Some general managers are ex-players. Others are ex-oilmen. General managers can coach the rosters they oversee, and even own them. One thing they can’t do is hide. Blame can be shifted in the form of fired coaches and released players, but sooner or later, it all catches up to you. It caught up to six men in 2015, either in the form of demotions or walking papers. Not that credit and blame is straightforward business when it comes to picking players. Great plans can yield disappointing returns. Blind squirrels can find nuts. Even the NFL’s best general manager was fired from his first job. The process of GMing is anonymous and unseen. The results, in the form of wins and losses, are stark and irreproachable. Sometimes this leads to great men getting fired. Others, long careers and Super Bowl titles. For most, time is spent in the middle, with average GMs alternating good and bad moves.
General managers hire coaches, draft players and navigate free agency. They assign prices, and decide how long to hold on to the assets they’ve acquired. How they fare in these five areas is how we’ll assess the success of the league’s 26 incumbent GMs. 2015’s six new hires are evaluated separately. For the sake of this list, we’ll consider the “general manager” to be whomever is believed to have the biggest role in shaping a team’s 53-man roster. For some — say Jeff Fisher to Les Snead — co-conspirators are mentioned in the write-up. Last year’s list can be found here.
1. Bill Belichick, Patriots
Last Year’s Ranking: 1
Bill Belichick’s blind spots as a personnel man are well known. The greatest football mind of the 21st century can’t draft wide receivers or cornerbacks to save his life. But when Belichick looks in the rear-view mirror, the only object closer than it appears is his fourth Super Bowl title. Even the best have weaknesses, but no one in today’s NFL can match Belichick’s strengths. Polishing his fourth Lombardi, Belichick didn’t get sentimental. He passed on a bidding war for 30-year-old Darrelle Revis, and one-year-too-early’d instead of one-year-too-late’d 33-year-old nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Popular sentiment would have allowed for a victory lap in New England, but Belichick knows there’s no such thing. If you don’t stay ahead of the curve in the salary-cap era NFL, you’re going to slam into it. No one understands this better than Belichick.
2. Ozzie Newsome, Ravens
Last Year’s Ranking: 2
When the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens missed the playoffs in 2013, it wasn’t Newsome’s failure, but an unfortunate byproduct of his plan. Newsome refused to sacrifice his team’s future for a one-year reload, so the band was broken up. Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin and Paul Kruger were parted with, and the short-term consequence was an 8-8 season for a team that averaged 11 wins between 2008-13. But like Belichick, Newsome isn’t interested in the short term. He takes the long view, a view that meant it didn’t take long to get back to the playoffs. In 2013, Newsome inflicted pain on his roster. In 2014, he went 10-6, coming within two games of the Super Bowl. That’s the norm for a franchise that’s won a playoff game in six of the past seven years, and waved goodbye to no shortage of stars whilst nevertheless remaining amongst the league’s elite. Newsome is at it again in 2015, letting Pernell McPhee and Torrey Smith walk for contracts that can only be described as “questionable.” Maybe it will hurt his team for one season. More than likely, it will help keep it near the top for 2-3.
3. John Schneider, Seahawks
Last Year’s Ranking: 4
Like Bill Belichick, John Schneider’s record is hardly spotless. This is the man, after all, who gave Matt Flynn $10 million guaranteed. Schneider made another big mistake in 2013, surrendering his first-round pick for an injury-prone and volatile Percy Harvin. Signed to a six-year, $67 million deal that included $14.5 million guaranteed, Harvin appeared in just one regular-season contest. He “returned” for the playoffs, but caught all of four passes in three games while working around a concussion. All the while, his attitude was poisonous. What did Schneider do? He cut his losses. Harvin was flipped to the Jets for a pittance the following October, and the Seahawks marched to their second straight Super Bowl. Schneider recognizes talent like few can. If you add up the rounds Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor were drafted in, you get 13. But it’s Schneider’s Belichick-like ability to always be moving forward that sets him apart from his peers. Mistakes happen. Admitting them in a timely fashion is just one of the reasons Schneider could be on his way to building the team of the decade.
4. Ted Thompson, Packers
Last Year’s Ranking: 3
Ted Thompson is the kind of person who never ventures outside the county, let alone the state. Why travel? He’s got everything he needs right here. With free agency four days old, longtime Packers follower Michael Rodney shared the most astounding stat of the spring: Of the 60 Packers under contract on March 14, only one — Julius Peppers — had ever played a game for another team. Even for Thompson, that remarkable feat is an outlier, but still a signpost of his outlook. Stay the course, and develop from within. Of course, the course is fairly straightforward when you have Aaron Rodgers as your franchise player, but Thompson hasn’t looked his gift horse in the mouth. He’s surrounded it with talent, letting the right ones go (Greg Jennings) and bringing the right ones back (Jordy Nelson). Thompson’s home-fried philosophy isn’t a winner in and of itself — it doesn’t matter where your players come from if you don’t get the right ones — but his implementation of it sure is.
5. John Elway, Broncos
Last Year’s Ranking: 6
Subtlety is not John Elway’s strength. Elway excels at something much louder — finding impact players. From his first first-rounder (Von Miller) to his first quarterback (Peyton Manning), Elway has hit home run after home run. There have been underrated free agents (Brandon Marshall, Terrance Knighton, Emmanuel Sanders), unheralded rookies (Chris Harris, C.J. Anderson) and big-ticket signings (Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward). They’ve all done their job, turning the Broncos into the decade’s best team yet to win a Super Bowl. Elway may never get his just due as an executive if the Manning Era comes and goes without a title, but he’s brought game to match his name in the Broncos’ front office.
Last Year’s Ranking: 7
Perhaps the most under-reported aspect of the Bengals’ return to relevance is that they’ve done so without the benefit of a general manager. Whether it’s a way for famously-thrifty owner Mike Brown to save a few pennies or a canny acknowledgement that measurables matter more than the human eye, it’s worked. There are quibbles. The Bengals lack a franchise quarterback, and are 0-for-the-postseason under Marvin Lewis. Impact players are often allowed to walk in free agency. But those are just nitpicks for a team that’s gone from laughingstock to annual contender in the league’s toughest division. It may not be clear where the credit lies, but it’s more than deserved.
7. Steve Keim, Cardinals
Last Year’s Ranking: 12
Promoted from VP of Player Personnel in January 2013, Steve Keim inherited an aging roster, one that had gone 18-30 over the previous three seasons. He would have to act boldly to undo the rot of the Rod Graves/Ken Whisenhunt era. So naturally he hired a 60-year-old rookie head coach … and traded for a 33-year-old quarterback. Although both moves were met with cautious optimism, they had disaster potential for a first-time general manager. But Keim’s gambles worked, and helped reveal him as one of the game’s brightest shot callers. The jury is still out on Keim’s first draft pick, 2013 first-rounder Jonathan Cooper, but he’s shown a knack for procuring young talent. Keim nailed his 2014 day-one pick in versatile safety Deone Bucannon, and has unearthed mid-round gems in Tyrann Mathieu and John Brown. Keim’s forays into free agency have been limited, but productive. How many second-year GMs find a building block left tackle on the open market? Keim did with Jared Veldheer. He also inked one of 2014’s top “prove-it” players in Antonio Cromartie, while Mike Iupati could be one of this year’s best signings. Keim has yet to oversee a playoff victory, but they’ll start coming in bunches if he keeps up at his current rate.
8. Jerry Reese, Giants
Last Year’s Ranking: 9
Peak, meet valley. 25 percent of Jerry Reese’s seasons as general manager have produced Super Bowl titles. The other 75 percent? Zero playoff wins. The most recent 25 percent? 13 total victories. Reese’s 2013 first-rounder is a tweener offensive lineman in Justin Pugh who’s yet to find a position. Reese’s 2014 first-rounder in Odell Beckham had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time. It’s that kind of unevenness that can make Reese tough to evaluate. Mistakes are made — often. Reese is a daring drafter and willing to spend in free agency. Sometimes this produces Jason Pierre-Paul, others David Wilson. At the end of the day, it makes for a roster that typically has the upside to win the Super Bowl.
9. Dave Gettleman, Panthers
Last Year’s Ranking: 14
Dave Gettleman’s predecessor Marty Hurney believed in one thing — making running backs rich. That, and a draft “strategy” which once called for trading a future first-rounder for the No. 43 overall pick left Gettleman with a cupboard that achieved the rare feat of being not only bare, but ruinously expensive. It limited Gettleman to two years of dollar-store shopping — two years that also produced back-to-back playoff appearances, and the first repeat champions in the history of the NFC South. Gettleman’s rabbit/hatting of an overextended roster has laid the foundation for a bright future, and left behind the funds to lock up cornerstones Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. A solid drafter who has avoided free-agent mistakes — Michael Oher will test this in 2015 — Gettleman hasn’t been flashy, but he’s been the kind of solid Carolina desperately needed in the post-Hurney era.
10. Mickey Loomis, Saints
Last Year’s Ranking: 8
Mickey Loomis is one of the most important figures in Saints history. Together with coach Sean Payton, he’s transformed his franchise from an also-ran into a contender. Only the Saints haven’t contended for much the past three seasons. An organization that averaged 12 wins from 2009-11 has gone 7-9, 11-5 and 7-9 over the past three years. The stagnation starts with “Bountygate,” an inexcusable scandal that occurred on Loomis’ watch, and cost him the first eight games of 2012. But that’s not what set Loomis’ roster back from elite to ordinary. That would be gray hair. Loomis can’t make Drew Brees any younger. The same can’t be said for his teammates. Loomis has slowly begun to address this, cutting overpriced veterans while bringing in young playmakers. This is where things get weird, as Loomis’ two-year purge hasn’t just included the Roman Harpers and Pierre Thomases of the world, but Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills. Even if the Saints are remaking their offense as a run-first bully, any philosophy would benefit from Graham and Stills stretching seams and lifting lids. Loomis has earned the benefit of the doubt. That’s what happens when you lead the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl title. But the only time “benefit of the doubt” comes up is when you need it. Loomis needs it now. Another season of 7-9, and he may no longer have it.
11. Ryan Grigson, Colts
Last Year’s Ranking: 18
You know Ryan Grigson for his “best” move — having a pulse the day Indy was eligible to select Andrew Luck — and his worst move, trading for Trent Richardson. (Jerry Hughes digresses.) What you might have missed was everything in between. T-Rich hasn’t been Grigson’s only failure. 2013 first-rounder Bjoern Werner has made zero impact, while veteran retreads Hakeem Nicks and LaRon Landry were mistakes even before the ink dried. But though Grigson has had plenty of high-profile failures, he’s also had plenty of under-the-radar coups. From Florida International (T.Y. Hilton) to Canada (Jerrell Freeman), Grigson has shown a knack for finding talent in strange places. He’s also signed some of the right veteran retreads (Ahmad Bradshaw), and had success with mid- to late-round draft picks (Donte Moncrief and Jonathan Newsome in 2014). You can focus on Grigson’s (L)uck and misses, but don’t let it distract from the fact that this is a roster that’s gotten better every year, and came within a game of the Super Bowl last season.
12. John Dorsey, Chiefs
Last Year’s Ranking: 20
John Dorsey’s tenure has been short on splashy moves. Ok, really short. But that’s by design after Dorsey and partner-in-crime Andy Reid inherited a roster they knew was more talented than its 2-14 2012 record indicated. The house didn’t need to be remodeled, so Reid and Dorsey simply applied a new coat of paint. It’s resulted in a 20-12 record, if not a playoff victory. Chiefs fans can be forgiven for wanting more pizzazz, but just ask the men below Dorsey on this list — forcing moves isn’t the answer. We doubt Dorsey and Reid want to be stuck with Alex Smith, either. But so is life in a league where quarterback talent is as elusive as ever. Dorsey can’t keep driving 55 forever, but he’s right to have remained in the right lane. At some point, Dorsey and Reid will have to make their pass on the left. For now, the speed limit is just fine.
13. Rick Smith, Texans
Last Year’s Ranking: 16
Despite being arguably the most-important figure in Texans history, Rick Smith was one bad year away from being fired last offseason. He didn’t have a bad one. Instead, he hired the game’s best new coach in Bill O’Brien, and locked up its best defender in J.J. Watt. Like any man who has been on the job for nine years, Smith has had plenty of misses. Even last year’s “can’t miss” No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney could prove to be one of them. But Smith’s finds have ushered in the first competitive era of Texans football, and produced two division titles in the past four years. If not for a pick sixin’ Matt Schaub — who despite his disastrous 2013 is one of Smith’s crowning achievements — 2013 would not have been the 2-14 disaster it turned out to be. Maybe Smith is just south of great. Either way, he’s damn good.
14. Tom Telesco, Chargers
Last Year’s Ranking: 17
Hired in 2013, Tom Telesco looked under the hood of A.J. Smith and Norv Turner’s Chargers and found that all Philip Rivers’ battery needed was a jump. Telesco’s makeover has not been drastic, and neither have the results. Two 9-7 seasons, one of which produced a playoff victory. That’s fine for a franchise with a quarterback in his prime. But what about beyond 2015? Rivers has been coy on his future as the Chargers’ is up in the air. It’s a delicate situation for a general manager whose primary method of steadying the ship has been keeping it in harbor away from the waves. Telesco has been adequate in the draft and sensible in free agency. That’s great when you have a pillar to build around. Less so when the aging heart departs a graying team. Telesco has been the right man at the right time for the Chargers, but the time may not be right for any general manager if Rivers is allowed to get away.
15. Rick Spielman, Vikings
Last Year’s Ranking: 24
Rick Spielman is an ideas man. They’re not always good, but simply elevating yourself from the groupthink can be half the battle as an NFL general manager. Spielman’s latest big idea, trading up for Teddy Bridgewater, could be a franchise changer. For what Bridgewater lacks in arm strength — which is a lot — he makes up for it in precision. That, coupled with excellent coaching hire Mike Zimmer has not only saved Spielman’s job, but put the Vikings on a competitive course in the cutthroat NFC North. Spielman’s gaffes have been plenty, with none more crippling than 2011’s reach for Christian Ponder. Even with that debacle corrected, Spielman still has plenty of headaches to work through. Matt Kalil’s regression and Cordarrelle Patterson’s lack of progression come to mind. But if Spielman is an ideas man, he’s also a ducker and dodger. Lord knows Spielman will make more mistakes. Lord knows, he should continue to fix them before it’s too late.
16. Jerry Jones, Cowboys
Last Year’s Ranking: 27
Perhaps not since the Cuban Missile Crisis has humanity stared down such a drastic alternate reality. Last May 8, at approximately 9:45 PM ET, the Cowboys were on the clock at No. 16 overall. Johnny Manziel remained available. The world awaited its inevitable fate. Then … the blockade worked. Stephen Jones "snatched the Manziel card straight out of his (father’s) hand,” and the Cowboys selected Notre Dame OG Zack Martin. A new world order was born, one in which the Cowboys behave rationally. Jones’ reward was the league’s fiercest running game, and second playoff victory since Bill Clinton was president. The lesson seems to have been lasting. Instead of handing out victory cigars in the form of lucrative long-term contracts, Jones refused to overpay DeMarco Murray, and waited out Rolando McClain. Always a brilliant business mind, Jones has done the unthinkable at age 72 — tame his carnival barker heart.
17. Doug Whaley, Bills
Last Year’s Ranking: 22
Doug Whaley doesn’t GM with the parking brake on. That’s great … except for the times the car has rolled down the hill. Whaley has done a lot of good in Buffalo. He’s stockpiled playmakers on both sides of the ball, and traded out an egomaniac dud of a coach in Doug Marrone for one of the league’s top leaders and defensive minds in Rex Ryan. If only Whaley hadn’t missed on his most-important decision, drafting E.J. Manuel. To his credit, that whiff didn’t chasten Whaley on draft weekend. To his detriment … that whiff didn’t chasten Whaley on draft weekend. Sammy Watkins was a solid rookie. He could have a real nice career ahead of him. The only problem is, there’s no guarantee Watkins will even end up a top-five wideout in his own class, and Whaley surrendered his 2015 first-rounder to move up just five spots. These are the kinds of moves that win Super Bowls when they pan out, but cost jobs when they don’t. For all the good he’s done, Whaley’s lack of a quarterback has him closer to the latter than the former.
18. Trent Baalke, 49ers
Last Year’s Ranking: 5
Trent Baalke has won more power struggles than Super Bowls. That’s a fact he apparently blames on ex-coach Jim Harbaugh, a man who took the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three years on the job, but nevertheless found himself fired before last season even began. As Harbaugh coached 2014 as a dead man walking, Baalke built his case against his best move. At the end of the day, Baalke and owner Jed York decided they had gotten away from their “core strengths” under the coach who led them to a 44-19-1 record. San Francisco’s core strength has always been winning — something Harbaugh did as much as Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll — but here we are. Without Harbaugh to kick around anymore, the buck now stops at Baalke. It’s he who must answer questions about a deteriorating roster, he who must rebuild a defense reeling from retirements and knee reconstructions. Baalke’s whisper campaign against Harbaugh was the most successful two-year commitment of his life. If that triumph isn’t repeated across his next two years of personnel moves, he’ll be the next man to be “mutually parted with” in San Francisco.
19. Kevin Colbert, Steelers
Last Year’s Ranking: 23
Kevin Colbert is unreasonably good at drafting receivers. The rest? Let’s just say he’s lucky to have Ben Roethlisberger. Colbert has let the Steelers’ typically elite defense slip into mediocrity, while finding offensive linemen capable of keeping Roethlisberger upright has proven a daunting challenge for the Steelers’ personnel man. Colbert’s line was improved in 2014, but his collection of 53 players still failed to win a playoff game for the fourth time in as many years. With Dick LeBeau and Troy Polamalu both gone, Colbert is running out of connections to the Steelers’ 2000s golden age, which will only shine a brighter light on his roster failures. Colbert has been around for some boom times, but the further the Steelers get from the Bill Cowher era, the less clear it gets just how much of an asset Colbert really is.
20. Martin Mayhew, Lions
Last Year’s Ranking: 25
General manager is not a straightforward job. It’s an unforgiving line of work, one where the right process can often yield the wrong result. But it’s not an entirely ambiguous exercise. A pretty easy way to make your team worse? Letting the best defensive tackle of his generation walk in free agency. That’s what Martin Mayhew did with Ndamukong Suh. The Lions had the league’s fiercest run defense in 2014, due in no small part to the attention Suh commanded. Now he’s gone to Miami, leaving a dramatically weakened team in his wake. Why is Suh gone? Because he would have cost $26.7 million under the franchise tag. Why is that the case? Because Mayhew kept kicking Suh’s salary-cap can down the road. This is a theme with Mayhew, who has also deferred monetary pain with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Mayhew has an eye for talent. He rarely misses on first-round picks, and has made nice moves in free agency. But his rosters are too often misshapen, and the result is inconsistent, volatile football.
21. Les Snead, Rams
Last Year’s Ranking: 21
For a team that’s supposedly stockpiled young talent, Les Snead’s roster still has an abundance of holes. The Rams lack depth basically everywhere but the defensive line, while they’re no closer to finding their quarterback of the future than they were before Snead’s predecessor took Sam Bradford. Snead and Jeff Fisher’s trade up for Tavon Austin has proven to be an unmitigated disaster, while 2014 first-rounder Greg Robinson looked nothing like a No. 2 overall pick as a rookie. Snead has been bold, wheeling and dealing draft picks. He’s lavished money on players like Jared Cook, Cortland Finnegan and Jake Long in free agency. But “bold” is not a strategy in and of itself, and too many of Snead’s hits on 17 have gone bust. Snead has been entertaining, but his team has been 7-9.
22. David Caldwell, Jaguars
Last Year’s Ranking: 19
The guy before David Caldwell brought Blaine Gabbert into the NFL world. He used a third-round pick on a punter. Suffice to say, there were roster issues when Caldwell took over. Suffice to say, he’s yet to fill them. Caldwell hasn’t been afraid to think big. He traded away a perfectly-good left tackle in Eugene Monroe to make way for Luke Joeckel, and used the No. 3 overall pick of last year’s draft on potential franchise quarterback Blake Bortles. The problem is that Caldwell’s big gambles have yet to reveal themselves as shrewd. Joeckel has been a mess through 21 NFL starts, while Bortles resembled Jake Locker 2.0 as a rookie. Caldwell’s two biggest decisions as general manager could derail the latest Next Generation of Jaguars Football before it even gets started. Caldwell has stockpiled talent at receiver, but had two underwhelming draft and free-agent classes. Lavishing $24 million guaranteed on Julius Thomas and his injury history was one of the biggest risks of the spring. Caldwell has gone big. Now he’s hoping it doesn’t turn into “go home.”
23. Jason Licht, Bucs
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
Under the thumb of Lovie Smith, Jason Licht’s first major move as Bucs general manager was releasing Darrelle Revis. Revis — who now has a ring — apparently couldn’t be square pegged into Smith’s round-hole defense. Licht took the savings and signed Josh McCown, Michael Johnson, Alterraun Verner and Anthony Collins. How did Licht’s Big Four fare? 12 months later, only one of them is still on the roster. Licht did get one thing right, drafting Mike Evans at No. 7 overall, but so far his primary contribution has been rubber stamping Smith’s Bears retreads (hellllllllo Chris Conte, Major Wright and Henry Melton). One year is never enough to judge an executive, but Licht’s Bucs start could hardly have been less auspicious. His fate will likely be sealed if he botches the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
24. Ray Farmer, Browns
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
Where does Jimmy Haslam end and Ray Farmer begin? That is the question at the heart of the 2015 Browns. By nearly any measure, Farmer’s first year on the job was an abject failure, but was he a patsy or the triggerman? It’s pretty well documented that Haslam ordered the code red on Johnny Manziel. Farmer doesn’t have such ready-made excuses for his other follies. However meddlesome Haslam may be, we doubt the cost plussin’ Tennessean made Farmer draft Justin Gilbert, or waive Charles Johnson. Haslam’s hand is felt in other matters — the Browns’ absurd quest for a “franchise quarterback” one year after drafting Manziel, the general dysfunction that helps scare away players like Jordan Cameron — but Farmer is more than just a scapegoat for Haslam’s imprudence. He’s an accomplice, one who’s not only looking like a monumental downgrade on Mike Lombardi, but one of the worst general managers in all of football.
25. Reggie McKenzie, Raiders
Last Year’s Ranking: 29 (out of 29)
What’s left to say about the Reggie McKenzie era in Oakland? The team hasn’t improved on the dark ages of Al Davis’ final days. It’s gotten worse, going 11-37 across three seasons. That includes a 2-24 “record” on the road. McKenzie hasn’t added impact players in free agency, and has scarcely done better in the draft. Yes, Khalil Mack is looking like a home run, but your odds of hitting it over the fence aren’t exactly low when you’re picking inside the top five. The hopeful refrain from McKenzie’s early days was “wait until he gets cap space.” This year, he had it. What did he do with it? Sign Trent Richardson, giving the worst running back in the league $600,000 guaranteed. There was no run at Ndamukong Suh, and only a cursory connection to Darrelle Revis. Typically, it’s smart not to build through free agency, but the Raiders may not even hit the league’s cap floor. That’s simply inexcusable for a roster with as little talent as McKenzie’s. McKenzie is overmatched, plain and simple. It’s not a question of if he’ll be around to finish the job he started. He won’t. The question is whether he’ll leave the roster in better shape than Davis did.
26. Ruston Webster, Titans
Last Year’s Ranking: 26 (out of 29)
Ruston Webster is not a general manager — he’s a grandmother collecting knickknacks. Webster doesn’t have a holistic view toward roster building. He tries to decorate the room with odds and ends, regardless of whether they match. $20 million for Michael Oher here. $9 million for Dexter McCluster there. Curious draft picks everywhere. Then there’s the matter of the man Webster hired to oversee his shelf of antique sewing needles, Precious Moments collectibles and M*A*S*H* bookends. Ken Whisenhunt is a decent coach when he’s working with Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks. He’s a team-killing nightmare when he’s not. There’s no Hall-of-Fame quarterback walking through that door in Tennessee, leaving behind a dreadful roster being tended by a man who can’t decide which sixth-round rookie to start next. Webster has no clue what he’s doing. If you think he’s about to get one, just ask 2015 free-agent signings Harry Douglas and Anthony Fasano. Maybe Webster is a nice guy. Great. He’s also the worst general manager in football.
The New Guys
Chip Kelly, Eagles
We’re not here to debate when Chip Kelly officially got final say over all things Eagles football. We are here to debate what he’s going to do with it. As a coach, Kelly is a visionary. Even if he ends his NFL career with zero playoff victories, he will have helped remake the modern game. As a general manager … well, he’s certainly shown a proclivity for remaking things. With hiding behind Howie Roseman no longer an option, Kelly has come out into the world like a teen who just got his driver’s license. The decisions have been fast, furious and decisive. Their ramifications, less so. It took Kelly 30 minutes to trade LeSean McCoy. It could take 30 games to sort out the changes he’s made since. Kelly just needed to be himself to make history as a coach. He might eventually need someone to save him from himself as a general manager.
Scott Pioli, Falcons
The latest Bill Belichick disciple to get a second chance, Pioli is arguably also the most worthy. Pioli’s case offers up a bit of a paradox. When Pioli was fired by the Chiefs in January 2013, it could scarcely be considered a surprise. A team without a quarterback was coming off a 2-14 season. But equally unsurprising has been the Chiefs’ success in the two years since. Pioli mangled some of his biggest decisions in Kansas City — quarterback, coach and two first-rounders, to name a few — but left behind the talent base of a team that’s managed to go 20-12 with Alex Smith at quarterback. Pioli knows how to fill the nooks and crannies of a roster, which makes him a perfect fit for a Falcons team that got the most-important things right under demoted GM Thomas Dimitroff, but failed at everything else. With a coach, quarterback and No. 1 receiver in place, Pioli can go to work at what he does best — building a football team. We know the process will be good. This time, so should the outcome.
Ryan Pace, Bears
The stamp of approval. Phil Emery had it from Scott Pioli. His replacement, Ryan Pace, has it from Sean Payton. Will Pace’s fade as fast as Emery’s did? As a new general manager, Pace checks all the right boxes. Although he spent the past 14 years working for one of the league’s winningest organizations, he’s still only 37. Pace was a steady riser in New Orleans, earning two promotions while mastering the art of pro personnel. After Emery charted a unique course, Pace has settled on the straight-and-narrow. His coaching hire, John Fox, is about as far from Marc Trestman as you can get. Maybe that’s right approach, maybe it’s not. As was the case with Emery, a “pissed off” Bears organization will find out soon enough.
Scot McCloughan, Redskins
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder makes approximately 10 bad decisions for every good one. Hiring Scot McCloughan as general manager was one of the good ones. McCloughan built up the 49ers roster that Trent Baalke is now tearing down, and was an integral part of the Seahawks’ revival under Pete Carroll. So why was he out of a job? He had a drinking problem. A fact that McCloughan is candid about was the only reason he was available to the Redskins in the first place. But if he’s fallen into the Redskins’ lap, he could also fall under Snyder’s tyrannical spell. McCloughan knows how to evaluate players. Few are better at it. But will he be the first man to overcome Snyder’s whims and impulses? If so, the Redskins will finally find themselves out of the NFL’s cellar. If not, McCloughan will become just the latest of Snyder’s fired saviors.
Mike Tannenbaum, Dolphins
It’s highly debatable whether Mike Tannenbaum deserved another opportunity to oversee someone’s 53-man roster. This is especially true since the man demoted in Tannenbaum’s wake, Dennis Hickey, had a strong first year on the job. But this is the Dolphins. Moves — typically big ones — must be made, regardless of their rationality. With the Jets, Tannenbaum was responsible for drafting Darrelle Revis and hiring Rex Ryan. He was also slowly exposed as a “cap guy,” making disastrous decisions on the offensive side of the ball while allowing Ryan’s defense to slowly deteriorate. Somewhere along the line was Mark Sanchez’s “apology extension” and the signing of Tim Tebow. With the Dolphins, Tannenbaum got off to a roaring start by nabbing Ndamukong Suh. The net gains of his other machinations are less clear. With Hickey helping and Suh and Ryan Tannehill providing cornerstones, perhaps Tannenbaum is better set up for long-term success than he was in New York. The question is whether Tannenbaum is capable of long-term success in any setting.
Mike Maccagnan, Jets
There are more thankless jobs than Jets general manager, but not many. Mike Maccagnan’s predecessor John Idzik was canned before so much as even hiring a head coach. Idzik left behind bushels of cap room, however, and Maccagnan used it to reunite with one of the greatest players in franchise history, Darrelle Revis. Antonio Cromartie and Brandon Marshall have also been added, while Maccagnan made a home-run coaching hire in Todd Bowles. Maccagnan has opted to reload, rather than rebuild, a roster that went 26-38 over the past four seasons. It’s what Jets fans wanted. Now we’ll find out if it’s what they needed.