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. The Baltimore Ravens struck gold with Joe Flacco last year.
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. We continue our look at the draft-day decisions makers with a look at who will be leading the selections in the AFC on April 25-26.
Buffalo Bills – Dick Jauron has a lot of pull in the war room and, fortunately for the Bills, Ralph Wilson isn't an owner who sticks his nose in team business. With so many years with Marv Levy running the show, the Bills developed a good system headed up by director of college scouting Tom Modrak. The Bills do a lot of work prior to the draft and tend to stick to their board, which eliminates most arguments about who to draft and where.
Miami Dolphins – Don't believe a word of the talk that Bill Parcells is merely a consultant with the Dolphins. He is the Godfather and there is no denying it – even if the Miami brass tries. He brought general manager Jeff Ireland with him from Dallas because the two think so much alike when it comes to personnel. Head coach Tony Sparano, another Parcells acolyte, is no Tony Soprano in this war room. Ireland evaluates the talent and Parcells makes the final call on who will fit in their system the best.
New England Patriots – The Patriots war room will have a much different look now that Scott Pioli has moved on Kansas City. He and head coach Bill Belichick often seemed like they were joined at the hip and shared one football brain. Because of the Patriots unprecedented success this decade, it was known that Pioli would be leaving and they groomed Nick Caserio to be his hand-picked successor. However, the Pats hired Floyd Reese, formerly of the Titans and an ESPN talking head, to be a team consultant who will have a voice in the war room. But with Pioli gone, Belichick will be soloing instead of performing a draft weekend duet, with Reese and Caserio having input, but input from the back seat of the car.
New York Jets – General manager Mike Tannenbaum was part of a two-man team with former coach Eric Mangini, but he is expected to move to the forefront after Mangini was fired and he was retained. New coach Rex Ryan has had a lot of input during free agency, as the Jets have been aggressive in chasing down his former Ravens players. But, when it comes to draft-day decisions, Tannenbaum is likely going to have the first and last word on who is drafted and if the team is going to swing any draft weekend trades.
Baltimore Ravens – General manager Ozzie Newsome has earned a lot of respect as an excellent talent evaluator. The Ravens typically have strong drafts that produce players that fit in their system. The Baltimore business model has been to let Newsome assemble the team and let the coaching staff handle the day-to-day operations. If Newsome didn't give Brian Billick a strong voice – a man who is the smartest man in whatever room he enters – John Harbaugh can't expect to get too much sway in the war room. It's all Ozzie all the time.
Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals have been such a mess over the years that at one point the league considered stepping in and taking power away from the Brown family. When the team hired Marvin Lewis six years ago, he was given more power than most first-time head coaches because the Bengals don't believe in having a general manager – which could explain why they consistently pick so early in the draft most years. Owner Mike Brown has the final word on all draft picks, but Lewis' opinion goes a long way and has only grown over the years.
Cleveland Browns – This will be an interesting war room to watch. When the team hired Eric Mangini, he was promised a significant role in revamping the Browns to fit his Patriots image. That hasn't always been successful, but he made a quick turnaround of the Jets franchise and will be given a lot of early power. General manager George Kokinis is a first-time G.M. and he, too, will be looking to establish his own credibility. This could be a caustic mix. Coaches and general managers don't always agree and both will be looking to cement their NFL legacies, which could be a recipe for trouble if they don't see eye to eye.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Tomlin's role in managing the personnel of the team has grown significantly, as he and director of football operations Kevin Colbert are much more on the level of peers than they were in his first season as the head coach. It was difficult replacing a local legend like Bill Cowher, but winning another Super Bowl title goes a long way to providing serenity now in the Steelers front office. Tomlin and Colbert are on the same page and have been willing to recognize where team needs lie – as a defensive-minded coach, Tomlin sat back as the Steelers made their first two picks and four of the first five selections on the offensive side of the ball last year. Expect that to change this season.
Houston Texans – General manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak are a tandem that runs the war room and both share much of the same power base. The two have worked in concert since Kubiak arrived and get most of their college work done together, stacking their draft board to play up athletes as well as team need. They got a pair of starters in OT Duane Brown and RB Steve Slaton, despite putting as much or more focus on defense. The Texans are a team that is close to being something special and Smith and Kubiak look to be a good team.
Indianapolis Colts – This will be an interesting war room to keep an eye on. The relationship between general manager Bill Polian and head coach Tony Dungy was extremely close and, because of the numerous mammoth contracts the Colts have maintained over the years, they depend on draft talent as much as any team in the league. If Dungy made a case for a specific player, Polian, who has the most sway in the war room, would typically give in on the belief Dungy knows best. But with new coach Jim Caldwell in his first draft, don't expect that same kind of sharing. This could be Polian's draft more than any in recent years.
Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars fired Shack Harris, the vice president of player personnel, after the season and promoted head of scouting Gene Smith to general manager. Harris was known as being a team player, but the Jaguars have struggled in the draft, especially in the middle to late rounds, in recent years. Smith is going to signal a change in philosophy and will have plenty of stroke in the war room. Jack Del Rio has been told to focus strictly on the players he has and Smith will take care of buying all the ingredients, which will be a departure from how the system operated under Harris.
Tennessee Titans – With the success Tennessee has enjoyed over the years, head coach Jeff Fisher has gained a strong power base in the war room. While Mike Reinfeldt holds the title of general manager, at best he is an equal to Fisher when it comes down to making the final decisions of drafting and trades over draft weekend. However, since he replaced Floyd Reese, who pushed hard for Vince Young over Matt Leinart before being deposed, Reinfeldt and Fisher have worked pretty well together. Some questioned their decision to take Chris Johnson on the first round last year, but after his explosive season, few are questioning their decisions now.
Denver Broncos – It will be interesting to see how this shakes out in April because for years, Mike Shanahan had almost dictatorial control over who was drafted and who was signed in free agency. With Shanahan gone, there are several new challenges. First-time head coach Josh McDaniels has already been a P.R. and team chemistry nightmare after word got out that the team tried to trade Jay Cutler and acquire Matt Cassel, so his role in making the draft picks is iffy. Jim Goodman, Broncos vice president of football operations, is the de facto signal-caller in the war room. As such, he wants to put his own stamp on the franchise after a decade of Shanahan ruling the roost. This could be a war room to watch draft weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs didn't lure general manager Scott Pioli away from the Patriots cheaply or without the promise of near-dictatorial control over the organization. In New England, he worked closely with Bill Belichick with fantastic results. In Kansas City, the only person he has on his level of the Mafiosi flow chart is owner Clark Hunt. He has the autonomy to make trades, which he already did to get Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel, as well as absolute power over draft weekend – ranging from trades to who they actually select. Many G.M.'s wield a lot of power, but few if any have as much control as Pioli has been given in K.C.
Oakland Raiders – Some things never change in Oakland. Unfortunately, that tends to include their record, which has been dismal for a long time and never seems to improve. Crazy Al Davis is as meddlesome as any owner in the league and he loves offensive impact players. The last two years, he has added JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden, and many believe he will do the same this year if wide receiver Michael Crabtree is available. The tarnish is off the organization, which seemingly finds way to burn money on free agents who don't live up to their contracts. Davis has nobody to blame, because his history has been to hire head coaches with no previous experience who serve as yes men on draft day (and every other day for that matter). Until he is deemed to have diminished mental capacity, which many of believe has already arrived, it will continue to be Davis' call as to who wears the Silver and Black.
San Diego Chargers – How much power does A.J. Smith hold with the Chargers? When they had a 14-2 season and head coach Marty Schottenheimer balked at firing his brother from the coaching staff, they were both lopped and within days, Smith was given an extension. That is almost the definition of power. The Chargers are an organization that thrives on the draft since they are rarely in the running for premium free agents. Smith has been able to maintain a consistent level of success, so there is little reason to believe that anyone but him will be managing the Chargers war room when the big decisions need to be made.
Calling the shots in the AFC
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