the NFL.
The reigning Super Bowl champs check in at No. 5, and that might be considered too low for some people. General manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff are great, and I’d personally put them higher if I wasn’t trying to stay true to my own rating system. But the reasoning for why they are below four other teams is actually sound.
For starters, Newsome’s Ravens have averaged 8.8 regular-season wins since he took over the front office. It’s not a bad average, but it’s lower than several other teams. The Ravens have also held a tight grip on their talented front office staff, so they don’t get bonus points for developing front office talent that has moved on to other NFL teams.
The reality is also that Newsome has been at the helm for 17 years and won two Super Bowls. Many organizations would love to have that kind of success, but that’s actually a lower number of Super Bowl wins per season than the four teams ranked 1-4.
Don't let the looks fool you, Kevin Colbert and the Steelers know exactly what they are doing.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have six Super Bowl victories, and two of those victories came under the leadership of the current front office, which is led by general manager Kevin Colbert. The Steelers made it to another Super Bowl, only to lose to the Green Bay Packers.
Under the leadership of Colbert, the Steelers have won 10.4 regular-season games per year and 0.9 playoff games per year. Think about that: Ten wins and a playoff victory have been an average year for the Steelers for 13 years.
The Steelers have just one losing season in the past 13 years and have made the playoffs eight times. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Steelers have one of the best front offices in football because they have been a pillar of success in the NFL for over 40 years.
The Packers' front office, led by GM Ted Thompson, deserves at least one thumbs up for its work.
Not including general manager Ted Thompson, there are three other NFL general managers who have come out of the Green Bay Packers’ front office. Despite these front office departures, the scouting staff in Green Bay hasn’t missed a beat.
John Schneider was the first to leave in 2010 to take the job as the Seattle Seahawks general manager, and it didn’t take long for him to turn that franchise around. In fact, the Seahawks cracked the top 10 in these rankings and are trending in the right direction.
Reggie McKenzie took over for Schneider in Green Bay and within two years accepted a tough job as the general manager of the Oakland Raiders in 2012. McKenzie has spent the last year-and-a-half correcting salary cap issues and setting his team up for future success.
John Dorsey was the most recent front office executive to leave the Packers. Dorsey also left the Packers’ organization in 1999 for a promotion and returned a couple years later. He accepted the job vacated by McKenzie in 2012 and was then hired as the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason.
Not only have the Packers developed more front office talent than anyone in the league, they have been quite successful at developing players and coaches.
Former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin is now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, and the Packers’ own head coach has been quite successful despite the fact that he got the job after a dismal year as the offensive coordinator in San Francisco in 2005.
Throw in a Super Bowl victory, 9.8 regular-season wins per season and 0.8 playoff wins per season under the current regime, and it’s tough not to consider the Packers the best front office in the NFL. Unfortunately, the Packers are the only front office in the top five that doesn’t have multiple Super Bowl victories under its belt.
Jerry Reese (right) and his front office have won two Super Bowls in six years.
It was a mild surprise that the New York Giants ranked so highly, but it probably shouldn’t be a surprise at all. General manager Jerry Reese and his staff quietly go about their business and have produced two Super Bowl championships in the last six years.
Since Reese took over for the retiring Ernie Accorsi in 2007, the Giants have won an average of 9.7 regular-season games and 1.3 playoff games per year and have yet to have a losing season. The only regime with a track record longer than two years with more playoff wins per season is the No. 1 team on this list.
The Giants’ front office produced Reece, but it also produced another NFL general manager in Dave Gettleman, who accepted the job with the Carolina Panthers just this year. Gettleman’s hiring gives the Giants just enough bonus points in these rankings to push them ahead of the Packers, but it will be interesting to see how the Giants compensate without him.
Although Reese has only been the general manager since 2007, the Giants’ front office situation has actually been stable for over 30 years. Reese is also younger than most of his counterparts on this list, meaning the Giants should be able to maintain that stability for the foreseeable future.
Don't worry, Bill Belichick and the Patriots' front office know what they are doing.
The New England Patriots have taken some heat as a result of their former tight end Aaron Hernandez being charged with murder, but it’s wrong to suggest they are in any way responsible for his actions. Up until he was charged with murder, the Patriots were actually praised for taking a chance on the talented tight end.
Since head coach Bill Belichick was hired in 2000, the Patriots have had one losing season, and it was in Year 1. The Patriots also averaged 11.6 regular-season wins and 1.3 playoff wins per season since Belichick arrived.
The Patriots have been to five of the last 12 Super Bowls and have won three of them. The two Super Bowl losses to the Giants came by a combined seven points, so it’s not like they were blown off the field.
A big reason for the Patriots' success has been the front office. No, not every move has been great, but they don’t all need to be. The Patriots continue to reinvent themselves and their schemes to stay ahead of the rest of the NFL.
You could make a case that the coaching has been able to mask weaknesses in the front office, but that’s where people fail to understand the genius of Belichick. The Patriots look for players they can use in specific roles designed to take advantage of opposing teams.
The Patriots and Belichick also have a long history of developing NFL executive and coaching talent. Thomas Dimitroff of the Falcons is the only current general manager produced by the Patriots, but at one point, Scott Pioli and Josh McDaniels also had final say over football matters for NFL teams.