We are three years removed from the dismantling of the Triangle of Authority that was in charge of the draft in Vikings Country. General manager Rick Spielman is now the man who makes the big decisions, along with input from Mike Zimmer, Scott Studwell and the scouting staff, but make no mistake about it: Spielman is the shot caller on draft day.
There are a lot of similarities in how the NFL's 32 teams hold sway over their war rooms. A lot of G.M.'s rule the roost, but there are some tenured head coaches who have been empowered to select the ingredients for their teams and there are a few meddlesome owners who stick their nose into the selection of players (we're looking at you, Jerry Jones). We know Spielman is calling in the names, but here's who is likely making the picks and trades in the other 31 war rooms.
Arizona Cardinals – General manager Steve Keim made almost 200 roster moves in his first year as G.M. When the Cardinals cleaned house, bringing in a new G.M. and head coach (Bruce Arians), both were given latitude in decisions. Clearly, Keim makes moves. Arians is his top advisor.
Atlanta Falcons – G.M. Thomas Dimitroff came to the Falcons seven years ago with the promise of recreating the magic of New England. Until last year, Dimitroff, and to a lesser extent, head coach Mike Smith, did it. They had five straight winning seasons and had the NFC's best record in 2012. Then the Falcons crashed and burned in 2013. What does Dimitroff do? He brings in former Pats golden boy Scott Pioli. Somehow Boston and Atlanta seem to be on different cultural planets, but they're joined in the Falcons organization to let the South rise again.
Baltimore Ravens – At the turn of the century, the Ravens hired Ozzie Newsome as their general manager and said the organization would rise and fall with him. Two Super Bowls and double-digit high-grade drafts later, Newsome is among the elite in front office types and has built a track record that could legitimately be the first two-time Hall of Famer in history – he's already in as a player and deserves enshrinement as an executive. He makes all the calls and rightfully so.
Buffalo Bills – This one could interesting. Buddy Nix was the G.M. for the longest time before stepping down last year. Doug Whaley, who cut his teeth with the Steelers, took over last year as G.M., but, with the death of owner Ralph Wilson in January, team C.E.O. Russ Brandon took over day-to-day control of the team. How this new coupling works will be something to follow. Wilson signed off on Whaley. But, Brandon May be another story completely.
Carolina Panthers – General manager Dave Gettleman took over his duties last year with the Panthers facing salary cap problems and not only cleared up the books, the Panthers got a first-round playoff bye. He's currently riding high and has the chance to monopolize power in the Carolina war room.
Chicago Bears – Phil Emery came into the job of general manager two years ago and worked alongside a head coach (Lovie Smith) that he didn't hire. Despite having a winning record in 2012, following the late-season collapse, Emery pulled the plug on Smith and brought in his own guy (the CFL's Marc Trestman). Trestman has some input, but Emery is the final say in the Bears' draft room.
Cincinnati Bengals – Fortunately for the Bengals, given his track record of success, head coach Marvin Lewis gets a lot of say in the war room. The Brown family used to be on its own to make draft decisions and were so consistently bad, there was discussion a few years back that the league might force them to hire a general manager because owner Mike Brown and Senior V.P. of Player Personnel Pete Brown were bordering on being incompetent. In recent years, things have turned it around on draft weekend, but many point to Lewis' role more than the Browns consistently getting it right.
Cleveland Browns – The Browns went to the NFL Network to get their general manager, hiring Michael Lombardi, a former personnel man and TV analyst for five years. CEO Joe Banner has a major role in all personnel decisions, so the two of them work hand in hand, as they did when they were together in Philadelphia. Banner balked at the notion last year that Lombardi was making the personnel calls, which would lead one to believe there could be issues if the two strongly disagree on a huge signing. But, for now, they're walking hand in hand to the war room bunker.
Dallas Cowboys – Jerry Jones doesn't like to share and, from the time he bought the franchise in 1989, he has served not only as owner, but also team president and general manager. No owner has as much dictatorial control as Jerruh, so don't expect that to change on draft weekend. He has an inner circle of toadies whose input is listened to, but Double-J makes all the personnel decisions.
Denver Broncos – John Elway is the faceplate of the franchise and has a lot of input in free agency, but, when it comes to the draft, he gives a lot of input to those who specialize in college talent evaluation, including personnel executives Tom Heckert, Matt Russell Mike Sullivan. Throw in that John Fox helps set the draft priorities and it is one of the few multi-headed organizations in which consensus-building is the process used.
Detroit Lions – For years, the Lions were one of the jokes of the NFL draft because Matt Millen consistently misfired, especially on wide receiver, and was roundly despised by the Detroit fan base, who would routinely start chants of "Fire Millen!" He was replaced by Martin Mayhew, who, over the last six years, has helped transform the franchise by building the team through the draft. He has consistently hit on a talent and swung trades when needed to get players that can help. He is the only voice when decisions are made.
Green Bay Packers – The Packers have a lot of money invested in the draft process, from front office types to senior scouts. But when it comes time to make any big decision, from the trading of Brett Favre to making a draft pick, 10-year veteran general manager Ted Thompson is one of the most respected talent evaluators in the league. When there isn't a consensus on a player, Thompson makes the final call.
Houston Texans – Rick Smith is in his ninth year with the Texans, but he was always forced to work in concert with head coach Gary Kubiak, who was hired prior to Smith. Three years ago, Smith added the title of executive vice president, which is in charge of all football operations. After Kubiak got fired last year, it was expected that Smith would emerge as the lone voice in the situation room, even though he claims new head coach Bill O'Brien will have a similar role as Kubiak. Don't count on that.
Indianapolis Colts – General manager Ryan Grigson was hired by Jim Irsay to help in the post-Manning era two years ago with the expectation that it might take four or five years to get the Colts back to the playoffs. Despite a roster that has been almost completely turned over, Indy has made the playoffs the last two years and the powers given to Grigson continue to grow … and rightly so.
Jacksonville Jaguars – When G.M. Dave Caldwell took over in 2013, his first move was to fire Mike Mullarkey and hire Gus Bradley as his coach. As often happens when a new general manager steps in, it takes time to centralize power. Caldwell uses the scouting staff and Bradley to help develop their draft board, but, when it comes to making the big decisions as to who to select or talking trade, Caldwell is the one whose voice is the loudest … and typically the only voice that matters.
Kansas City Chiefs – After the 2012 season, the Chiefs gutted the front office and the first major hire was head coach Andy Reid. Two weeks later, veteran Packers executive John Dorsey was hired as general manager. Many believe it was Reid who made the recommendation, since he and Dorsey had worked together for seven years in Green Bay. While the two work very closely with one another and are usually in lock step, Reid may have the biggest voice in the room.
Miami Dolphins – When Miami cleaned house at the end of last year, owner Stephen Ross said his general manager would have complete autonomy to make personnel decisions and that the G.M. would report directly to the owner – no excuses, just one guy. Dennis Hickey, who spent 18 years in the Tampa Bay organization was tabbed with the job and, as expected, the Dolphins have made some significant changes this offseason as they try to change the culture of the organization that is known more for off-field bullying than on-field success of late. This will be a critical draft for Miami and Hickey will be under the spotlight.
New England Patriots – Nothing happens without Bill Belichick signing off. It's one of the perks of being a four-time champion and consistent elite team despite significant roster turnover. He works closely with Nick Cesario, director of player personnel, and there has been outside interest in hiring away Jon Robinson, director of player personnel, who is getting more respect for the decision-making process. While several views are taken into account, Belichick has the last word.
New Orleans Saints – If there has ever been a two-man duo that has spoken in one war room voice, it's here. General manager Mike Loomis and head coach Sean Payton have been one of the most successful draft tandems in the NFL for more than a decade and nothing appears imminent that would change any of that.
New York Giants – Jerry Reese has been the G.M. for seven years and has two Super Bowl titles to show for it. Head coach Tom Coughlin and the top scouting staff have an input in the decision-making process, but they serve the primary role of advisors. It is Reese who makes the final decisions.
New York Jets – John Idzik came to the Jets last year after 20 years in the league, most recently with Seattle, but he's a contact/salary cap guru, not a talent evaluator. As such, beleaguered head coach Rex Ryan has a significant amount of input in draft decisions. Owner Woody Johnson oversees the process and both Idzik and Ryan are accountable to him, so both are going to be on the hot seat this year. They need a big draft for self-preservation purposes.
Oakland Raiders – Al Davis used to be in charge of all aspects of the draft, which helped explain some of their gaffes in recent years. When he passed away, the Raiders brought in former Packers executive Reggie McKenzie. He has been given almost complete authority with the help of the old-boys scouting staff the Raiders have employed for years. There is still only one voice worth noting, but now it's McKenzie instead of Davis.
Philadelphia Eagles – In a strange twist of fate, when Howie Roseman was hired in 2010 as general manager, he was second fiddle to Andy Reid. When Reid and his staff were fired after the 2012 season, it was thought Roseman would take over the personnel decisions. But one of the selling points to Oregon coach Chip Kelly last year was that he would have the final say on personnel decisions. Roseman still has an important role – picks and trades are only made if Kelly signs off on it, which historically has been a recipe for disaster.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Until 2010, the Steelers never had a general manager. That changed with the hiring of Kevin Colbert, who had been in the organization for 10 years. Few organizations have as much continuity as the Steelers. Coaches stay for decades. Front office and scouting types are in a similar job-security situation. Colbert has the last word, but there is a lot of input that is put into the process, including head coach Mike Tomlin. Pittsburgh seems to be one of the few organizations that can make such a collective approach work.
San Diego Chargers – Tom Telasco was hired last year when the front office and coaching staff were both imploded. The youngest G.M. in franchise history, Telasco had a daunting task in front of him. After 15 years in the Colts organization, he made significant changes in his first year and the Chargers vaulted themselves from also-ran into a playoff team. He has been able to prove himself and will likely have more power at his disposal this time around.
San Francisco 49ers – Trent Baalke has been the G.M. for three years after ascending from vice president of player personnel and the results have been obvious. Jim Harbaugh has some input in free agent and draft decisions, but Baalke is the main man when it comes to making any significant moves – in free agency or on draft weekend.
Seattle Seahawks – General manager John Schneider is officially the primary figure in terms of the draft, but make no mistake. When Pete Carroll was hired, he came to the team with the assurance that he would be able to have a significant role in determining who is on the roster, which is typically defined in the draft. The two of them work well together, but, if there is a difference, the conventional wisdom is that Carroll has the final word on draft decisions.
St. Louis Rams – Les Snead was hired in 2012 as the new general manager in St. Louis after a shakeup of the front office, but head coach Jeff Fisher is given just as much say in personnel decisions, especially on draft weekend. It's been reported that it was Fisher who orchestrated moving up to draft WR Tavon Austin. If he's getting the credit for that huge draft day move, it speaks to the amount of power Fisher wields in the Rams war room.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs cleaned house of the front office and coaching staff, hiring Jason Licht as their new general manager after a long career that included stops in Miami, Carolina, Philadelphia and Arizona. The team also hired veteran head coach Lovie Smith. The two are expected to work as a tandem in the draft room, but Smith will be given the final say as to who is and isn't on the final 53-man roster. But, in terms of the players drafted, Licht is expected to be the predominant voice.
Tennessee Titans – This could be another one to watch thanks to the death of an owner, which can often cause front office upheaval in the aftermath. Bud Adams died last October and his son-in-law Tommy Smith was promoted to the title of CEO and team president. General manager Ruston Webster was viewed as the primary decision-maker and, while new head coach Ken Whisenhunt will serve as a senior advisor in the war room, Webster still has the title, but Smith may be the person to watch in the Titans war room this year. He may be ready to flex his muscle at the top of the food chain in Tennessee.
Washington Redskins – Bruce Allen came to the Redskins as their general manager when Mike Shanahan came as the coach. The two of them worked closely together, but, with Shanahan gone, the Redskins are moving forward with Allen, now tied closer to Director of Player Personnel Scott Campbell and Director of Pro Personnel Morocco Brown. But the person who may quietly speak the loudest is A.J. Smith. The longtime general manager in San Diego, he was hired as a senior executive and, given his experience and draft success, Allen may have the publicly viewed final word, but Smith may be pulling the strings.
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.
NFL draft: Who makes the calls?
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