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NFL draft: Who calls the shots?

NFL teams have different approaches to the draft, so who is calling shots for each teams makes a difference. How are the front offices put together?

For years, the Minnesota Vikings had a communal approach to their draft process. As an organization, the Vikings didn’t like the idea of having a general manager who had the last word in the operation. In the late 1990s, Jeff Diamond got the Vikings ears-deep in the salary cap and Denny Green was calling most of the draft-day shots, which explained why the organization consistently hit on offensive draftees and whiffed on defensive players.

When Brad Childress came into the picture, the infamous Triangle of Authority came into existence. The TOA basically made decisions on a consensus of general manager Rick Spielman, Chilly and money man Rob Brzezinski.

That changed when Childress was fired and Leslie Frazier took over. Spielman was still part of a three-man brain trust, but it was becoming more obvious that his power was growing. When Frazier vouched for Donovan McNabb as a stop-gap starter in between Brett Favre and Christian Ponder and McNabb proved to be a dismal failure, Spielman was named general manager and was given control over the draft and free agency.

While Spielman has worked closely with current head coach Mike Zimmer in draft and free agent decisions – signings like Terence Newman and Michael Griffin have Zimmer’s fingerprints all over them, as well as early draft picks the last two years – Spielman has the final authority in the Vikings war room.

The Vikings are just one of 32 NFL war rooms. While many have similarities, no two are exactly the same. Here’s a look at who will be making the decisions for the other 31 teams on draft weekend.

Arizona Cardinals – General M=manager Steve Keim has completely re-tooled the organization and isn’t afraid to make big moves – from his hiring in January through the end of 2014, he made a whopping 410 roster moves. Head coach Bruce Arians is a significant part of the process, but after spending 15 years waiting for his chance, Keim is the man who is calling the shots in Arizona.

Atlanta Falcons – G.M. Thomas Dimitroff came from the Patriots in 2008 and was the golden boy after landing Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to make the Falcons viable. But the struggles the last couple of years have created a clear divide that has put Dimitroff in the public hot seat. Head coach Dan Quinn is given some say in what defensive players he sees as fits in his system, but Dimitroff has the last word – for better or worse.

Baltimore Ravens – Ozzie Newsome has been at the helm of the war room for 14 years and has built a lot of credibility – two Super Bowl rings attest to that. Having come up through the ranks as scout with Cleveland before the franchise moved to Baltimore, he has a lot of respect for the input that scouts give and has had a good working relationship with head coach John Harbaugh. But when it comes to making draft picks or trades, the only voice in the Baltimore war room that matters is Newsome’s.

Buffalo Bills – The Bills plucked G.M. Doug Whaley away from the Pittsburgh Steelers three years ago when the organization conducted a front-office housecleaning and gave him a lot of power in hopes of replicating his success in Pittsburgh. When the team hired Rex Ryan as its head coach last year, there was an issue in that the personnel he had experienced some difficulty in picking up on his defensive scheme. The addition of Rob Ryan is hoped to help smooth that over, but the Ryan brothers won’t have a lot of impact on the Bills war room. Whaley has incorporated a system in the Steelers mold that listens to the scouts and gets input from Ryan, but Whaley has the last word.

Carolina Panthers – When the Panthers hired G.M. Dave Gettleman in 2013, he brought 30 years of experience in the front office with the Giants, Broncos and Bills with him and the Panthers were in sad salary cap straits. He made some tough early decisions to clean the decks of veteran players to clear up space. Three years later, he was named NFL Executive of the Year, leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl. His scouting staff has a big say in how the board is stacked, but Gettleman makes the final call on who the Panthers draft and oversees all trades, leaving Ron Rivera to coach the players he gets.

Chicago Bears – The Bears hired Ryan Pace as their new general manager last year, replacing longtime G.M. Phil Emery. Pace headed up the Saints personnel department and spent 14 year with New Orleans. He was joined at the same time by head coach John Fox and it was clear that the two are working as a tandem – remember the “fire sale” the Bears had last year when they traded Jared Allen and Jon Bostic and cut a handful more of players a month into the season? That had Fox’s fingerprints all over it, so expect to see that continue as the two work as one.

Cincinnati Bengals – The Brown family is in charge of this strange, autonomous war room. Owner Mike Brown makes all the final decisions as owner and G.M. and his brother Pete is the V.P. of player personnel. Marvin Lewis has a voice in the war room, but when all is said and done, it will be the Brown boys making the calls for the Bengals.

Cleveland Browns – The always dysfunctional Browns hired Ray Farmer just two years ago and the Browns spent $100,000 to determine they should draft Teddy Bridgewater. They took Johnny Manziel and both Manziel and Farmer are gone. Now in charge is V.P. of Football Operations Sashi Brown, who is surrounded by fellow Harvard types Paul DePodesta, Andrew Berry and Kevin Mears. DePodesta is a pioneer in sabermetrics that made him a baseball executive. It will be interesting to see how a real football man – new head coach Hue Jackson – will fare because this has all the makings of a dumpster fire with owner Jimmy Haslem roasting marshmallows and watching.

Dallas Cowboys – This one is simple. Welcome to the Jerry Jones Show. Jones has been the owner, president and general manager of the Cowboys since he arrived in Dallas in 1989 and nothing has changed. When it comes to draft picks, trades, whatever, nothing gets done without having Jones’ stamp of approval. He’s bulletproof despite his lack of draft success because he owns the team.

Denver Broncos – John Elway is the public face of the franchise, but he is part of a draft team in Denver. Director of pro personnel Tom Heckert and player personnel director Matt Russell both have a lot of input in the process and head coach Gary Kubiak will likely get a say as well. With all the changes the champs are facing, they may need all of them to make the calls to keep the Broncos’ swagger going.

Detroit Lions – The Lions have a history of doing the ridiculous. They held on to awful G.M. Matt Millen far too long and, after Martin Mayhew did a solid job of drafting NFL-quality players, he was cut loose in November in a bloodless coup that brought Bob Quinn to power. Quinn was the director of pro scouting for the Patriots and the Lions aren’t going to raid the House of Belichick, but as of now, all we know is he plans to build though the draft. Good luck with that, especially seeing as Calvin Johnson walked away from a big payday to call it a career.

Green Bay Packers – Ted Thompson is one of the most respected general managers in the game. The Packers rarely spend big on outside free agents and almost all major decisions fall on Thompson. Head coach Mike McCarthy has a voice, but Thompson has built the team through the draft and is the unquestioned voice in the Green Bay war room.

Houston Texans – General manager Rick Smith has been with the Texans for a decade, but, following last year’s humbling playoff loss, owner Bob McNair made it clear that he wants and expects more. He went so far as to say that he, his son and team vice president Cal McNair, Smith and head coach Bill O’Brien are going to work as a unit to come to a consensus on the direction of the organization. That started with an aggressive free agent push and will continue into the draft. It would seem failure isn’t an option for Smith.

Indianapolis Colts – There was a lot of talk that head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson have had their flare-ups over the direction of the team and, instead of firing one or both, owner Jim Irsay gave both of them contract extensions, so they’re keeping the band together and they’ll work hand in hand for now. Stay tuned.

Jacksonville Jaguars – General manager Dave Caldwell has been with the team for three years and has drawn a clear line of demarcation with his first hire – head coach Gus Bradley. The two work on relatively equal footing in the war room, but Caldwell has the final say in roster decisions and Bradley has the authority to decide who makes up the final roster. With big expectations coming in 2016, both need to be on their game.

Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs gave Andy Reid a lot of authority over the roster when he was hired. General manager John Dorsey works in concert with Reid and they have developed a good working relationship, but the sense is that owner Clark Hunt would side with Reid if there was ever a knock-down, drag out dispute between the two of them.

Los Angeles Rams – G.M. Les Snead is the mouthpiece of the Rams’ war room, but, when it comes to player personnel decisions, he and head coach Jeff Fisher work together, with Fisher’s name often coming first. Stan Kroenke promised Fisher that he would have a big role in personnel decisions and, while Snead holds the title, most Rams observers believe that Fisher calls a lot of the shots when it comes to adding players.

Miami Dolphins – The organization that hired Dennis Hickey away from Tampa Bay last year only to fire him after one season tends to show that owner Stephen Ross is making decisions on the fly. He said there were “too many cooks” making decisions and he made changes again. With Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin gone, the new voice in the war room is that of Mike Tannenbaum, executive vice president of football operations, who is now seated at the No. 2 guy. New G.M. Chris Grier was promoted from his role as director of college scouting and new head coach Adam Gase was hired. Grier and Gase will have a lot of input in who the Dolphins draft, but it appears Tannenbaum has positioned himself to call the shots.

New England Patriots – To the surprise of nobody, head coach Bill Belichick runs the show. Director of player personnel Nick Caserio has a lot of input in stacking the board and doing the scouting work, but, with no G.M. in New England, no head coach wields as much power in any war room in the NFL as Belichick.

New Orleans Saints – General manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton have worked in lockstep for the last nine years and nothing appears to change. Loomis technically has the final word, but it appears as though they are constantly of like mind on just about every decision that is made with the Saints organization, which explains why the Saints gave Payton a contract extension despite losing seasons three of the last four years.

New York Giants – General manager Jerry Reese has constructed two Super Bowl winners, but has fallen on hard times the last few years, losing 28 games the last three seasons and not even sniffing a playoff run. With Tom Coughlin shown the door, owner John Mara has been emphatic that Reese needs to hit it big in this year’s draft or he may be following Coughlin out the door. New head coach Ben McAdoo will have little say in who gets added or if a trade up or down is made.

New York Jets – First-year general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles inherited an organization in disarray. Their first draft wasn’t very effective after taking Leonard Williams in the first round, but swinging a trade for Brandon Marshall made the draft worthwhile. The Jets will need to hit it big this year after largely swinging and missing in 2015.

Oakland Raiders – The Raiders cleaned house after the 2014 season, but fourth-year G.M. Reggie McKenzie survived the purge. While not as meddlesome as Al Davis, the Davis family still has a strong war room voice and many remain convinced that Mark Davis and his longtime scouts make most of the big calls on draft weekend, but McKenzie is building something good here.

Philadelphia Eagles – G.M. Howie Roseman has been with the Eagles since 2010, but .when owner Jeffrey Lurie hired maniac Chip Kelly, Roseman was forced to take a chair at the side of the table, not the head. It’s clear how Roseman felt about it, getting rid of just about every big-move signing Kelly made earlier this spring. Now head coach Doug Pederson will likely have no role in determining how the draft is handled, because Roseman is back in the saddle and unwilling to give up his power spot again.

Pittsburgh Steelers – One of the best-run organizations in the NFL, not much changes from one year to the next. Mike Tomlin is entering his 10th season as head coach – only the third coach of the Steelers in the last 50 years – and G.M. Kevin Colbert is in his 16th year with the team and fourth as general manager. The scouting department carries a lot of war room weight because the Steelers rarely invest in outside free agents, but Colbert is the main man, followed a close second by Tomlin.

San Diego Chargers – In three years since coming over from the Colts organization, general manager Tom Telasco, the youngest G.M. in the NFL, has almost completely re-tooled the Chargers roster. He works with Mike McCoy and defensive coordinator John Pagano is likely to have his input highly regarded, but Telasco holds the keys to drive the franchise.

San Francisco 49ers – General manager Trent Baalke had worked very closely with head coach Jim Harbaugh, but at the end of the 2014 season, the Niners parted ways with Harbaugh and promoted Baalke. Jim Tomsula lasted just one season as head coach and now the Niners have hooked their wagon up to Chip Kelly, who almost gutted the Eagles franchise in his short tenure there. Unlike his days in Philly, Kelly will have input, but Baalke will make all the critical decisions.

Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll holds the title of head coach and vice president and his hand is all over the draft and free agency. But he works in concert with general manager John Schneider on most key decisions in the draft and free agency. They seem to be riding the same wave in most matters, but by all appearances owner Paul Allen gives Carroll the latitude to push for players he wants in the draft, while Schneider works the phones for potential trades and contracts for free agents. With both in the final year of their contracts, this will be a big year for both of them.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – There is a division of power in Tampa that was created when the organization cleaned house in 2014. G.M. Jason Licht has the responsibility of assembling the players that will go to training camp. He gave Lovie Smith the ability to pick the final 53 players, but it’s unclear whether new head coach Dirk Koetter will be given that same autonomy as a first-year head coach.

Tennessee Titans – The family of Bud Adams, represented by Amy Adams Strunk, put its stamp on the franchise at the end of the 2015 season by cleaning house of the front office and coaching staff. New G.M. Jon Robinson came through the ranks with the Patriots as a scout before joining Tampa Bay in 2013 for three seasons. He seemed willing to let head coach Lovie Smith decide who would comprise the roster, but the draft and free agency were all his and that isn’t expected to change.

Washington Redskins – Bruce Allen was the general manager during the Mike Shanahan era and still holds the title of team president. But his role as G.M. was usurped by Scot McCloughan, who came from the Seattle and San Francisco organizations in 2015. Allen still wields some power and owner Daniel Snyder likes to stick his nose in the business, so expect to see more from McCloughan and head coach Jay Gruden when it comes to make the draft weekend decisions. Coming off an unexpected playoff run, they’re the golden boys in D.C. for now.


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