This week, my friend Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports had an interesting tweet which sparked comments from some of the bigger names in the industry such as Josh Norris, Matt Waldman and Dane Vandernat. Eric posited that, with four GM vacancies (Bears, Raiders, Vikings and Giants) and another coming after the draft in Pittsburgh, one trend to watch might be teams hiring “accountant type(s)” and stocking the staff with “strong talent evaluators.” I thought it was an interesting take.

A few thoughts:

  • Since we launched the award four years ago, the teams that have won the Best Draft Award as voted on by NFL scouts and executives have been the Saints (2017), Colts (2018), 49ers (2019) and Bucs (2020). It’s a limited sample size, obviously, but two of those teams (Saints and 49ers) have a head coach who more or less sets the direction for the franchise. Then you’ve got a couple of teams that are more tradition-minded with GMs that hired the head coaches and seem to have most of the power in the franchise.
  • If you look at the head coaches and GMs hired in the last few years, I’d say that putting the head coach — a solid, traditional football guy — ahead of the GM is the most pronounced hiring trend. I would argue the Raiders, Rams, Bills and Washington have all hired head coaches who largely set the culture and direction of the team, and the GM tries to find players who fit that direction. Having that person in place would, theoretically, open the GM slot up to an analytics, math-oriented person.
  • However, with regard to analytics and accounting-style GMs, I would argue that most of these teams have general managers who came up through the ranks. Strong football people. Lynch in SF, Snead in LA and Mayhew in Washington especially fit this model. 
  • I guess the teams with that “accountant”-style GM in place would be the Saints, Bills, Cowboys (maybe — I think of Jones as more owner than classic GM) and Eagles (though Roseman kinda straddles the football/business divide). Yes, all of those teams made the playoffs, or at least had a winning record this season. However, I’d argue that every one of those teams had a de facto “football” GM close by (Ireland in New Orleans, Schoen in Buffalo, McClay in Dallas and Weidl in Philly). What’s more, two of those four will probably emerge from this hiring cycle as GMs themselves, and McClay likely doesn’t leave because he’s got such broad powers in Dallas and seems to be very loyal (he signed an extension to stay with the Cowboys just this month). 
  • I could see where maybe the accountant-as-GM model argument is gaining ground because the GMs who got sacked this round (Spielman, Pace, Gettleman and even Mayock, who came to Vegas from the booth) are all football guys. I still disagree with Eric’s thesis (respectfully, of course).
  • I guess my argument is that if you don’t have a GM heavily grounded in player evaluation, you better have someone very, very close to him that is. To me, that’s a validation of the GM-as-football-guy hire, even if the head coach is the person who’s the main driver of decisions, etc. I don’t see this as a dismissal of the role of analytics. I just think you’d better know the nuts and bolts of the game first.

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