2022 NFL GM Candidate Research

by | Jan 20, 2022

I want to apologize to the scouting and football communities for the delay and having to share this research here. Due to complications with COVID and pregnancy, things have been a bit hectic lately, and thus, here we are. Let’s get into the football.

As of this posting, the NFL has 4 current General Manager openings (to be determined if more come open – see Trent Baalke and the Jaguars or Kevin Colbert and the Steelers). In asking around the league the last two months there has been little confidence in more than the Giants GM position being available. Sure there is scuttlebutt surrounding other moves, but few spoke with assuredness that other opportunities would arise. The two moves that were discussed, but no one was sure would actually happen were the Vikings moving on from Rick Spielman and the Bears moving on from Ryan Pace. 

So here we are, looking at openings with the Giants, Vikings, Raiders, and Bears, and another game of musical chairs. The NFL’s pace of GM replacement has become so rapid that half of the organizations have changed their top personnel decision maker in the last 5 seasons and two-thirds have made such a change in the last 7 years. You can read more about organizational stability in my 2020 research.

In the last 5 years, there have been at least 75 known interviews for 17 General Manager positions, so between those who have come before, those who have been through the process (but not yet been hired as a GM) before, and those who are the “up and comers”, it is not hard to find 30+ names floated when a GM position opens. 

In studying the various 2022 GM lists that are being heavily circulated, you will see at least 67 different names being floated.  Lists this year range from 29 to 46 in most cases. I have yet to meet someone in football that claims to understand the detailed work and personal character of every single person working in or around the 32 front offices (although I’m sure someone has the ego to believe they do), so any list ends up stemming from personal/anecdotal experience. We all hear things about folks in the business, but it’s hard to trust such 3rd/4th hand information. People feel better about trusting their gut when they’ve worked with someone or have a personal history with them. So when you look at the names people recommend, it is heavily tilted towards people in their organization. This has its own drawbacks as it becomes hard to tell if you’re being told what you NEED TO KNOW vs WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO KNOW. People often work in their own self-interest and will promote those who will help them.

So imagine being an Owner and every single person you ask about GM candidates gives you at least 3 new names you had not heard elsewhere. Do you just crowdsource things? Take whichever names come up most often. Do you find 1 consultant/advisor and trust their rolodex exclusively even if it means missing out on someone you may have liked? Do you try to interview 15 people (like the Panthers did last year) even if it means someone you like may take another job before you finish your process. Clearly there is not a perfect process or we’d have a better hit rate on GM hires, so teams end up picking a path and sticking with it, not always factoring in the unintended consequences of that move.

The goal of this piece won’t be to share the name of every executive being floated out there this time of year, but to examine the tendencies NFL owners show in their selection processes and what that may mean for candidates and to share the results of polling conducted with NFL scouts on who they believe should be strongly considered for these GM openings. Those polled were not allowed to vote for themselves and in the cases of ties, those who had the most votes from people they were not currently working with were valued higher.

It was once said to me that there are 5 elements to a Championship team:

  1. Owner
  2. General Manager
  3. Head Coach
  4. Quarterback
  5. Luck

I think we could certainly debate the rankings, but I don’t think we can debate these are the 5 most important elements in today’s NFL.

So let’s look at the four openings. Now that the Giants have parted ways with their former HC, all fourteams will start from scratch with their GM/HC pairing. This is a critical element. The timing and selection of an organization’s GM and HC have lasting consequences to the power structure internally and can either create synergy or create a Game of Thrones. 

Personnel people are trained to think about those they want on their squad. They are constantly asked “will they make our team better?” “who are they better than?” “who would they replace?” and as such, everyone they meet is being measured. Combine that with the fact that NFL GMs have the worse likelihood (in all major US sports) of being hired to that position a 2nd time, they do not want their one and only shot at General Manager to be tied to those they did not select. Especially at the critical positions of Head Coach and Quarterback. 

Not sold yet, let’s go to the numbers. Looking at hirings spanning the last 15 years and leaving off 2020/21 hires as they’re just getting started, we have 61 GM/HC pairings. They break down into the following:

Research on GM/HC pairings by number of years they remained together

# of pairingsAvg yrs togetherMade it 3+ yrs1 or less years
HC in place 1st241.45813%75%
HC hired by GM172.94171%6%
GM hired by HC122.00033%50%
Hired together84.12563%0%

The data tells us that when new GMs come into the fold and there is a HC already in place, there is an overwhelming probability that the HC is a lame duck and the GM will remove them within a calendar year. In fact the only examples in the last 10 years of a GM retaining a HC they did not hire are Dave Gettleman with Ron Rivera in Carolina, Scot McCloughan with Jay Gruden in Washington, and now Scott Fitterer with Matt Rhule in Carolina. Even this week, we saw more proof of this as Broncos GM George Paton let go of the HC hired by John Elway and will push forward with a HC of his choosing.

So where does that leave us with the 3 current openings. Well our research from last year showed that only 27% of GM selections did not have a clear tie to the Owner/Search Committee/Head Coach and thus were an ‘outside hire’, so there is substantial evidence to suggest that for 3 of the openings, ownership will hire someone they already know and are familiar with. So if you’re hoping your organization will get an outside the box thinker with new philosophies, the odds are not in your favor.

What should provide optimism to the fan bases, is that each organization is in position to hire their GM and HC together. When San Francisco moved on from Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly, Kelly had only been on the job a year, but they determined that the best way to prevent the power struggles/imbalance that had plagued them for years was to make a clean change and join the GM and HC at the hip. Bringing them in together and letting them go together. I personally believe that strategy provides the highest level of expected return, eliminating the ability for one to throw the other under the bus to save themselves. Make it a true partnership and you have a better chance of having a true partnership.

Now fans should remember, the GM landscape is a stock market (trademark pending) and can be more about being at the right place at the right time, which is a constant source of frustration for candidates. George Paton is a respected scout and now the GM of the Denver Broncos after a run as an executive for the Minnesota Vikings, but if he had not taken the Broncos job and was still with Minnesota now, would he be as hot of a candidate as he was last year? Probably not. 

To extend the GM ‘stock market’ point, Owners tend to like ‘fresh faces’ in the candidate lists. If we think of each year’s GM searches/interviews as a ‘cycle’, then it becomes clear Owners trend towards those in their 1st or 2nd cycle of interviews. In researching new GMs (removing internal promotions and GMs on 2nd stint in the big chair), the average number of GM search cycles a candidate was an active interview participant in before they were hired was 1.92, so let’s round that up to 2. In fact, 77% of new GM hires since 2016 had only gone through 1 or 2 interview cycles (they may have interviewed more than once in a cycle). It is unclear if this is for optics/PR or if previous candidates had poor interviews. In fact, candidates who turned down interviews in the past have a higher probability of being asked to interview in the future than those who accept every interview opportunity.

With all that covered, let’s pivot to candidates. Let’s be honest, that’s what you’re here to see. 

I begin with my usual disclaimers:

  1. This is NOT “my list.” In the past I based it on who has been interviewing, but as shown above, there are diminishing returns to being an active candidate in too many cycles and some teams have officially interviewed numerous members of their existing staff prior to hiring outsiders, thus clouding the data with names that may not be viable at this time. Instead, this is the result of polling conducted with NFL scouts on who they believe should be strongly considered for these GM openings. Those polled were not allowed to vote for themselves and in the cases of ties, those who had the most votes from people they were not currently working with were valued higher. The focus is on hearing from the boots on the ground about what is impactful in the industry. Here was the question posed to them:
    • Which person/people do you believe have the intelligence, leadership, adaptability, and technical savvy to tackle the ever changing role of GM? A person who you would consider making a lateral move for.
  2. There is a small funnel that has been erected for candidates. One of the gatekeeper mechanisms is agent support. Most scouts do not have an agent, in fact, most scouts live under the impression that if they hired an agent to represent their interests that they may not be employed very long. What ends up happening is that until the powers that be at the top of the organization essentially tap you on the shoulder and announce your candidacy, it is frowned upon to be a ‘self-promoter’. In this environment, most that ascend to such candidacy are introduced to the agent that represents their GM and the funnel tightens, leaving a very small group of agents as the representation for executives. So when search committees and owners want to engage with a candidate, they may end up with a whole list from that agent who now has leverage in the process, especially in light of the fact that many of those agents also represent the Head Coaching candidates a team will want to interview in the process.
  3. High-volume turnover makes it incredibly difficult to conduct longitudinal study of what situation a GM came into, how they overcame the obstacles they were left with (GM openings occur due to issues, not successes), what pieces they added, and how all those pieces built towards sustainable success. As such, those consulting or on search committees leverage anecdotal or personal experience in building frameworks for what works at the position.
  4. I do not believe the industry lacks the intellect for tackling the diverse and ever-evolving series of duties of General Manager. I believe this industry does not invest in their people, it does not consistently promote people within their roles, it does not actively work to prepare those involved for the highest position. If Owners want to see their football operations staff execute better, they should invest more in their football operations staff.
  5. The working hypothesis should be, the larger the tool box the GM candidate possesses,  the better positioned they may be in regards to solving problems. We should be looking for multi-track minds. No two days are the same in an NFL front office. So walking in the door with a plan, developed in a vacuum, free from the active constraints of that organization and lacking knowledge of the various crises that will show up so often, leaves most plans as a loose dream of what they want things to be like vs what it will actually be like.

Even after presented with a different question than last year’s polling, respondents brought up quite a few of the same names that were elevated last year. So 4 of the 10 leading vote getters were also named in the 2021 study. Here they are listed in alphabetical order:

Brandon Brown – director of player personnel- Philadelphia Eagles

Quote 1: “Really detailed, a great person and has that “it” factor where he just gets the whole business. Does it the right way too by letting his work show, very humble”

Quote 2: “Law degree, very sharp, impressive to talk to…understands how to look at things from a different perspective, not afraid to put himself on the line for things he believes in and will think outside the box…testimony to his work and time he puts into his craft.”

The former Fordham University DB graduated with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration before earning his Juris Doctor at Barry University Law School. While in law school, Brown worked in athletic compliance for Central Florida. He earned his first opportunity in the NFL as a summer intern with the New York Jets before entering the CFB ranks at Boston College, first as a recruiting specialist before being promoted to Assistant Director of Player Personnel. The Colts then hired Brown as a Scouting Assistant where he spent 1 year before immediately being promoted to Advance Scout. Again, after only 1 year, the Philadelphia Eagles hired him away as their Assistant Director of Pro Scouting. After only 2 years in the role, Brown was promoted to Director of Pro Scouting. The fast riser has consistently impressed with his acumen, attention to detail, and his ability to see the bigger picture.

TLDR synopsis: CFB Player, Law Degree, CFB Compliance, CFB Recruiting, Pro Scouting (2 NFL teams)

Champ Kelly – assistant director of player personnel – Chicago Bears

Quote 1: “Really sharp and organized. He thinks outside of the box and also has uncanny awareness of his own strengths and weaknesses. I also like his ability to lead people. He commands respect and inspires hope”

Quote 2: “High character man with genuine positive energy and charisma which results in an effective leadership presence. He is convicted in his beliefs on both process and players, yet is open minded and a great listener.  I think he is a champ!”  

The former University of Kentucky WR/DB has one of the most unique and diverse backgrounds with experience as a player, coach, agent, pro and college scout, and software engineer. Prior to entering the NFL, Kelly, who graduated with a degree in Computer Science and Masters in Business Administration, spent nearly 3 years as a software/quality engineer for IBM. In addition, while at IBM, Kelly was a high school coach and played WR/DB for the Lexington Horsemen.  After his playing career, Kelly became a coach and ultimately the General Manager for the Lexington Horsemen of the United Indoor Football League. Following a brief stint as a certified NFLPA contract advisor, Kelly was hired by the Denver Broncos as their Northeast college scout. Kelly was then promoted after one year to Assistant Coordinator of Pro and College Scouting. After two years in that role, Kelly ascended to the role of Assistant Director of Pro Personnel. During Kelly’s five seasons as the Broncos’ Assistant Director of Pro Personnel, the Broncos won four division titles thanks in large part to the eight veteran free agents signed during this time who went on to make the Pro Bowl. Kelly was then hired by the Chicago Bears to direct their Pro Scouting department. After serving as Director of Pro Scouting for two years, Kelly was promoted to Assistant Director of Player Personnel. During his tenure, the Bears clinched their first playoff berth and division title since 2010. Few executives can match Kelly’s wide array of experiences.  Not only does Kelly have a playing, coaching and scouting background, but his business acumen and experiences with analytics as a software engineer, makes Kelly an ideal candidate to lead a football operations department in the current football landscape.

Founder of Heart Power Inc. a charitable foundation that is focused on delivering positive and encouraging influences to the lives of children and their families. 

TLDR synopsis: CFB Player, Computer Science Bachelors, MBA, Engineering Experience at IBM, Coach, UIFL Executive, NFLPA Certified Contract Advisor, Pro Scouting, College Scouting, and NFL Executive (2 NFL Teams)

Louis Riddick – Analyst – ESPN Monday Night Football

Quote 1: “Good communication skills and ability to articulate his thoughts. He embraces analytics and game theory as an integral part of the team building/decision matrix and understands it has to be properly married with the football side to make decisions. From his current role, he has the unique opportunity to see many different ways of doing things by interviewing and talking to people throughout the league, the type of broad spectrum polling and collection of ideas that you wouldn’t have access to while working for 1 team”

Quote 2: “Highly intelligent, economics background, has a strong leadership presence and excellent communication skills. Can have an equally effective conversation with an owner, coach, player, scout, trainer, media member, or corporate sponsor.  His football knowledge is outstanding, not only scheme and player evaluation, but he has a passion for the entire player development and team building process, he is a big thinker, and his drive to succeed is unmatched.”

The former University of Pittsburgh DB graduated with a Bachelor’s in Economics before spending 7 years in the NFL as a DB with San Francisco, Atlanta, Cleveland, and the Oakland Raiders. In his time with the Cleveland Browns, he was coached by Nick Saban (Defensive Coordinator) and Bill Belichick (Head Coach). After his playing career, Riddick entered into the NFL scouting ranks as a Pro Scout for the Washington Football Team before being promoted to Director of Pro Personnel. Which is a title he held for the Philadelphia Eagles as well. Renowned for his Advance scouting work, discussed by coaches on those Eagles staffs as the most robust they had seen. Riddick transitioned from the front office to a front office insider for ESPN, His execution led to his current role on Monday Night Football. The production process for MNF provides Riddick a unique opportunity to sit with coaching staffs each week, exploring what they are dealing with, concerned with, excited about, and even to assess potential future head coach candidates. These experiences have served John Lynch and Mike Mayock well in their current roles as General Manager. Riddick’s lifelong relationship with the NFL, it’s players, schemes, and coaches, paired with his ability to study markets/trends via his econ background, aids his perspective on the team building process.

TLDR Synopsis: Economics Background, NFL Player, Versed in Scheme, Advance Scouting, College Scouting, NFL Executive (2 NFL Teams) Broad Picture Analysis, Behind the Scenes Access to NFL Coaches

Chris Shea – football operations counsel and personnel executive – Kansas City Chiefs

Quote 1: “No one better qualified or more versed. Scout, cap, lawyer. I think he coached a bit. Most qualified candidate I’ve ever seen” 

Quote 2: “His background and experience spreads so wide from player negotiations, staff negotiations, understanding the cap, figuring how to use data, both pro and college evaluations, even legal aspects with the college process”

Operations, Equipment, Coaching, Scouting, Management Council, Instant Replay, College Scouting, Pro Scouting, Salary Cap, Roster Building, Football Administration, Analytics, Technology, CBA Compliance. These are the duties overseen by Shea in his time with six NFL teams, the NFL Management Council, two CFB programs, and a law firm. The 22 year NFL veteran has literally done a bit of everything in football operations and currently sits as the General Counsel and Personnel Executive for the World Champion Kansas City Chiefs. The 17 year scouting veteran has extensive experience in both college and pro scouting, including being the Dolphins lead advance scout and coordinating the 2008-11 drafts for MIA and the 2016 draft for PHI. He has also managed the salary cap for multiple clubs and the League. His role expanded in the past few seasons for Kansas City and advises Owner Clark Hunt, Head Coach Andy Reid, and General Manager Brett Veach on roster-building strategy, salary cap management, football administration, analytics, enhancement of player personnel related technology, and football operations staffing matters. Shea was part of the two man team that constructed the 12-year, $477M contract extension for QB Patrick Mahomes this past July and is involved in all trades for the Chiefs. His legal duties include NFL CBA compliance, drafting all the language contained in player, coaching, and staff contracts, negotiating medical service provider agreements, and serving as the club’s liaison to the NFL or outside counsel on all legal matters. Hard to imagine someone having more experience executing in all the various aspects of an organization than Shea.

TLDR Synopsis: Operations, Equipment, Coaching, Scouting (5 NFL Teams), Management Council, Instant Replay, College Scouting, Pro Scouting, Salary Cap, Roster Building, Football Administration, Analytics, Technology, CBA Compliance. 

The following are the other 6 leading vote getters who are new to the list this year:

Matt Berry – director of college scouting – Seattle Seahawks

Quote 1: “Because of their down year, he’s not being mentioned for GM jobs, but he is more than ready. Very smart and detail oriented. Willing to adapt if he needs to. Listens to others opinions on the staff before making final decisions”

Quote 2: “Matt’s excellent. Period. He’s a very good evaluator and as organized and diligent as anyone I’ve ever worked with.”

Ian Cunningham – director of player personnel – Philadelphia Eagles

Quote 1: [what makes you believe he will succeed?] “Humility. Intelligence. Open mindedness. Moral/ethical. Even keeled. Quality background (tutelage under Ozzie and has seen Howie’s magic). Works well with others. Uplifts others. One of my favorites.”

Quote 2: “Extremely smart. Very good emotional intelligence. Intuitive. Fair. Selfless.”

Ed Dodds – assistant general manager – Indianapolis Colts

Quote 1: “One of the best evaluators in the NFL. He is very thorough and expects those around him to grind like he does. Not afraid of conflicting opinions and will surround himself with a great staff.”

Quote 2: “Genuine and authentic. Not trying to be anything he is not. I think he has great attention to detail. He is extremely thorough in his process and he is a listener. Has great intellect and an instinct to decipher the truth based on information he is receiving. People person, builds great relationships and does an excellent job of cultivating those relationships in a way that makes it feel like it’s a true friendship, not just him trying to get something out of it for his job.”

Terrance Gray – assistant director of player personnel – Buffalo Bills

Quote 1: “I think he’s got a big picture view. Understands people. Builds good relationships. On top of those things he is prepared. Has worked in multiple well run front offices. Carries himself well. Treats people right.”

Quote 2: “Even though I haven’t personally worked with Terrance in an organization, I have been told by numerous colleagues that he is open-minded and shows calm, collected leadership. He’s open to ideas and although he is confident, he’s still self-aware that he does not know everything. The time I’ve spent with him is always pleasant. Everything is not about him. He’s a positive person. There’s a deep thinker part to him that has always captured my attention.”

Quote 3: “Everything about him makes me believe he will succeed. Smart as hell. Leader of men. Well respected. Great football guy.”

Monti Ossenfort – director of player personnel – Tennessee Titans

Quote 1: “Very good people skills. He’s a very good evaluator and is very detailed in all that he does.”

Quote 2: “People person. Easy to get along with. Good communicator. Great to work for. Not a micromanager. Good talent evaluator.”

Quote 3: “Good evaluator, organized, hard working, professional, sees big picture, presence, leader, respected by peers, been at 2 places now that have won. Worked for and seasoned by good people (Casserly, Belichick, Jon Robinson). Started at the bottom and earned each promotion”

Joe Schoen – assistant general manager – Buffalo Bills

Quote 1: “He’s very smart, detailed, and ambitious. He’s an excellent evaluator and it’s not a matter of if, but when he gets a GM job.”

Quote 2: “Super smart, a good football mind. The guys in Buffalo really respect him. Has experience on the research side too.”

Quote 3: “Personable, intelligent, detail oriented, knows players. Worked for 2 playoff organizations. Started at bottom on the road and earned each promotion along the way.”

Quote 4: “I think he works hard, has an eye for talent, and good media savvy.”

Special mention should be made of the following names who separated themselves in vote totals, but did not quite crack into the top 10.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah – vice president of football operations – Cleveland Browns, Lake Dawson – assistant director of college scouting – Buffalo Bills, Ryan Poles – executive director of player personnel – Kansas City Chiefs, Kyle Smith – vice president of player personnel – Atlanta Falcons, Eliot Wolf – scouting consultant – New England Patriots, Dave Ziegler – director of player personnel – New England Patriots

You can find my past research here:

2021 GM Candidate Research

2020 GM Candidate Research

2019 GM Candidate Research

2018 GM Candidate Research

2017 GM Candidate Reseach

2016 GM Candidate Research

NFL GMs: An analysis of the responsibilities, qualification, and characteristics (Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal – Villanova Law Review)