The 32 NFL teams all have different game plans heading into next month's draft. Some teams are searching for depth at key positions, others are looking for a young star that can lead them to the playoffs, much like quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco did for the Falcons and Ravens last year. Others are looking to fill glaring needs.
Just as each team has a different draft outlook, so too is the manner in which they make their selections. Each team is unique in respect to how it makes it final determination on who gets drafted and who gets bypassed. Some teams have a strong general manager who makes the call. Some have a tenured head coach who has monopolized power. Still others have owners who feel that, since they're cutting the checks, they should have the final say over who comes on board.
While some organizations are similar, no two are identical. So who is making the call for their respective teams? Here is a team-by-team look at who wields the power in the war room and how that may impact who the team takes or who has the authority to pull the trigger on a trade. With the constantly changing face of the NFL, many teams are experiencing a changing of the guard that could have a significant impact on how their franchise moves forward after April 25-26.
Dallas Cowboys – When Bill Parcells and philosophical clone Jeff Ireland left for Miami, it re-asserted the war room generalship to owner Jerry Jones. Jones has his hand in everything from free agency to towel laundering and, after giving up much of that power to the Big Tuna, has taken over the helm of the Cowboys ship once again. He allows for considerable input from his director of college and pro scouting departments, but when it comes to drafting a player or making trades, which the Cowboys love to do, it is Jones who makes all the decisions (again). However, having traded away a first- and third-round pick to get Roy Williams, there may not be a lot of teeth in the 2009 draft for the Cowboys unless Uncle Jerry is willing to do a lot of wheeling and dealing.
New York Giants – The Giants have had continuity in their draft war room for three decades. George Young ran the operation for years and turned it over to Ernie Accorsi, who did the same. He spent years grooming Jerry Reese to take the job and the function of the Giants war room was seamless. The G-men aren't afraid to make moves – even big ones like trading with the Chargers to get Eli Manning several years ago. Mara family member Chris has a big role as assistant G.M., and director of college scouting Kevin Abrams has a significant role in how the draft board is stacked. But once the draft starts, Reese is large and in charge – continuing one of the longest front office trends in the league.
Philadelphia Eagles – Tom Heckert was prepared to move on with Brad Childress when he was hired in Minnesota three years ago, but he was kicked up to general manager and given more sway as to making the big decisions. However, he is far from the only voice in the war room. Andy Reid carries significant weight (pardon the pun) in the war room, as does vice president of player personnel Howie Roseman. After years of meddling with the draft, owner Jeffrey Lurie has taken on a subordinate role in player evaluation and president Joe Banner deals primarily with veteran contracts. For a G.M., Heckert is part of a group dynamic, not the top head on the totem pole.
Washington Redskins – The wild card here is owner Daniel Snyder. Known for opening his vast checkbook to sign free agents, Snyder has put a lot of faith in general manager Vinny Cerrato. He and player personnel director Scott Campbell compile and stack their draft board, but Snyder always seems to find a way to impose his will at critical times – often to the detriment of the team. The team had 10 picks last year and the last of those – seventh-round safety Chris Horton – started 10 games in 2008. The other nine combined to start just four games and their receiving threats – wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly and tight end Fred Davis – were all viewed as rookie busts.
Chicago Bears – The Bears have dropped significantly from their Super Bowl season and it could be nut-cutting time for both general manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith. Smith and the scouting staff have some say when it comes to the draft, but this is Angelo's baby. He makes the big decisions and, after hitting and missing a few times over the past few seasons, Angelo needs to knock this year's draft out of the park. That effort may be tied into the success of Jay Cutler, since it cost Chicago first- and third-round picks this year and a first-rounder next year.
Detroit Lions – Thankfully for Lions fans (as well as those with an I.Q. higher than 50), Matt Millen is out after a decade of disgrace as general manager. Martin Mayhew made an early splash during 2008 by trading Roy Williams to the Cowboys to get what turned out to be the 20th pick in the draft, as well as a third- and sixth-rounder, and will have almost exclusive domain over making the draft picks. That being said, if the Lions find a suitor for the top overall pick, president Tom Lewand will take precedence if it comes to trading away the top pick. He is in charge of all the big financial contract situations and the No. 1 pick, especially a quarterback, will come with the highest of price tags. With Millen gone, the Lions hope to turn a corner and new coach Jim Schwartz likely will have little say on who the team selects.
Green Bay Packers – The Packers have been the model of consistency, giving their general manager control of the war room. Ted Thompson is extremely active on draft weekend – the Packers made five trades to change draft positions last year alone. Director of college scouting John Dorsey and his staff have a significant role in stacking the board, but Thompson holds the trump card.
Minnesota Vikings – Owner Zygi Wilf has a personnel model he brought with him from the business world that he calls the Triangle of Authority. Those three pieces are vice president of player Personnel Rick Spielman, head coach Brad Childress and V.P. of football operations Rob Brzezinski. Spielman is a savant when it comes to scouting. Last year, he claimed he eliminated 150 players prior to the draft for various red flags. Considering that only about 250 players are selected, that is a significant number. Childress is believed to have the final say, but has been in lock step (at least publicly) with Spielman. Brzezinksi is the capologist whose role on draft weekend is be the point man for trade talks.
Atlanta Falcons – General manager Tom Dimitroff has the final word, but he and head coach Mike Smith are said to work tightly together. Dimitroff, who came from the Patriots organization, has brought that draft strategy with him. He has a like-minded head coach in Mike Smith, whose voice is heard loud and clear in the war room, but Dimitroff has the last word if there is a disagreement. As quickly as they turned around the Falcons in 2008, the feeling is that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Carolina Panthers – The Panthers have a two-man decision-making tandem in head coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney. The two have worked together very well over the years and have been able to maintain consistent success by filling most of their needs in the draft rather than massive free-agent spending. If push comes to shove, Hurney gets the final say, but, according to those with knowledge of the Panthers, that hasn't happened with any significant picks.
New Orleans Saints – Mickey Loomis holds the title of general manager, but his duties tend to be more toward contracts and how they affect the salary cap and the team's bottom line. Head coach Sean Payton has increased his power base over the last few years and has much more of a direct hand in the drafting of college talent. He was given a contract extension early last year and that should only serve to give him more authority when the Saints are on the clock.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – This war room will have a vastly different look after both head coach Jon Gruden and G.M. Bruce Allen were gas-piped after the Bucs fell flat in December. Pro personnel director Mark Dominick was promoted to general manager and Raheem Morris was named head coach as the replacements. Dominick has never been in charge of a draft and Morris has never been a head coach, so both will be making their war room debuts – which often catches some off-guard. With the Bucs being mentioned as a team looking for a quarterback, a misstep in the first round or a bad trade could set the franchise back years, making this year's draft critical for the newbies.
Arizona Cardinals – There is little questioning the power of Rod Graves, the team's general manager, as the final say in the Cardinals' war room. Graves had something of a power struggle with Dennis Green and, when Green was fired, Graves got an extension – showing how much sway he had with the organization. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt will have input with the draft weekend decisions, but Graves calls the shots.
St. Louis Rams – The Rams have purged their personnel department. After nearly three decades with the team, general manager Jay Zygmunt retired and president John Shaw was effectively put out to stud and no longer has a major impact on the day-to-day operations of the team or its personnel. It has opened an opportunity for Billy Devaney, in just his second year with the organization, to take on a much-expanded role as the Rams' new G.M. Vice president of player personnel Tony Softli and director of player personnel Lawrence McCutcheon both have significant roles in developing the draft board and making recommendations, but Devaney is the guy with the pair of aces in the hole.
San Francisco 49ers – Many seem to believe that the 49ers have given emotional pants-dropping head coach Mike Singletary a considerable amount of power, but when it comes to the draft, general manager Scott McCloughan holds the cards. He was given the reigns over the draft over then-head coach Mike Nolan prior to the 2008 draft and that hasn't changed despite the new head coach. A growing voice to watch is that of Jed York, a member of the DeBartolo family who was named team president at the tender age of 27. He's still cutting his teeth, but expect to hear his name mentioned more prominently in the coming years.
Seattle Seahawks – For years, head coach Mike Holmgren had the final say in the war room, but he backed off of that role two years ago in favor of general manager Tim Ruskell. His 2008 draft wasn't stellar – his only swing for the fence was tight end John Carlson on the second round. New coach Jim Mora likely won't have much of a voice in the process, but the Seahawks haven't historically been a team that drafts for need, rather taking the best player model regardless of position. That was fine when they were riding high atop the NFC West, but with the team looking to rebound from a dismal 2008 campaign, the expectations are high that the team must hit on at least two or three players or change could be blowing in the wind.
Tomorrow: The AFC.
Calling the shots in the NFC
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