Commentary

Traditional division of labor works for most of the other playoff teams

For the seven teams other than the Green Bay Packers who remain in the playoffs, what coach-general manager system works best? John Clayton offers analysis.

Originally Published: January 10, 2008
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Packers Builder
Green Bay's 53-man roster features 28 of its own draft choices, the fifth-highest total in the league. GM Ted Thompson drafted 18 of the 28, including seven starters. Mike Sando

Based on the organizational formulas of the league's final eight teams, the general manager-coach combination works best.

Six of the teams have active general managers who are in charge of putting teams together. The Dallas Cowboys rely heavily on the input of owner Jerry Jones. The New England Patriots are the exception: Bill Belichick is the rare coach who is the lead decision-maker, but he is supported by Scott Pioli, who knows how to get players for the organization.

With the complexities of the salary cap and the ever-changing trends in free agency, it's hard for a coach to successfully handle both jobs. Coaches focus on what is needed to make a team better each week. General managers have the luxury of looking into the future and studying the trends.

Here's what works for the remaining playoff teams other than the Green Bay Packers.



Skinny: Head coach Bill Belichick and vice president Scott Pioli (photo right) form the league's best one-two punch for player acquisition in football. One of Belichick's many strengths is having a mental database of most players in the league and how their skills could fit into his schemes. Pioli is a master of drafting, trading for or signing those players and working within the salary cap and budget. This duo has won three Super Bowl rings and has put together the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history.

Best move: Trading a fourth-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Randy Moss.

Worst move: Allowing core draft choices such as Deion Branch and Asante Samuel to reach the ends of their contracts, thus putting the players in a position to leave.



Skinny: Bill Polian (photo right) built the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers and he's built a model franchise in Indianapolis. The offense was built around Peyton Manning, but Polian took the next step when he hired Tony Dungy. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach brought the Cover 2 scheme to the Colts. That move allowed Polian to keep the high-priced offense together while Dungy worked with young, athletic defensive players, turning them into starters.

Best move: Replacing Edgerrin James with Joseph Addai at a time when most fans wanted Polian to pay big bucks to keep James. If he had kept James, Polian might not have kept Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney or Bob Sanders.

Worst move: Gambling that Corey Simon could be the long-term anchor to the defense. Though Simon was a good run-stopper in 2005, his health failed him in 2006 and now he's out of football.



Skinny: General manager A.J. Smith (photo right) is one of the most thoughtful evaluators in the NFL. He sits in his office all day thinking of ways to upgrade the star-studded roster he put together. The Chargers are loaded with some of the most talented players at their positions in the game.

Best move: Trading the rights to Eli Manning, who didn't want to be a Charger, for three Pro Bowl draft choices: quarterback Philip Rivers, linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding.

Worst move: Gambling that wide receiver David Boston was the playmaker who could put the offense over the top. Smith realized Boston was more trouble than asset and got rid of him after one season in San Diego.


Skinny: Vice president James Harris (photo right) picks the players. Jack Del Rio coaches them. The Jaguars do an exceptional job of getting top players from the second and later rounds of the draft. Cornerback Rashean Mathis, halfback Maurice Jones-Drew and quarterback David Garrard are just a few examples. Harris gets good athletes on defense and fills out a respectable offensive line.

Best move: Gambling that Garrard was ready to replace Byron Leftwich by letting Leftwich go 10 days before the start of the regular season. Garrard is a Pro Bowl alternate and the leader of the offense.

Worst move: A three-year stretch in which Jacksonville drafted Leftwich and wide receivers Reggie Williams and Matt Jones in the first rounds. Leftwich is gone. Williams and Jones haven't lived up to expectations.


Skinny: Even when Bill Parcells was the head coach, Jerry Jones (photo right) and Stephen Jones picked the players. Sure, they made those decisions with the help of a talented personnel office, but this is the one playoff team in which ownership plays a major role in personnel decisions. Parcells helped to reshape the thinking of what types of players work in Dallas. The Jones family is doing a good job of following those models after Parcells' departure.

Best Moves: A 2005 draft that featured Marcus Spears, Chris Canty, Marion Barber, Kevin Burnett and Jeremiah Ratliff.

Worst Move: Jerry Jones gave up two first-round picks to Seattle for Joey Galloway, but the Cowboys didn't have a quarterback who could get him the ball. Galloway had to go to Tampa Bay to regain his form as a top receiver.



Skinny: Tim Ruskell (photo right) came to Seattle when Mike Holmgren lost his general manager duties and established himself as a general manager who fit the pieces together. In 2005, he brought in top role players who helped the Seahawks go to the Super Bowl. He signed Pro Bowl free agents Julian Peterson and Patrick Kerney and drafted Lofa Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowler at middle linebacker.

Best Move: This season he eliminated the team's weakness in allowing big pass plays by signing safeties Brian Russell and Deon Grant.

Worst Move: Ruskell put the transition tag instead of the franchise tag on Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson and lost him to the Minnesota Vikings. The offensive line hasn't been the same.



Skinny: Jerry Reese (photo right) was hired as general manager after Ernie Accorsi retired after the 2006 season. Among the GMs of the final eight playoff franchises, Reese has the hardest résumé to evaluate because this is his first season. He appears to have drafted well. He didn't overspend in free agency and picked up good values.

Best Move: A solid draft that included cornerback Aaron Ross and three sleepers: tight end Kevin Boss, safety Michael Johnson and halfback Ahmad Bradshaw.

Worst Move: Rueben Droughns hasn't really worked out as a back who made much of a difference. Bradshaw, a seventh-round pick, moved ahead of him as Brandon Jacobs' backup.

John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer