The Miami Dolphins are currently 5-5, battling for the last playoff spot available in the AFC. Thus, it seems odd to be discussing potential replacement candidates for important positions with the team at this point.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins are in a unique position. The team is embroiled in a controversy that began when offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the team and alleged that a culture of bullying inflicted mental trauma upon him. The resulting media firestorm has embarrassed the franchise, and has also led to an independent investigation.
That investigation has centered on a focused list of persons of interest. One of the primary persons of interest has been general manager Jeff Ireland, who was subject to the longest question-and-answer session conducted by independent investigator Ted Wells, according to NFL.com’s Jeff Darlington.
For a thorough discussion of the myriad reasons Ireland is not likely to survive this fiasco, readers can revisit this piece written approximately two weeks ago. Suffice it to say, with the potential of having to replace four or perhaps even all five offensive linemen in one offseason, the outlook for general manager Jeff Ireland does not look any better than it did two weeks ago.
Replacing Ireland will be no easy chore, especially based on the analysis of outsiders like yours truly. At one point, even Ireland looked like an attractive general manager candidate. Very little can be known to outsiders about the successes and failures of top GM candidates. Most candidates are currently not the person calling the shots within their organization. If they were, they would be unlikely to engage in a lateral move.
Sometimes in discussions on potential GM candidates, a little too much attention is paid to individual draft wins. A record of solid player evaluation is an absolute necessity for whoever is tabbed to take the lead in that effort; however, it is well to note that every evaluator will have hits and misses. Small sample sizes can result in temporary runs of wild success as well as failure.
Like it or not, luck plays a large role in draft success. A recent study by Wharton professor Cade Massey concluded as much, according to Mike Jensen of Philly.com.
Some teams have great years, other teams have bad years - and it matters, Massey said.
But those differences aren't persistent year-to-year, which tells me that they are chance driven. Something between 95 and 100 percent - I'm not exaggerating - of team differences in the draft is driven by chance.
There is skill involved in selecting players, the professor said.
It's just that teams are equally skilled, in a very uncertain environment, Massey said.
Massey, who worked for a long time as a consultant for an unidentified NFL team, hits the nail on the head with the final line of the above quote.
Parity is an intrinsic aspect of the NFL. Every team is full of talented players. Any team can win on any given Sunday. A team can be excellent one year and terrible the next. These are concepts with which fans and media are highly familiar, after decades of free agency.
However, perhaps we are a little bit behind in applying these concepts of parity to front office evaluations. In a competitive environment such as the NFL, most of the evaluators doing the evaluation of college prospects are skilled.
Yet every year they all fight with one another to appropriately value and steal the talent from the same college crop. It should come as no surprise that, just as NFL team success tends to be fleeting and inconsistent, so, too, is draft success.
Does this constitute a reason for us to disregard draft success by potential general manager candidates? The answer is, absolutely not.
However, it does remind us that there is more to being a successful general manager than simply enjoying above-average draft success. Throughout the look at the two candidates below, you will notice a focus on the marriage between the personnel decision making and the team's coaching philosophies. This is a vital part of front office success that cannot be captured simply in a study of draft successes or failures.
It is also necessary for a general manager to be able to anticipate problems as well as opportunities. Teams must be constantly adapting every year, taking advantage of new opportunities that arise due to personnel availabilities.
That said, let us get to the candidates.
Note: One popular GM candidate that will not be featured below is Baltimore Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta. The reason he is not discussed is because the Ravens have done a great job making it clear to DeCosta, via press language, financial compensation and contract clauses, that he is general manager Ozzie Newsome’s eventual successor in Baltimore.
This is important, especially as Newsome’s retirement time line may be affected by the fact that he was forced to leave a recent Ravens game in an ambulance. In any case, DeCosta has made it clear that he is happy where he currently is, and is unlikely to consider leaving Baltimore.
Nick Caserio, New England Director of Player Personnel
One strong candidate that should go to the top of the interview list is Nick Caserio of the New England Patriots. He is currently New England’s director of player personnel, a title he has held since Thomas Dimitroff left the Patriots for the general manager position in Atlanta.
Caserio is a particularly strong candidate because of his multifaceted background in New England. He was a standout quarterback at John Carroll University, and has experience with the Patriots on both the coaching and personnel sides of the business. As a graduate assistant at Saginaw Valley State University, Caserio also earned his MBA in finance.
He started off as a personnel assistant with the team in 2001 but moved to the coaching side of the organization as an offensive coaching assistant under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis in 2002.
He then moved back to the personnel side as an area scout in 2003, and was eventually promoted to director of pro personnel in 2004. He held the job title through 2006. During that time, the team made a number of successful pro player acquisitions, including running back Corey Dillon, defensive tackle Keith Traylor, safety Rodney Harrison, linebacker Rosevelt Colvin and linebacker Junior Seau. The Patriots managed to avoid big-money free-agent busts during that time.
In 2007, with the acquisitions of Wes Welker, Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth, Caserio moved back to the coaching side once again as the wide receivers coach. The three players combined for 3,365 yards and 34 touchdowns that season, as the Patriots amassed an 18-1 record featuring a record-setting offense.
When Thomas Dimitroff left the Patriots in 2008, Caserio moved back to the personnel side and took his position as director of player personnel. Scott Pioli remained the team’s vice president of player personnel for one additional year before leaving the team for Kansas City in 2009. Pioli’s title was never given to another person, and Caserio became the highest-ranking member of the Patriots front office.
Dimitroff was quoted on saying the following about Caserio, in a piece by Albert Breer of NFL.com:
It's a huge asset to Nick that he can move from personnel to coaching and coaching personnel, and even perform those tasks in the same day, Dimitroff said. To be able to handle that multitasking and understand what someone as talented as Bill Belichick wants, it's huge. When you work for Bill, you better come to the table with your I's dotted and your T's crossed. Nick is able to do that, and Bill has great respect for that.
During his time as the highest-ranking member of the Patriots front office, the team made several standout draft picks. They include the likes of right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (late second round), safety Devin McCourty (late first round), tight end Rob Gronkowski (early second round), linebacker Brandon Spikes (late second round), tight end Aaron Hernandez (fourth round), left tackle Nate Solder (mid-first round), running back Shane Vereen (late second round), running back Stevan Ridley (third round), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (late first round), offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (fifth round), defensive end Chandler Jones (late first round) and corner Alfonzo Dennard (sixth round).
Some draft picks during the period cannot necessarily be called successes or failures. This can be the case for a number of reasons. Sometimes a team is able to get decent production out of a player; however, the team also paid a relatively high price for him.
Sometimes a player is just a standout rotator, yet the price paid for him is so low that it deserves mention. Some drafted players in New England that fit these descriptions include defensive tackle Myron Pryor (seventh round), defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick (seventh round), wide receiver/returner Julian Edelman (seventh round) and safety Patrick Chung (early second round).
On the other hand, the Patriots have drafted several players over the time period that we can safely refer to as busts. For a player to truly be a bust, he must have been selected with a significant draft pick, which is commonly defined as a pick in the first four rounds of the draft.
Players that fit this description include safety Tavon Wilson (second round), receiver Taylor Price (third round), pass-rusher Jake Bequette (third round), corner Ras-I Dowling (early second round), corner Darius Butler (second round), defensive tackle Ron Brace (second round), receiver Brandon Tate (third round), linebacker Tyrone McKenzie (third round), offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger (fourth round) and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (late second round).
It is too early to fully evaluate the 2013 draft class. However, the Patriots are getting strong involvement from rookies in 2013. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Patriots have gotten 2,624 snaps out of rookies thus far in 2013. Standouts include defensive tackles Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, corner Logan Ryan, safety Duron Harmon and receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. For comparison’s sake the Dolphins have gotten only 546 snaps from their rookie class through Week 11.
In interviews, Caserio must be subject to some very pointed lines of questioning about his role not only in past successes, but also some recent failures. Such questions may include:
- What, if anything, did the Patriots know about alleged murderer Aaron Hernandez’s gang background when the team selected him in the draft?
- Who made the call on recent veteran acquisitions such as receiver Chad Johnson and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth?
- Whose call was it to allow Wes Welker to leave New England only to replace him with an injury-prone Danny Amendola at virtually the same price tag?
No general manager candidate should ever be subject to hiring sight-unseen, especially not based on the analysis of an outsider. However, Caserio’s background in both coaching and personnel makes him an extremely interesting candidate to put atop the interview list.
He may have a competitive advantage over other candidates when it comes to the all-important marriage of personnel decision making with coaching philosophy because he has a background in both. Additionally, his MBA in finance may give him a keen understanding of the business side of team management.
Duke Tobin, Cincinnati Director of Player Personnel
Bill Tobin worked for 19 years with the Chicago Bears, the final eight of which he was vice president of player personnel. He had a major influence on the building of the 1985 Super Bowl winning Bears team under head coach Mike Ditka. After stops with the Colts and Lions, he has been a scouting consultant for the Bengals since 2003.
His son Duke actually preceded Bill with the Bengals, as he joined Cincinnati’s scouting staff in 1999. He became the director of player personnel in 2002, at the age of 30.
Cincinnati owner Mike Brown continues to hold the official title as the team’s general manager, with final-say authority on personnel acquisitions. Additionally, the Bengals personnel department is among the smallest in the NFL, as the personnel process has a history of being very coaching-centric, according to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com.
The Bengals’ drafting and personnel decisions had once been a source of ridicule. However, the last half-decade has seen a remarkable turnaround. According to Hobson’s article, head coach Marvin Lewis attributes this turnaround directly to Duke Tobin’s growing influence and the move away from the coaching-centric philosophy.
He’s done a very good job of putting the information together, the cross-checking of things, the organization of things. He’s really streamlined it, I think both personnel and coaching-wise, Lewis said of Tobin. We have a pretty good blueprint for what we’re looking for what we do on offense, defense and special teams. We’ve shown some flexibility that for whatever reason we may have had a little higher grade on and were available to us when it was our turn to pick. We’ve done a great job of doing what those guys have done on their college campus and tried to give them at least that No. 1 thing to do when we got them on our field.
I’ve been very impressed with Duke from the very onset. He’s continued to grow. Mike has given him a great deal of responsibility and put him in charge of a lot of things, Lewis said. He’s my liaison as far as what we do on the pro side, when we have injuries (during the season) and he’s directing the scouting efforts throughout and making sure that everything’s done and the cross-checks are done so we’re able to do everything we have to evaluate these guys.
Over the past five drafts, the Bengals have drafted a number of standout players. This includes the likes of tackle Andre Smith (early first round), tight end Jermaine Gresham (late first round), Rey Maualuga (early second round), defensive end Michael Johnson (third round), defensive end Carlos Dunlap (late second round), defensive tackle Geno Atkins (fourth round), wide receiver A.J. Green (early first round), quarterback Andy Dalton (early second round), guard Clint Boling (fourth round), guard Kevin Zeitler (late first round), wide receiver Marvin Jones (fifth round), safety George Iloka (fifth round), defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (third round), running back Bernard Scott (sixth round), tight end Tyler Eifert (first round), running back Giovani Bernard (early second round) and linebacker Vontaze Burfict (undrafted).
No team is without its draft disappointments, and the Bengals have gotten disappointing (albeit incomplete, for some) results from corner Dre Kirkpatrick (first round), tight end Chase Coffman (third round), center Jonathan Luigs (fourth round), wide receiver Jordan Shipley (third round), corner Brandon Ghee (third round), linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy (fourth round), linebacker Dontay Moch (third round), defensive tackle Devon Still (late second round) and tight end/fullback Orson Charles (fourth round).
Tobin’s background carries some interesting potential advantages. He spent the first part of his career taking a back seat to the coaching staff as well as owner Mike Brown in the personnel acquisition process. The larger role that he has taken in recent years has been well-earned on merit, as those in charge have ceded more and more of their power to Tobin in the interests of winning games.
The coaching-centric scouting philosophy espoused by owner/general manager Mike Brown may seem dysfunctional to many, but having operated within that philosophy may have given Tobin the benefit of learning the importance of a tight marriage between the personnel decision-making process and the coaching philosophies. This could help the Dolphins avoid some of the more obvious disconnects we are currently seeing between recent personnel acquisitions and their usage by the coaching staff.
If the Dolphins end up dismissing head coach Joe Philbin, hiring Duke Tobin as the general manager of the franchise may also give the team the inside track on hiring highly qualified Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden as head coach of the Dolphins.
The two not only share a background as former Arena Football players, they have been forced to work very closely on certain draft acquisitions due to the scouting philosophies in Cincinnati. This marriage may be part of the “flexibility” described by Marvin Lewis in Tobin's approach on draft day.
Since Gruden came on board as the Bengals offensive coordinator, the Bengals have had enormous success picking offensive players such as quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver A.J. Green, running back Giovani Bernard, tight end Tyler Eifert, left guard Clint Boling and right guard Kevin Zeitler.