21. Les Snead - Rams
Snead has been nothing if not bold. One of his first moves as general manager was parlaying the No. 2 overall pick of the 2012 draft into three first rounders, with a second-rounder thrown in as the cherry on top. He traded up last April to make a 5-foot-8, 176-pound receiver the first skill player off the board at No. 8. Snead has handed out eye-popping deals in free agency, giving Cortland Finnegan and Jared Cook a combined 10 years and $85.11 million. The problem? Snead has missed as much as he’s hit. A stockpile of 10 2012 draft picks was supposed to supply Sam Bradford with the supporting talent he’s never had. Instead the Rams have Brian Quick, Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. Chris Givens has proven to be a one-dimensional deep threat. Finnegan? He’s already been cut. Cook? He’s the same straight-line speedster who caught balls up the seam in Tennessee, but did little else. Snead has been dealt some unlucky blows. One free-agent signing that did work, LT Jake Long, is now recovering from a torn ACL. The same is true of Bradford. GMing in the same division as the league’s two best teams, Snead is operating with zero room for error. That may not be fair, but them’s the breaks. Now Snead has to create a few breaks of his own, and clean up the errors.
22. Doug Whaley - Bills
Whaley has a major problem. His hand-picked quarterback, E.J. Manuel, looked nothing like a future franchise player as a rookie. If Manuel continues on his “bust” trajectory, it could be a mistake that ends the Whaley era in Buffalo before it ever really begins. That’s a shame, because elsewhere Whaley hit the right notes as a rookie general manager. Alongside Buddy Nix, Whaley oversaw an otherwise strong draft, and set an aggressive tone that’s been missing from one of the league’s most staid franchises for over a decade. As Manuel has already proven, if Whaley is going to go down, it will be swinging. Sometimes that’s all you can hope for when you’re a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since Bill Clinton was president.
23. Kevin Colbert - Steelers
There’s actually a game Colbert likes more than football: Kick the can. Colbert believes the primary function of a general manager is to restructure contracts. With Colbert perpetually sending the bill down the road, the Steelers have gone from one of the league’s elite rosters to one of its most stale. It’s a curious form of management, but not one Colbert seems ready to change. Just this month, the contracts of Troy Polamalu (33 in April) and Heath Miller (32 in October) were extended through 2016, while Antonio Brown’s deal was restructured less than 20 months after the ink dried. If there’s one thing a GM can’t fear, it’s tough decisions, but Colbert seems petrified by the harsh realities of his job, unwilling to move on from the core of yesteryear. Complicating matters is Colbert’s increasingly-mediocre draft record. Impact first-rounders have been in short supply, which is a major problem since Colbert is no longer finding late-round studs with any real regularity. Cooking the books while disappointing on draft weekend is a recipe that will doom any franchise, no matter how storied. He can keep forestalling it for however long he likes, but Colbert’s day of reckoning is a slow train that won’t be derailed unless he makes drastic changes.
24. Rick Spielman - Vikings
Elevated from the Vikings’ GM-by-committee in 2012, Spielman’s tenure hasn’t suffered from a lack of imagination. The problem is that his ideas are typically of the “throw ‘em against the wall and see what sticks” variety. Cordarrelle Patterson at No. 29 overall was a gamble more teams should have been willing to take. Mike Zimmer was a strong hire at head coach. But five years for Greg Jennings? $2 million for Josh Freeman? They were desperate ideas that produced predictably uninspiring results. Spielman hasn’t come close to solving the Vikings’ woes at quarterback, and may not be in position to do so at No. 8 overall in May. Spielman is not an abjectly bad general manager, but one without vision. If he can’t soon chart a long-term course, someone else will.
25. Martin Mayhew - Lions
Mayhew’s first draft pick was a franchise quarterback who’s still only 26 years old. The next year, he landed one of the best defensive players of a generation. That’s on top of the all-time great he inherited at receiver. So the question is, why has Mayhew’s team been so bad for the majority of his tenure? Mayhew has building blocks that are the envy of the league, but has too often surrounded them with knuckleheads and busts. One thing Mayhew got right was firing the league’s most undisciplined head coach, Jim Schwartz. Who did he replace him with? Jim Caldwell, a coach who oversaw one of the worst implosions in league history at his last job. Mayhew knows high-end talent when he sees it. He rarely misses in the first round. It’s the rest of the roster that seems to elude him. Mayhew has built an impressive foundation in Detroit, but doesn’t appear to be the man to finish the building.
26. Ruston Webster - Titans
Webster has found himself a good coach in Ken Whisenhunt, and has some talent on defense. He’s been a perfectly-fine drafter. The problem has been his attempts to build his team through free agency. There is not a planet in the universe where giving Shonn Greene three years and $10 million would have made sense. Granted, Webster often appeared to be operating under orders from late owner Bud Adams, but he’s whipped up a roster that has some rhyme, but almost no reason. Webster has just enough building blocks in place — Whiz, DT Jurrell Casey, a solid offensive line and young talent at receiver — that he could still salvage his tenure. But he’s got to formulate a more coherent plan, preferably one that involves moving on from Jake Locker.
27. Jerry Jones - Cowboys
Jerry Jones is a clown. We’ve known this since he first bought the Cowboys in 1989. It becomes more apparent every time he opens his mouth. But there was a time when Jones was actually underrated as a general manager. That ship has sailed. Increasingly aware of his own mortality, Jones has become increasingly desperate to return the Cowboys to playoff glory. It’s resulted in the league’s most over-leveraged roster, not to mention its most nonsensical power structure. “Jason Garrett has a very high tolerance for ambiguity.” ‘Ol Jer meant this as a compliment. In reality, it’s a more damning indictment of his managerial style than I could ever hope to write. No one wants to win more than Jerry Jones. This, I actually believe. But no one has less of an idea of how to do so in the 21st Century. Jones is too meddlesome with his coaching staff, too loyal to his own players and just too damn ill-considered with everything. He’s patient when he should be rash (Jason Garrett), and rash when he should be patient (his recent approach to Day 1 of the draft). No one in the history of the league has handed out more ludicrous in-house contract extensions. Jones is a giant of the game, but he’s gone from winner to laughingstock.
28. Bruce Allen - Redskins
The difference between Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder? Jones at least admits he wants to run things, and doesn’t bother funneling his moves through a puppet general manager. Snyder also has a shorter attention span. From what we can gather, he only seems interested in meddling with the big moves. But meddle he does, making a mess of his once-storied franchise, and making Allen extremely difficult to evaluate on his own merits. Under Allen/Snyder’s guidance, the Redskins have gotten extremely little bang for their buck, running up huge cap charges while nevertheless fielding one of the league’s thinnest rosters. That’s due in part to the duo’s cheating. They dumped an illegal amount of money into the uncapped year of 2010, resulting in the loss of $36 million in cap space to be spread out over 2012-13. The money is back for 2014, but coach Mike Shanahan is gone. It was alongside Shanny that Allen oversaw four relatively strong draft classes. Allen is also absent the Redskins’ No. 2 overall pick in May’s draft, the final price for the 2012 Robert Griffin III trade. Moths to the big-name flame, there’s little doubt Allen and Snyder will look to compensate for the absence of their first-rounder by spending big in free agency. There’s also little doubt that like the duo’s previous spending sprees, it will result in more “offseason victories” than actual wins.
29. Reggie McKenzie - Raiders
“Just wait till the Raiders get cap space” has been the most common refrain from McKenzie’s (surprisingly numerous) defenders. Well now the Raiders have it. Roughly $65 million of it. What was McKenzie’s first move with it? Letting his two best free agents, LT Jared Veldheer and ascendant RE Lamarr Houston, reach the open market. It was a baffling decision from the overseer of by far the league’s least-talented roster, but McKenzie has made no shortage of baffling decisions since replacing Hue Jackson. McKenzie’s ineptitude has been most striking on draft weekend. If there’s one thing the Raiders had in 2013, it was available playing time for young players. That’s why it was simply stunning that of the 16 draft picks McKenzie made between 2012-13, two played more than 353 snaps last season, TE Mychal Rivera and LB Sio Moore. None played more than 622. Again, there wasn’t a team in the league with less veteran talent, but there wasn’t a team in the league giving less playing time to young talent. Fourth-round QB Tyler Wilson was released before Week 1. That’s simply unheard of for a mid-round quarterback. On the free agency front, let’s just say McKenzie literally signed Alex Barron, and that he almost made the team. McKenzie finally has cap space, but nothing he’s done in his first two years on the job suggests he has a clue.
The New Guys
Ray Farmer - Browns
Farmer’s only been on the job one month, but he’s already made one good decision, and one bad one. The good? He turned down the Dolphins’ job. The bad? He accepted the Browns’ job. Considered a rising front-office star before his promotion, Farmer has cast his lot with an owner in Jimmy Haslam who’s been impatient in football, and (allegedly) felonious outside of it. He’s going to be a hard man to win with. The same is true of Farmer’s coaching situation. The Browns have accomplished the rather astounding feat of having a rookie general manager who wasn’t a package deal with his rookie coach. We all know how shotgun coach/GM marriages generally turn out. But aside from his bedfellows, there’s no obvious reason Farmer can’t find success where so many others have been failed, or been run out of town.
Dennis Hickey - Dolphins
Hickey is supposedly “in charge” of the Dolphins’ 53-man roster, but it’s coach Joe Philbin who has the ear of owner Stephen Ross. The Dolphins’ Plan Z to replace Jeff Ireland, Hickey was set to be released from the Bucs’ front office until he got the call to come 250 miles down I-75 to South Beach. Hickey has plenty of experience — he was with the Bucs for 18 years — but nothing could prepare a man for the chaotic nature of Miami’s power vacuum (if you insist, “power structure”). Unless Hickey proves to be a true diamond in the rough, he’s not going to be the answer for one of the league’s most dysfunctional franchises.
Jason Licht - Bucs
Hired to be Lovie Smith’s caddie in Tampa, Licht is a blank slate, albeit one with a strong scouting background. Smith has final say on the 53-man roster, but an infamously tin ear for offensive talent. That means that even though he doesn’t have the final word, Licht has an extremely important job to do.