2014 NFL Draft: Which GMs Are Under the Most Pressure This Year?
So you want to be an NFL general manager? Well, would you consider shaving years off your life for that wish?
That is the first of many choices NFL decision-makers have to make every year. Is the stress worth it?
Then, they have to make their draft evaluations, their pressure-packed pick at quarterback and, in many cases, the crucial choice of head coach. No one is saying this is easy.
Ask the Cleveland Browns' past decision-makers. Ask 49ers GM Trent Baalke, who is seemingly engaging in a public feud with head coach Jim Harbaugh. Heck, ask any general manager of a team that doesn't have a clear franchise quarterback or one that holds premium picks in this May's NFL draft.
We outline six NFL general managers in this slideshow who are under the most pressure this offseason. It is a make-or-break year for all of them, including one longtime owner of the supposed "America's Team."
Ray Farmer, Cleveland Browns
- He needs to find a quarterback, something the Browns haven't had since their re-introduction into the NFL. Heck, perhaps not since the days of Bernie Kosar. Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, Brady Quinn, Charlie Frye, Luke McCown, Spergon Wynn and Tim Couch—the quarterbacks drafted by the franchise since it came back into the league in 1999—have all proved to be poor excuses for backups in this league.
- He has a decision to make at No. 4 overall. Will it be the quarterback? Or perhaps the No. 1 wide receiver Sammy Watkins out of Clemson?
- He needs to find a running back after the past regime traded away Trent Richardson.
- He holds a second first-round pick at No. 26 overall. Will that be the running back, say, Ohio State's Carlos Hyde?
- How far will he go with elite free agents, center Alex Mack and safety T.J. Ward? They are arguably the two hottest names on the free-agent market.
- How much of the Browns' salary-cap space does he burn? Cleveland is almost $50 million under the cap, according to OvertheCap.com.
It is not hard to sense the pressure on new Cleveland Browns GM Ray Farmer. Usually a first-year general manager has a leash to work with. The Browns proved this winter their leash isn't very long.
Cleveland became the first team in NFL history to fire both its coach and GM after a single season, according to ESPN's Pat McManamon.
The Browns GM job is arguably the worst job in football, if not in sports. Six consecutive years of five or fewer victories will do that. Farmer is the fifth different GM since the start of that dubious streak, according to Pro Football Reference.
Beyond job security, he has some high-profile decisions on tap:
Topping all this drama off, Farmer has to win with a first-year head coach in Mike Pettine. Yeah, there is a lot of work to do.
He is ready for the whirlwind. He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot he has his quarterback choice already in mind:
I've studied the quarterbacks, and I've studied other players, and I've already started to formulate the rank and order of each position. I do know what I'd do if I was held down at the moment. It doesn't mean that can't change, but I currently have somebody in front. ...
There are players in this draft who can help us at that position and dependent upon where they're at and where we're at, if the two can match up, we can be in good shape. I just don't know if we're going to have the opportunity to take those players. ...
I'd say that No. 4 is not necessarily where I would take the guy that I like. Again, it may not be the name that everybody thinks is the latest, greatest, and the easy one to spot. There's definitely an art to selecting people in the draft, and it's finding the right name that fits who you want to be.
Les Snead, St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams haven't had a winning season in more than a decade, so general manager Les Snead has his work cut out for him—even if head coach Jeff Fisher has a lot of the onus on him with player personnel.
Added to the pressure are the Rams' decisions to make at No. 2 and at No. 13 overall. Two first-round picks are both a blessing and a curse. They can make or break you.
In order to compete in arguably the best division in football—everyone but the Rams won 10-plus games in the NFC West this season—Fisher and Snead have to be spot on with their decisions this offseason.
Heck, Snead could deal out of the No. 2 overall pick, particularly since they are moving forward with Sam Bradford at quarterback, apparently. A team that is desperate for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles should be motivated to be aggressive to move up and pick one of them after the Houston Texans make their choice at No. 1.
If the Rams are settled on left tackle Jake Matthews, son of Fisher's former tackle in Houston/Tennessee, Bruce Matthews, perhaps they might trade down to select him and pick up added value.
Snead and Co. have to not only be right on their first-round picks and trade options, but also Bradford at quarterback. There are a lot of places the Rams could make mistakes that can cost them for a decade here.
You have to like the cards the Rams hold, but Snead has to play them wisely.
Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones always has pressure as owner and general manager. This year seems to have even more for him to carry than usual.
The Cowboys have had to do some serious restructuring and cost cutting just to get down to the salary cap already this offseason. They still have high-level decisions to make on defensive end DeMarcus Ware and wide receiver Miles Austin—two of their stars who carry huge contracts and cap numbers and seemingly exceed their production, as outlined at OvertheCap.com.
The lack of cap space and the fact the Cowboys haven't made a playoff appearance since 2009 combine to put a large amount of the team's talent acquisition on the NFL draft. Good luck to Jones in making enough good picks to make the Cowboys better than they have been in years.
The defense is terrible, in part due to his decision to move away from coordinator Rob Ryan a year ago. Plus, two of Dallas' potential free-agent losses are both on the defensive line: tackle Jason Hatcher and defensive end Anthony Spencer. Throw in the fact Ware might have to be a cap casualty too, and there more questions than answers...and limited resources to work with.
Clearly, Jones will never fire himself, but another year of questionable decisions might make the catcalls louder than ever in Big D for his ouster as head of personnel.
Rick Smith, Houston Texans
In most years, for most teams, having the No. 1 overall pick in a year with some potential franchise quarterbacks on the draft board is a blessing. But with once-in-a-generation defensive freak Jadeveon Clowney on the board, it might be a curse.
The Houston Texans need a franchise quarterback more than a defensive end, particularly with J.J. Watt just getting his career started. But their decision at No. 1 might come down to taking positional need over the best player in the draft.
Good luck on that, Texans GM Rick Smith.
New head coach Bill O'Brien knows quarterbacks and offense, having been Tom Brady's quarterback coach and offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots. He might only mildly take some pressure off Smith's decision at No. 1 overall, if the Texans draft a quarterback.
Then, if they decide on a quarterback, will it be Texas-grown playmaker Johnny Manziel, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater or the surging Blake Bortles? Or, if they select Clowney to work opposite Watt, which passer do they pick at the start of Round 2, and will the quarterback that O'Brien and Smith want make it that far?
"Everything is up for grabs at this point," Smith told the Houston Chronicle's Brian T. Smith.
Clearly...including Smith's job.
Rick Spielman, Minnesota Vikings
Put every NFL general manager who doesn't have a franchise quarterback on the hot seat.
In the Minnesota Vikings' case, you amp up the pressure when you have already made a questionable decision on a quarterback like Christian Ponder a few years ago.
Vikings GM Rick Spielman made the move for Ponder at No. 12 overall in 2011, but all they have gotten is a guy who looks destined to be a career backup.
Spielman told the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Master Tesfatsion:
Christian will be here; I don't anticipate anything—him not being here. Right now we're looking at quarterbacks, so we would say we don't have that position solidified. I know Christian does have the physical abilities to do it, but for whatever reason things haven't come together for him.
So, it is back to the drawing board at the most important position. If the draft goes quarterback-heavy in the top five with the likes of Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles flying off the board, things will get difficult for Spielman and the Vikings at No. 8.
Spielman sounded like he was ready to go back to the well in the draft, if he can, telling Tesfatsion:
We really felt, coming out of the playoffs [after the 2012 season], and the way Christian was playing, because he played well toward the end of the season—he started out strong, and went in that dip, and started to come, that, 'Hey, this is a second-year guy that's on the come,' and...[he] didn't carry over last year. That's going to make us look and re-evaluate that position. ...
Everybody's going to be heavily involved in that quarterback decision. Again, I will take the full responsibility for that decision that's ever made, but we are going to do it as a group and everybody's got to be sold on that player.
You've just got to keep getting up there and trying to keep turning it over to try and find that right combination and that right quarterback for your franchise. We're going to be aggressive to try to do that to try to get that position right.
Again, good luck, particularly at No. 8. Spielman might have to move up again to pick a quarterback.
His career depends on it. Eventually time runs out.
Trent Baalke, San Francisco 49ers
Unlike the other teams in this slideshow, the San Francisco 49ers have their quarterback. Colin Kaepernick is still well-regarded despite a disappointing season. They also have an elite contender and are not having to rebuild, even if they compete in arguably the toughest division in football.
That doesn't mean 49ers GM/VP of player personnel Trent Baalke hasn't put heat on himself this winter, particularly amid the tension with head coach Jim Harbaugh. Bleacher Report's Chris Simms says in this video that Harbaugh wants more power with regard to player decisions.
Baalke needs to get a new deal done with Harbaugh as head coach, and he might have to surrender some of the control. A stern, "No" might lead to Baalke being shown the door in San Francisco.
That battle will be waged in the coming weeks, and without a plan in place, the 49ers' draft-day war room could be a prickly place.
Topping this off, Baalke has to work out a new long-term deal with Kaepernick. The GM might have to do that with his job at stake.
The good news for him, unlike the others in this slideshow, is that he has an awful lot to work with.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.