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Opposite Approaches

Many things have happened in the NFL over the last two weeks with teams setting structure and making new hires of decision makers. These can be scrutinized from many different levels. For my money, and from the chair of a former NFL GM, it brings to light the diverse ways organizations carve out footprints and how decisions get made. Here is what I mean.

I’ve taken two organizations with vastly different philosophies on how they conduct their business in order to give fans an idea of opposite beliefs and pressure points that exist among teams in our most popular sport. With the two teams I have selected, the only thing consistent across the board is that their decision making all starts with the philosophy and style that their owner allows and wants.

Only a few days ago, we saw the Los Angeles Rams decide to change course with their quarterback and trade a player they had just paid handsomely in September of 2019. At that time, the Rams signed Jared Goff to a four-year contract extension worth $134 million. In trading Goff to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford, the Rams threw in two future first-round picks and a third-round pick this year to make the deal happen. Punting on their quarterback so quickly after throwing millions at him would surprise many, however, this mindset is actually nothing new for the Rams franchise. They recently did the same thing with RB Todd Gurley and WR Brandin Cooks as well. Both players were paid quite well one day and then shipped off to other teams shortly after signing their big-money deals. Suffice it to say, these financial decisions had to be a tough pill to swallow if you were the guy writing these checks. I would venture a guess, and have zero doubt, that a majority of my GM buddies would agree that this kind of thinking by the Rams would not be tolerated in 90% of the other NFL buildings around the league. Sure, you can give credit to the Rams for saying, “we will not accept anything less than a Super Bowl”. However, you can also reason that it is inexcusable and borderline irresponsible to act on what most would say is an emotional whim. The next time the Rams’ head coach and even the GM want to sign a player for top dollar, owner Stan Kroenke needs to be asking both some questions. Kroenke needs to find out if both are serious about their decision and what the financial consequences are for the organization to ship a guy to another team with millions of our cash in his pocket? It becomes a credibility issue and our ability to evaluate has to be questioned.

I think Stafford is a nice upgrade for the Rams over Jared Goff and really nobody is disputing that. From a pure football standpoint, Stafford is a more consistent passer with more natural feel and feet within the pocket. He also has the ability to process things quicker and can alter his lower-body mechanics to avoid rushes. He can reset quickly and deliver the ball from various release points. Stafford’s strong skill set, all things Goff struggled with this year, should result in less turnovers for the Rams in 2021, I believe Stafford will run HC Sean McVay’s offense better and more efficiently than anyone he’s had at that position to date.

Which brings us to McVay. The Rams have now structured their organization where he is not only the head coach but also the chief decision maker on all personnel matters. He has the personality for it and demands it. This team’s key decisions on players have no doubt been put on one man’s shoulders. McVay’s public treatment of Goff, which I’m told was even worse behind the scenes, may became problematic in the locker room. Players do not like it when the coach undresses them publically and puts himself above them. The NFL game is and should be about the players. Right now, that’s not the case with the Rams. McVay has let a number of his coaches go as well (only five remain from his Super Bowl staff) when he didn’t have to allow them out of their contract. He swaps players on his roster at an alarming rate and spends his owners’ money as if he was playing Monopoly. I get the impression that he doesn’t value his assistants and preaches system over people. How much of this is sound thinking (the role of a good GM is sometimes to pump the breaks) and how much is ready-fire-aim? It sure sounds like this operation has a voice who can change his mind often, and my experience with this mindset is people will be walking on egg shells.

I am just not sure this way of doing business is sustainable but it’s the route the Rams have chosen. The Rams gave up multiple picks and spent millions of dollars to trade up and acquire Goff in the first place (before McVay got there but the extension was on his watch). They then turned and gave away more picks and more money to get rid of him. That’s a lot more pieces that could have been added to that team. The depth of this team will surely suffer because of it. GM Les Snead is doing the best he can and has actually drafted well, when allowed. The spotlight is surely on McVay even more now. I think this latest move is all about him and 2021 sets up to be a Super Bowl or bust year IMO.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Philadelphia Eagles. Their hiring of young, somewhat naive, coach Nick Sirianni was interesting. I’ve known Sirianni for a few years, having spent time with him at the Chargers. He is a good guy, a good football coach, and a very hard worker who will stay in his lane every day. Said another way, Sirianni is the perfect fit for the organizational structure of what owner Jeffery Lurie has created in Philly, even though this coaching hire wouldn’t be a good fit at other places. The footprint for the head coach is small in Philly at this time.

It has been proven to be fact that the head coach of the Eagles will have to take in ideas, including numbers and analytics and be okay with outside influence from above. This football team will be built, for the most part, for Sirianni and it’s his job to put game plans together and manage the team during the season. This is totally a different philosophy than we just detailed with the Rams. There will be no flip flopping of players. Long-time GM Howie Roseman is in charge. He’s Lurie’s guy and is a survivor, having been thru multiple regimens and set ups. Under Roseman, the Eagles do not turn on a dime with their evaluations, i.e. Carson Wentz and other draft picks and free agents. You can criticize their ability to evaluate, but their commitments to players have been consistently long term, if anything. Philadelphia’s cash flow and bottom line will definitely read different than the one in LA.

The truth is there are agendas at work in virtually every office around the NFL and if anything, more now than ever before. I’m not here to criticize which one of these two philosophies will work best going forward, I’m just pointing out that they are as different as night and day. In Los Angeles, they chose the head coach over the QB (Goff) no matter the price. Faced with the same choice in Philly, head coach Doug Peterson lost his job. The Eagles organization kept their QB (Wentz). It will be fun to watch these franchises operate in front of our eyes as it plays out over the next year or two.

I happen to believe that a happy medium works best. The San Francisco 49ers have this with Kyle Shanahan, their head coach, and GM John Lynch, The Indianapolis Colts also have it with GM Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich. Many of the other teams around the league subscribe to the same working relationship with the head coach and general manager being equal partners. I think sounding boards and working together as partners to build a consensus is the answer. In my career, I have worked under the head coach-equal, equal with the head coach and I’ve been the head coaches boss but to be honest, our working relationship is always the same. That’s what makes you sustainable as a franchise. I suggest to the reader, go and research your team’s decision-making structure. Each team has its own and the dynamics are very different depending on the NFL building. These unusual decisions like the Goff/Stafford trade always make me do two things — go to the tape and evaluate the players and consider the agendas of the decision makers within the team structure. From this, we can obtain the “WHY”.

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