21. Marty Hurney, Panthers
Marty Hurney was an unlikely comeback candidate. At the time of his firing in 2012, he had become a punchline for overpaying running backs in an age of passing. But as he departed, he left behind the seeds of a roster that germinated into three-straight division championships, blooming with a 15-1 Super Bowl squad in 2015. Following Dave Gettleman’s stunning summer firing in 2017, Hurney received his second chance, quickly turning an interim tag into a permanent gig. Largely quiet in free agency, Hurney has made just two big expenditures, Dontari Poe and C Matt Paradis. Always above average at making first-round selections, Hurney seems to have hit on D.J. Moore. No. 16 pick Brian Burns comes with monstrous upside as a 21-year-old three-year college starter. Hurney is probably not the GM of the future for an owner in David Tepper who made his name in the analytically-obsessed field of hedge fund management, but he seems surprisingly fine for the present in a hyper-competitive NFC South.
22. Brandon Beane, Bills
The situation in Buffalo is pretty simple: Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane are hitched to Josh Allen's wagon. They traded up two separate times to land Allen in last year’s draft and have oriented the entire roster around both the skills he has and those he lacks. In free agency, the focus was the offensive line and running game. The draft? The offensive line and running game. John Brown was signed to supplement Robert Foster as a deep threat while Cole Beasley was added to feign interest in the short game. A low percentage passer with a mammoth arm for as long as he’s been on the NFL map, Allen figures to ignore Beasley but benefit from the other new additions. Beane and McDermott are clear eyed about the quarterback they’re building around. The franchise-defining question is whether he should have been the pillar in the first place. Allen’s game is of another era. Like the days of Terry Bradshaw and John Elway, Beane and McDermott will find themselves bygone if Allen busts.
23. Brian Gaine, Texans
Brian Gaine was hired to be coach Bill O’Brien’s friend as much as anything else. The Texans had grown weary of O’Brien butting heads with ex-GM Rick Smith. It was mission accomplished in Year 1, with Gaine nabbing Tyrann Mathieu in free agency before overseeing a picks-poor draft. Despite having zero selections across the first 67 slots, Gaine still managed to come away with starting safety Justin Reid at No. 68. Some of Gaine’s other gambits — like throwing money at the second tier of free agent offensive linemen and hoping something sticks — were less successful. None of Zach Fulton, Senio Kelemete and Seantrel Henderson were an asset. Gaine had more to work with this spring, using top-55 picks on a pair of tackles and a cornerback. Still mostly anonymous, it could be another year or two before Gaine establishes a real identity working alongside the domineering O’Brien.
24. Bob Quinn, Lions
It has never been easy to discern what Bob Quinn stands for as a general manager. It’s been nearly impossible since he hired Matt Patricia as head coach. There is no mystery as to Patricia’s approach. Eschewing the “multiple” ways of his mentor Bill Belichick, Patricia is trying to turn back the clock to stone-age football as the rest of the league goes all in on passing pyrotechnics. This would be an interesting hedge for some teams to make, but not the Lions, who have a durable, efficient and prolific quarterback in Matthew Stafford. Stafford had finally settled into an identity before Patricia gutted the offense in 2018. Now the Lions are all in on implementing his vision, loading up on former Patriots in free agency, including Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman and Danny Amendola. “Patriots West” is an approach that has failed almost everywhere it has been attempted, and Patricia’s brand feels particularly uninspired. No longer in control of his own destiny, Quinn is tied to someone else’s vision. In 2018, it did not appear to be any good.
25. Steve Keim, Cardinals
Steve Keim is lucky to still have a job. Headed into his seventh season, Keim has never made a good first-round pick. No. 1 overall selection Kyler Murray seems like the perfect player to snap the streak, but Murray’s presence in the desert only speaks to how awful Keim’s recent work has been. 2018 was a staggering nadir. Adrift following the loss of partner-in-crime Bruce Arians, Keim made the low-wattage hire of Steve Wilks. Paired with overwhelmed rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, Wilks’ undermanned roster finished 3-13, getting outscored 425-225. By point differential, they were the worst team since the 2013 Jaguars. This was not by design, but it was no accident. Terrible drafts and poor free agent decisions left Keim’s squad without an identity on either side of the ball. Instead of taking the fall, Keim was allowed to one-and-done Wilks and throw a Hail Mary for his replacement. Kliff Kingsbury’s teams had a special trait at Texas Tech: Scoring points. Specifically, 38 per game. Unfortunately, they allowed a weekly 37 and never won more than four games in Big 12 play. Now Kingsbury, who has zero previous NFL coaching experience, is tasked with resurrecting the worst situation in the league. Perhaps he will. He could also easily end up the overly aggressive yin to Wilks’ too conservative yang. Out of second chances, Keim’s fate rests on his rookie head coach’s connection with his rookie quarterback.
26. Dave Gettleman, Giants
Dave Gettleman has taken a bad situation and made it worse. You could argue it’s not all his fault. Maybe owner John Mara really is an incorrigible meddler. Perhaps afternoon nap taker Mike Francesca really does wield undue influence over the organization. We can’t know those things for sure. We can go on only what we’ve seen, and what we’ve seen is not good. In less than 1.5 years on the job Gettleman has doubled down on a mummified Eli Manning, traded Odell Beckham for a safety and defensive tackle, and passed up potential franchise quarterbacks in the 2018 draft in favor of a running back. Saquon Barkley helped improve the Giants’ record from 3-13 to … 5-11. That earned them the No. 6 overall pick, which Gettleman belatedly used on a signal caller. It was a generational reach in Duke’s Daniel Jones, a Dalton-ian prospect who averaged 6.4 yards per attempt as a three-year starter in the ACC. Gettleman said he made this franchise-altering decision after seeing Jones play three series in the Senior Bowl, falling “full bloom in love” as he watched Jones take reps in an exhibition. Elsewhere in the draft, Gettleman once again declined to trade down and accumulate more picks, doing so for the seventh time in seven years. Gettleman doesn’t always choose bad players, but he values the wrong positions and has zero interest in maximizing his assets. He infamously did not even listen to offers for the No. 2 pick in 2018. Gettleman’s process is that of a blind squirrel hunting for nuts. There has been zero indication he is about to stumble upon an oak tree.
27. Jason Licht, Bucs
We said earlier that Steve Keim is lucky to still have a job. Jason Licht is even luckier he got the opportunity to hire Keim’s former coach. Bruce Arians is Licht’s third sideline boss in six seasons. Licht was not responsible for bringing in Lovie Smith, whom he fired. That was a good idea. A bad idea was replacing him with Dirk Koetter, a man whose previous head-coaching stint included a 21-28 record in the PAC-12. Now Licht is on to 66-year-old Arians, who has “retired” twice since 2012. Arians can coach, but it won’t be for long. That means it is up to Licht to make the most of his third lease on life. He started by re-signing one of the league’s worst left tackles, Donovan Smith, to a new three-year contract. Licht was otherwise quiet in free agency, staking his career on Arians’ ability to get the most out of Jameis Winston. If Year 1 of the experiment is anything other than a rousing success, Licht will likely be forced to walk the plank, perhaps in favor of a handpicked Arians candidate. Considering how little talent Licht has accrued on the defensive side of the ball, Arians probably won’t be working any 2019 miracles on his behalf.
28. Bruce Allen, Redskins
There isn’t much that needs to be said about the Redskins’ front office. It’s self-evident to anyone capable of cognitive reasoning. Since owner Daniel Snyder purchased the team in 1999, he and his various executives have produced two playoff wins, one of which came Snyder’s first year on the job with a roster he did not assemble. For the past decade, his right-hand man has been Bruce Allen. It’s a partnership that’s produced a .409 winning percentage. Three times in nine seasons have Allen and Snyder’s squads finished above .500. The high-water mark for victories was 2012’s 10. This year, the duo commandeered the Redskins’ draft room and lucked into Dwayne Haskins. Haskins will serve as a corrective to 2018’s looney tunes decision to give 34-year-old Alex Smith $71 million guaranteed. Entirely bereft of vision or patience, Allen and Snyder will almost certainly squander Haskins’ ability should he prove to be a star. That may sound harsh, but it is the only honest takeaway from the past two decades of Redskins football. Change will require … change. That’s something — whether it’s his team name or front office tactics — Snyder has proven anathema to.
Chris Grier, Dolphins
Technically the Dolphins’ general manager since 2016, Chris Grier is functionally a new hire. His title was in name only until Adam Gase was fired and EVP Mike Tannenbaum was “reassigned.” Although he finally has the power, Grier has been tasked with the most thankless of jobs: A top-to-bottom rebuild. He will be doing so under famously impatient owner Stephen Ross, who let Tannenbaum talk him into one half-baked “reload” after another. Ross is one year shy of becoming an octogenarian, but he has insisted he will give Grier the time and space needed to remold one of the league’s least-talented rosters. Although it is far too early to grade the results, Grier’s early process has been promising. In free agency, Grier checked all his tanking boxes, cutting deadweight veterans like Danny Amendola, Andre Branch and Ted Larsen while unloading Ryan Tannehill and Robert Quinn via trade. Grier was methodical in his head-coaching search. Whereas every other team hired the first Sean McVay disciple it could find, Grier took his time and settled on Bill Belichick acolyte Brian Flores. Grier has paired his rookie head coach with a textbook rebuilding tandem of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen at quarterback. 2019 will be long, but 2020 could already be the beginning of a turnaround if Rosen makes the most of his second chance. Grier will only go as far as his aging owner and young quarterback allow, but his road to relevance has thus far been paved with sound decisions.
New Hires (Alphabetical Order)
Eric DeCosta, Ravens
Eric DeCosta has the unenviable task of taking over for one of the greatest decision makers in NFL history. Odds are, he will be no Ozzie Newsome. Thankfully for DeCosta, he is not coming in cold. A Ravens executive since the franchise’s founding in 1996, DeCosta logged years of service as Newsome’s right-hand man. This is not a reboot so much as a hand off. It still ended up a winter of transition, as DeCosta traded Joe Flacco, cut Eric Weddle, and let Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Za'Darius Smith depart. DeCosta has inherited a roster tethered to Lamar Jackson, a quarterback who has already been to the playoffs but struggled to complete passes in the process. DeCosta faces the twin tasks of keeping the defense stocked while building around Jackson’s unique skills. Aside from signing Earl Thomas, DeCosta had a quiet free agency. The draft was focused on acquiring weapons for Jackson. DeCosta’s initial plan is to fall back on Newsome’s depth and wait for Jackson to improve. That’s what Newsome would have done. Let’s see how it’s perceived when it’s DeCosta.
Adam Gase, Jets
Adam Gase knows a thing or two about power struggles. He arrived in New York via a Dolphins front office that was essentially a three-year Mexican standoff between himself, Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier. Although Gase lost in Miami, he applied what he learned in New York, quickly kneecapping Mike Maccagnan while “strategically detaching” himself from Gang Green’s draft and the Le’Veon Bell signing. Masterful. In less than six months, Gase has secured both absolute power and plausible deniability. So Gase can win a boardroom knife fight. Can he assemble a roster? The evidence from his time in Miami is scant. Gase’s teams did have a penchant for overachieving relative to low expectations, though he was also famous for feuding with his players. Gase’s executive career has thus far been one of someone who doesn’t get along with anybody. That might work if you’re as talented as Bill Belichick. If not, you better find some pretty good credit to claim. Gase will get that opportunity with a handpicked GM.
Mike Mayock, Raiders
The year is 1997. Reggie McKenzie is in the early days of what will eventually be more than a quarter century in NFL front offices. Mike Mayock? Working as a sideline reporter … for the NCAA tournament. Mayock played professional football … in 1983. Whereas McKenzie is an NFL lifer in every sense of the term, Mayock is a television personality, albeit one who reinvented himself as a respected draft guru. When it comes to basic cable mocks and player evaluation, Mayock was at the head of the pack. Will that translate to the wild world of real life GMing, a landscape dominated by sharks like Bill Belichick and growing increasingly sophisticated amidst the NFL’s numbers revolution? There are nine seasons left on Jon Gruden’s contract to find out. Which brings us to Gruden. Mayock is merely his bag man. Gruden is being paid $90 million through 2027 to dominate every facet of the Raiders’ organization. That he did in Year 1, except on the field, where his roster allowed the most points in the league while scoring the fifth fewest. Even if 60-year-old Mayock proves preternaturally gifted at his job, Gruden could still snuff out his potential. Whatever Mayock’s results, the process that resulted in his hiring was a Hail Mary from a perennially dysfunctional organization.
Mike Maccagnan, Jets
Mike Maccagnan won 10 games his first year on the job. He has picked in the top six ever since. Gang Green is 24-40 (.375) on Maccagnan’s watch, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maccagnan needs it to become a fire if he’s to keep his job. He approached free agency as such, handing out huge contracts to C.J. Mosley, Le'Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder. It was a throwback to Maccagnan’s bank-breaking 2015 spending spree. The difference this time is, he has Sam Darnold at quarterback instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Maccagnan has assembled just enough building blocks on defense that Darnold might not have to carry all of the load as he tries to take a step forward in 2019. Maccagnan has been neither excellent nor terrible. He has been replacement level. That was enough to keep his job as the Jets tried to solve quarterback. It will be his undoing if Darnold’s rising tide doesn’t lift enough boats.