Perhaps at no time during the year are teams more in stealth mode than at draft time. Teams often try to stay covert with their coveted players, whether it’s in the first round or on the final day of the draft. It doesn’t always work, but that’s the plan.
In a league so structured and uniform as the NFL is, their 32 teams approach the draft in very different ways. Some have powerful head coaches who make the critical draft-day decisions. Others have general managers who hold the hammer. Some unfortunate franchises have meddling owners who impose their will. Still others have a conglomeration of decision-makers. There are similarities, but none are identical.
So, who makes the call for the 32 NFL teams? Here they are and what you can imagine is going on behind closed doors when that team is on the clock.
Arizona – The Cardinals have a new general manager in Steve Keim, but he isn’t new to the organization. He has been with the team since 1999 and rose up through the ranks after being hired to be a scout. He will listen to the suggestions of new coach Bruce Arians, but this is his show now and he will call the shots, which most believe will include drafting a quarterback in the early to middle rounds despite acquiring Carson Palmer.
Atlanta – The Falcons have lost a couple of key insiders – director of player personnel Les Snead became the Rams’ general manager last year and his replacement, David Caldwell, got hired to be G.M. in Jacksonville. However, they were in an advisory capacity. General manager Thomas Dimitroff, team president Rich McKay and head coach Mike Smith all collaborate on major decisions. If they can’t reach a consensus, which they almost always do, Dimitroff would have the final word.
Baltimore – G.M. Ozzie Newsome answers to nobody. He has consistently hit in the draft and earned the reputation as a supreme evaluator. Coming off a Super Bowl title, he shouldn’t have to answer to anyone.
Buffalo – G.M. Buddy Nix has run the show for some time, but the rumbling out of Buffalo is that he will be leaving after this season and the job will go to assistant G.M. Doug Whaley. New coach Doug Marrone will have his opinions heard, but this war room will be highlighted by the transition of power between Nix and Whaley with Marrone hoping to earn more of a voice.
Carolina – New general manager Dave Gettleman comes over from the Giants and has been given the task of cleaning up the salary cap mess that he inherited. This is a war room to watch because volatile head coach Ron Rivera has been there longer, so he may want a larger voice, which could lead to a butting of heads that might require some monitoring.
Chicago – The Bears brought in G.M. Phil Emery last year and he cleaned house of the scouting staff. With Lovie Smith no longer in the picture, Emery is the man who is large and in charge in assembling the draft day roster. Only three members of his first draft class made the team and none of them played all 16 games.
Cincinnati – Paul Brown, who wears the hats of both owner and general manager, has worked closely with head coach Marvin Lewis to come to agreements on draft picks. Coming off consecutive playoff appearances, nobody is currently complaining about the collective job they’re doing.
Cleveland – Michael Lombardi replaces Mike Holmgren at the head table, returning to the organization after spending the last five years with NFL Network. Head coach Rob Chudzinski is expected to have a say and CEO Joe Banner has input in the stacking of the board, but Lombardi didn’t come to Cleveland to take a back seat, so expect him to have his voice be the loudest on draft weekend. Coming from a 24-hour sports-talk TV background, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Dallas – Jerry Jones is the Big Daddy in Big D. He hires and fires on a whim and, despite admitting to Bob Costas at the end of last season that he would have fired himself as general manager last year, Jones loves to be involved in the process. His man-love for specific players has led to first-round picks like Felix Jones. He has a solid staff, but Double-J makes all the decisions – personnel-wise or otherwise.
Denver – VP of operations John Elway took the job to be given the chance to make the decisions moving the franchise forward. Head coach John Fox will have some say in the process, but Elway orchestrated bringing in Peyton Manning and getting rid of Tim Tebow last year. This year shouldn’t be as eventful, but Elway will be wielding just as much power.
Detroit – General manager Martin Mayhew has been given a lot of authority to decide all personnel matters, but he works closely with assistant G.M. Shack Harris. This year, however, expect head coach Jim Schwartz to have more of a role in the middle to late rounds, because his staff coached at the Senior Bowl and got a closer look at a lot of the prospects than other organizations, which should give his voice a little more oomph.
Green Bay – Every time G.M. Ted Thompson thinks he’s out, they pull him back in. He came into last year’s draft having lost director of football operations Reggie McKenzie, who worked closest with Thompson and became G.M. in Oakland. His replacement, John Dorsey, left to reunite with Andy Reid in Kansas City. Mike McCarthy doesn’t have much input in the draft process. He doesn’t buy the ingredients. He just cooks the dinner.
Houston – General manager Rick Smith has done a fantastic job of building the foundation of the franchise. He gets a lot of input from head coach Gary Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, both viewed as astute talent evaluators on their own side of the ball, but Smith is the power behind the throne.
Indianapolis – G.M. Ryan Grigson had a slam dunk first draft, pulling in six players who played in 12 or more games and combined to make 55 starts. Chuck Pagano is given a lot of power in the war room, which is rare for a second-year coach, but he and Grigson seem to be on the same page in most matters, so there isn’t a problem. Pagano may have as big a voice as any newer coach without the G.M. tag on his own, which makes the Colts a bit of a rarity in that regard.
Jacksonville – The Jaguars had empowered G.M. Gene Smith with a lot of power, but when it was clear the Jags were going in the wrong direction, he was fired. This will be the first draft with new G.M. David Caldwell, who comes over to the Jags after five years in Atlanta and a decade with the Polians in Indianapolis. In the Falcons’ system, there was a sense of consensus building, which many believe Caldwell will bring with him to Jacksonville.
Kansas City – Andy Reid got pushed into the pool by the Eagles and, after making a Titanic-style splash, was quickly pulled from the water by the Chiefs. After being burned by Scott Pioli, the Chiefs ownership still has bandages covering their collective hands. Reid left ignominiously from Philly but was given the keys to the roomy private bathroom in the Kansas City war room. He reunited with former protégé John Dorsey, who comes over from Green Bay and has a lot of input in the setting of the draft board. But Reid has the leeway to make the draft calls and any potential trades that will come down, which explains why he already doesn’t have a second-round pick.
Miami – There were questions how much authority G.M. Jeff Ireland would have after the Big Tuna swam off into the South Beach sunset. But, in his third season at the helm on his own, he has monopolized power. That was evident when he made multiple enormous franchise investments in March in the free agent market, proving that, after sitting at the feet of Bill Parcells, he has taken on his larger-than-life persona as the one-man band in Miami.
Minnesota – The Vikings used to implement what was called the Triangle of Authority, in which head coach Brad Childress, de facto G.M. Rick Spielman and cap manager Rob Brzezinski worked together to sign free agents and draft picks. When Childress got fired, Spielman was named general manager and now has full control over the roster. In his first season as the lone war room voice, eight rookies made the roster and combined to play in 105 games and make 46 starts, not including rookie kicker Blair Walsh, who made the Pro Bowl.
New England – Without a general manager, Bill Belichick makes most of the big decisions when it comes to the draft. Director of player personnel Nick Caserio works closely with Belichick, but the coach makes all the important decisions about targeting players.
New Orleans – The Saints have a three-man consensus-building team. General manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton are back in charge after being sidelined during the Bountygate scandal. Director of college scouting Rick Reiprish has a significant role in stacking the board, but, when it comes to making picks or trading up or down, it’s Loomis and Payton that have an equal say.
New York Giants – G.M. Jerry Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin have been together for a decade and have an excellent working relationship. With assistant G.M. Dave Gettleman gone to Carolina, director of college scouting Marc Ross will have a larger role, but this is the Tom and Jerry Show in New York.
New York Jets – New general manager John Idzik is expected to be the lone voice heard in the war room. With the lack of success in recent years, head coach Rex Ryan is likely going to be part of the process, but not carrying much weight in the final decisions.
Oakland – Reggie McKenzie came over from Green Bay last year, but without picks in the first two rounds his job was to watch and wait. The Raiders give a lot of input to their coaching and scouting staff prior to draft weekend, but McKenzie will be the one-man show when it comes to making trades and selecting players.
Philadelphia – With Andy Reid gone, G.M. Howie Roseman has all the power. New head coach Chip Kelly will get to provide suggestions and input, but this is Roseman’s first draft as the unquestioned final word and he will make the most of it.
Pittsburgh – Mike Tomlin is well-respected in the war room, but his input typically comes before the picks start being made. Once the clock starts ticking, general manager Kevin Colbert makes all the big decisions. Given that the Steelers, as much as any team in the league, build their roster through the draft, he will be in the hot seat as the Steelers look to rebuild after losing some of their top veteran talent in the offseason.
St. Louis – The Rams war room is a three-way dance with G.M. Les Snead, head coach Jeff Fisher and COO Kevin Demoff. Snead made his first draft with the Rams eventful by stockpiling first-round draft picks to trade the rights to RG3 to Washington. He and Fisher are both known as being solid talent evaluators and will work arm in arm over draft weekend.
San Diego – This will be an interesting war room. Volatile dictator A.J. Smith was fired in the house-cleaning that took place and former Indianapolis draft guru Tom Telesco was hired to replace him. It is expected that V.P. of football operations John Spanos and new head coach Mike McCoy will have a say in what picks get made, but Telesco will be calling the shots.
San Francisco – It seems only fair that the Haight-Ashbury team would have the most participants in the draft process. General manager Tom Baalke, head coach Jim Harbaugh, director of player personnel Tom Gamble and COO Paraag Maranthe all have a significant role in the stacking of the draft board. If they can’t reach a consensus, Baalke has the last word, but as the hippies in San Francisco typically say “Kumbaya” together, and 49ers brass says, “Make peace, not war room.”
Seattle – Head coach Pete Carroll is regarded as an astute talent evaluator and he and general manager John Schneider work in concert together like few other tandems. They have helped build Seattle into a Super Bowl favorite in a short period of time. As long as things aren’t broke, don’t fix it. But after giving up their first-round pick in trade for Percy Harvin, the Seahawks will have to make the most of a draft in which they likely won’t be involved in the first day.
Tampa Bay – G.M. Mark Domenik found three players in last year’s draft that started all 16 games, but head coach Greg Schiano is expected to have a larger role in his second draft with the team.
Tennessee – With the firing of COO Mike Reinfeldt, the power in the war room has been monopolized by G.M. Ruston Webster, in just his second draft with the team. If last year was any indication – six rookies made the team and all played 13 or more games – Webster will have the run of the room draft weekend.
Washington – Meddling owner Daniel Snyder will have his snout in the mix, but the combination of head coach Mike Shanahan and G.M. Bruce Allen will have the most input in the draft room. While Allen technically holds the power, Shanahan was given a lot of authority when he was hired and will have a big say in who the Redskins take. But without first-round picks the next two years, thanks to the RG3 trade, the Redskins won’t be in the mix early on.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.