5 Most Popular GMs in the NFL
Constructing a competitive 53-man roster as a general manager in the NFL is an inexact science.
Few understand its nuances, and those who get it right deserve to wear white lab coats. The draft requires the GM and his front office to evaluate hundreds of players, narrow the list down to a handful of targets and pray they don't get cut before the season starts.
Free agency isn't any easier. With the fluid nature of contracts and only a 16-game season, NFL rosters go through significant changes year after year. A player's value can plummet so far in a matter of weeks that it's in the team's best interest to let him go midseason, something you can't exactly do in the NBA or MLB.
Though teams can cut their losses quickly, that means a GM's moves have much less time to pan out and that they can follow their failed signings out the door. In fact, nearly one-third of the league has hired a GM since January 2013.
On the other end of the spectrum, doing the job well (or hiring yourself, Jerry) means you never have to look for a new one. By the end of the season, seven GMs will have been with their franchises for at least 10 years and will have accounted for six Super Bowls in that span.
Here are five of the savviest general managers in the NFL, a mix of veterans who have been at it seemingly forever and less experienced guys working toward legendary status.
5. Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore Ravens
Few have been doing the GM thing as well as Ozzie Newsome has for as long as Ozzie Newsome has.
Baltimore's GM since 2002, the Hall of Fame player stepped in after the team's first Super Bowl win and has been providing his coach top defensive talent ever since. Consider these draft picks: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Terrence Cody, Arthur Brown, Paul Kruger, Lardarius Webb, Haloti Ngata, Dawan Landry. You get the point.
And that's just on defense. Consider that all but two of Newsome's draft picks since 2009 are still active players in the NFL. The draft stats go on and on. Baltimore has drafted 15 players who have made a Pro Bowl, 17 if you include undrafted rookies Bart Scott and Justin Tucker.
Though Baltimore hit a Super Bowl slump last year, going 8-8, it wasn't for a lack of effort. Rotoworld's Pat Daugherty points out that Newsome handled the fallout of an aging core like a true businessman:
Ray Lewis? Allowed to ride off into the sunset without a fight. Ed Reed? We’ve appreciated your years of service, but here’s your severance ham. Anquan Boldin? Couldn’t have done it without you, but now we can’t do it with your salary. Paul Kruger? We’ll let you get overpaid, just not by us.
His legend doesn't only live in the draft room. Last year he pried Elvis Dumervil away from the Broncos after their bizarre faxing issue and signed veterans Marcus Spears, Chris Canty and Michael Huff to try to avoid the Super Bowl hangover. This offseason he brought in mercurial wide receiver Steve Smith to aid Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith in the passing game.
4. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Most non-Patriots football fans will cringe at the sight of Bill Belichick on this or any list. And having won three out of five Super Bowls, he's definitely been the top coach of the 21st century.
He's also the only guy in the NFL to bridge the gap between the office and the field.
Part of the New England Patriots' 11 consecutive seasons of double-digit wins—and 12-of-13—is his ability to put the right pieces around Tom Brady. When players go down, Belichick always seems to patch over those holes with more than just replacement-level talent.
Take 2013 for example. Here's a list of players who missed significant time while Belichick and Brady led the Pats to a 12-4 record and the AFC Championship:
The Patriots tend to be more unconventional than most when it comes to formations and personnel choices. From employing lineback Mike Vrabel as a goal-line touchdown machine to running tight end-heavy sets, Belichick has an intimate knowledge of what types of players his system needs and the ability to go get them.
Though he's living a lifelong struggle to obtain top-level talent at wide receiver, Belichick gets a pass when looking at his draft history. New England is one of the few teams to hit on first-round picks more often than not. They've also found some late-round gems who've made significant contributions over the years: Deion Branch (2nd round, 2002), Dan Koppen (5th, 2003), Asante Samuel (4th, 2003), Stephen Gostkowski (4th, 2006), Sebastian Vollmer (2nd, 2009).
Belichick seems to have taken a different approach to free agency this year, signing guys not already past their prime like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and James Anderson.
3. Trent Baalke, San Francisco 49ers
A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers had the most terrifying roster in the NFL coming off a Super Bowl loss.
Fast-forward 12 months, and NaVorro Bowman is recovering from a torn ACL and MCL. Aldon Smith could miss half the season and has a host of off-field problems. Glenn Dorsey is done for the year. Yet coach Jim Harbaugh still has Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Justin Smith and rookie Chris Borland in his front seven.
The same goes for the secondary, which let Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown go. Baalke replaced them with Antoine Bethea, Chris Cook and first-round draft pick Jimmie Ward.
Baalke's body of work goes back to 2010, when he hit draft pay dirt with Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and Bowman as the unofficial GM. Upon his official hiring in January 2011, Baalke hired Harbaugh and drafted Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Chris Culliver.
He hasn't been bad in the free-agency market, either.
Under Harbaugh's direction, San Francisco has averaged 12 wins a season, made three straight NFC Championship games and got within reach of winning Super Bowl 34.
Suffice to say that Baalke knows how to put together a deep roster.
2. John Elway, Denver Broncos
As it stands, John Elway convincing Peyton Manning to jump ship on the Colts is one of the man-made wonders of the world. That move alone puts him among the top general managers in the league.
One of the newer GMs in the NFL—hired as executive VP of football operations in January 2011 and given the GM title after the Super Bowl—Elway has used Manning as a way to ease his onboarding experience. After losing Elvis Dumervil to Baltimore in FaxGate, Elway simply replaced him with a cheaper guy, Shaun Phillips. Manning's presence also helped in bringing in Wes Welker and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on team-friendly deals.
Some of Elway's best moves may have been the ones he didn't make after Denver's Super Bowl debacle. He could have overpaid Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno and even Champ Bailey. Instead, Elway paved the way for Montee Ball and signed Emmanuel Sanders on the cheap. He focused his big signings on improving a leaky defense with DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward.
Though he's only been at it a few short years, Elway has helped Denver put together back-to-back 13-win seasons by hiring John Fox as coach, unemotionally ending the Tim Tebow era and making the biggest free-agent signing of the past decade.
1. John Schneider/Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
While Pete Carroll has been a household name in football circles for years, John Schneider has risen from obscurity to become the toast of the NFL.
One team wins the Super Bowl every year, but the way in which the Seattle Seahawks dominated throughout the season and in the big game had a different feel. Last season, according to Football Perspective, Seattle had the second-youngest AV-adjusted age in the NFL, which weights ages by each player's contributions.
After running Denver off the field in the first few minutes of the Super Bowl, Schneider and Carroll have followed the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" model. They re-signed Legion of Boom members Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas and defensive end Michael Bennett to big extensions.
While Seattle had to let several key performers go, it's a testament to the duo's ability to build such a strong team with relative no-names before those players get bigger offers. Gone are Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Clinton McDonald, Golden Tate, Paul McQuistan and Breno Giacomini.
Schneider would love for us to forget the $10 million he threw at Matt Flynn and the Percy Harvin trade, which has yet to pan out. Hitting the lottery on mid-round draft picks with Sherman, Russell Wilson, K.J. Wright, Byron Maxwell, Malcolm Smith and Kam Chancellor help (here's a detailed analysis from Field Gulls of just how well he has drafted.)
Bargain signings like Cliff Avril and the ability to negotiate with Marshawn Lynch help prove this is an organization run by first-class personnel.