Welcome to my third annual ranking of NFL decision makers, a group who won't take these opinions personally at all.
The ranking is based on how general managers have performed in their current role, including drafts, free agency, trades, hirings and firings.
NOTE: I did not rank first-time decision-makers hired after the 2018 NFL Draft, because they have not been on the job long enough to allow for a fair evaluation. Before we get to the rankings, let's dispatch with the men too new in the role to be ranked, presented in alphabetical order.
THE RELATIVE NEWBIES
Andrew Berry, Browns
The Browns' new general manager keeps his opinions close to the vest, which may dim his wattage as a reality show participant. Browns fans won't mind as long as Berry stewards a more cohesive front office. The initial returns in free agency, including right tackle Jack Conklin and safety Karl Joseph, are promising.
Eric DeCosta, Ravens
DeCosta took over a Ravens franchise in massive transition on both sides of the ball. His 2019 free agent additions (Earl Thomas, Mark Ingram) scored big, and second-year receiver "Hollywood" Brown looks set to end the franchise's long stretch of wideout misfires in the draft. This year's trade of a fifth-rounder for Calais Campbell is a textbook example of the Ravens finding veteran value. Look for DeCosta to rank high next year, when he's eligible for the list below.
Joe Douglas, Jets
The Jets' next great GM hope comes with terrific pedigree from the Ravens and Eagles. He also faces many of the organizational hurdles that tripped up his predecessors. Douglas is part of the growing trend of decision makers elevated to his job after the draft, so he's spent a lot of time since last June awkwardly avoiding landmines set by previous GM Mike Maccagnan. Douglas' first foray into free agency has included buying discounted offensive linemen in bulk, which fits with his reputation. His first draft class will be more telling.
Chris Grier, Dolphins
Listed as a newbie despite having the general manager tag since 2016, Grier wasn't elevated to lead decision maker until last offseason, at which point he promptly began the Dolphins' teardown. His first big decision -- hiring Brian Flores -- is looking like a big early victory. With Miami holding three first-round picks and two more in Round 2, the 2020 draft will go a long way toward determining Grier's vision.
Mike Mayock, Raiders
It feels like Mayock has been in Silver and Black for more than just 16 months, which is a credit to how successfully he's improved the Raiders' outlook. The team's 2019 draft class (highlighted by Josh Jacobs, Maxx Crosby, Johnathan Abram, Hunter Renfrow) could prove memorable, even if No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell doesn't pan out. Mayock's free agency splurges on defense this year also made a lot of sense.
Bill O'Brien, Texans
After successfully forcing out his previous two general managers, O'Brien has proven expert at office politics and winning just enough games to get whatever he wants. His trades since the Texans' surprise firingof previous GM Brian Gaine last June have careened from bold (Laremy Tunsil), to curious (Jadeveon Clowney) to comical (DeAndre Hopkins). O'Brien's inability to play nice with co-workers and star players could burn any long-term vision, but his only losing record as Houston's coach came after Deshaun Watson tore his ACL. O'Brien will need to win with veterans because he only has one selection in the first two rounds of the next two drafts, the No. 40 overall pick acquired from Arizona in the Hopkins deal.
Ron Rivera, Redskins
Rivera has help from his personnel department, starting with 35-year-old vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith. But titles matter, as do the words of Washington owner Dan Snyder, who told Rivera he wanted a "coach-centered" approach instead of one revolving around a general manager or team president. After former executive Bruce Allen's tenure -- he was ranked dead last in this exercise in 2019 -- there's plenty of room for improvement.
25) Dave Caldwell, Jacksonville Jaguars
Last year's ranking: 20
Cleveland and Jacksonville have the two worst cumulative NFL records since 2013. During that span, the Browns have had five general managers. The Jaguars have had one: Caldwell. While it's easy to point fingers for every Jaguars personnel mistake of the last two years on Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars are short on talent and cap space this offseason. It's not quite as dire as when Caldwell first took over, but there are only so many ways to spin 36-76 as progress.
24) Dave Gettleman, New York Giants
Last year's ranking: 19
Gettleman's fast start as Panthers GM appears farther and farther away in the rearview mirror. He's entering Year 3 of his Giants reboot and sounded relieved to still have his job when I listened to him speak at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones' success will validate Gettleman's vision (or not), but the majority of this GM's draft picks and cap space have gone to buttressing a beleaguered defense. Gettleman needs results from guys like Leonard Williams, or he may no longer continue to get chances to draft his hog mollies.
23) Jason Licht, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last year's ranking: 24
Licht arrived in Tampa weeks after Lovie Smith was hired and one year before Jameis Winston was drafted. It took Bruce Arians' arrival and Tom Brady's availability for Licht to finally give up on Winston, which will put the GM's other team-building struggles in the spotlight. In fairness, the Bucs' defense and offensive line, both big trouble spots during Licht's tenure, appear to be on the upswing. This roster has never looked better, but I've been far too high on Licht for virtually every year since 2015 -- and we've both been wrong repeatedly. The cold reality of Licht's 34-62 record since taking over speaks louder than any offseason hype.
22) Bob Quinn, Detroit Lions
Last year's ranking: 21
Some teams take on the personality of their head coach. The Lions have taken on the personality of Bob Quinn. He's a decision maker who's
there. His draft hauls and free-agent signings have mostly been inoffensive, if uninspiring. He's hit a lot of opposite-field singles in the draft, with Kenny Golladay possibly the best pick he's made in four years. Justin Coleman and Marvin Jones have been nice veteran additions. The Lions are a zip-up sweater of a football team.
21) Marty Hurney, Carolina Panthers
Last year's ranking: 18
Hurney is a survivor. It's remarkable that he returned to the Panthers in 2017, five years after getting fired by the team, and has since survived a change in ownership, an investigation into whether he violated the league's personal conduct policy and, most improbable, a change in coaching staff with Matt Rhule's hiring in January. Hurney worked well with Ron Rivera in executing the coach's vision, and that will be the goal with Rhule, who is clearly the alpha in Carolina.
20) Marty Hurney, Carolina Panthers
Last year's ranking: 16
It was refreshing to see owner Mike Brown sign off on Tobin's spending spree in free agency, considering the last 29 years of Bengals history. Time will tell if the
Bengals' splurge on nose tackle D.J. Reader, cornerback Trae Waynes and safety Vonn Bell will pay off, but the additions came at the right time for a hamstrung
Bengals defense. The return from injury of the Bengals' 2019 first-round pick, offensive tackle Jonah Williams, adds to a starting lineup that will have been primarily drafted by Tobin (or owner Mike Brown, if is he's still quietly calling the shots).
19) Ryan Pace, Chicago Bears
Last year's ranking: 15
Five years in and just one winning record to his name, credit Pace with finding a capable alternative to Mitchell Trubisky (Nick Foles) at a reasonable price. Pace -- who moved up for Trubisky in the loaded 2017 quarterback draft -- will always be tied to the pick. But even the legion of Paceloyalists and coach Matt Nagy knew there was a risk of going down with the Trubisky ship if the team didn't have a Plan B this year. The Bears' defense declined a year ago, as great defenses do. The Jimmy Graham and
Robert Quinn signings were high-risk moves by a GM who's always short on draft picks because of the Trubisky and Khalil Mack trades.
18) Steve Keim, Arizona Cardinals
Last year's ranking: 17
Give Keim and the Cardinals credit for quickly fixing a mistake. The Steve Wilks/Josh Rosen-era Cardinals did not capsize Keim's career because he didn't allow it to become an era. Kyler Murray should help end a grisly history of first-round picks by Keim, who has done his best work in trades for Chandler Jones, DeAndre Hopkins and Carson Palmer. Keim asking for that fourth-round pick back from Bill O'Brien in the Hopkins trade was the most cold-blooded move of 2020.
17) Brian Gutekunst, Green Bay Packers
Last year's ranking: Not ranked
Give "Gutey" credit for a fast start. Za'Darius Smith was called one of the best non-draft acquisitions in team history by none other than Packers historian Bob McGinn. Elevated to the top spot in January of 2018, Gutekunst appears to have hit big on a few picks (cornerback Jaire Alexander, guard Elgton Jenkins and safety Darnell Savage), while filling in other roster holes with capable veterans like Adrian Amos and Preston Smith. Gutekunst could be ranked higher once he has a bigger body of work to evaluate.
16) Tom Telesco, Los Angeles Chargers
Last year's ranking: 10
The patron saint of building a better roster than the standings indicate, Telesco drafted a Pro Bowler or All-Pro in his first six seasons at the helm. That incredible streak ended in 2019 along with Philip Rivers' Chargers career, a monument to missed opportunity. If Telesco gets credit for building up talent -- including in the secondary with free agents Casey Hayward and now Chris Harris Jr. -- he also has to take the blame for an offensive line that has led to a 53-59 record over his tenure. You also can't blame the Chargers coaches when Telesco hires the coaches. On the cusp of entering a new stadium, Telesco has a fascinating decision at No. 6 overall. Select Rivers' replacement or finally fill that left tackle spot for good?
15) John Elway, Denver Broncos
Last year's ranking: 14
I had Telesco ranked ahead of Elway, until I heard Dan Hanzus' booming imitation of Elway in my head: "What, my Super Bowl title and four straight seasons of 12-plus wins count for nothing??" Fair enough. The Broncos' roster is already looking friskier with the Vance Joseph misstep receding from memory. There are still offensive line issues, but Bradley Chubb and Courtland Sutton were big draft hits and Elway's brought in pieces to help Vic Fangio's defense look like a Vic Fangio defense. Elway can cap a great offseason with a strong draft and a veteran quarterback insurance policy (Cam Newton, Jameis Winston or Andy Dalton) behind Drew Lock. The best organizations look for value everywhere, and the Broncos are another Lock injury away from playing Jeff Driskel.
14) Rick Spielman, Minnesota Vikings
Last year's ranking: 11
Spielman has quietly overseen Vikings personnel for 14 seasons, drafting 16 Pro Bowlers during that span. The team has finished 117-105-2 in those years, with a 3-6 playoff record. There's a lot to be said for staying consistently competitive, and his ranking only dips here because the hit rate on draft picks has slowed in the last five seasons. The stellar Mike Zimmer defense grew too expensive without ever being quite stellar enough, so this is a team slowly pivoting to a more offensive mindset.
13) Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys
Last year's ranking: 12
The book was written on Jones and his family as executives years ago: Brilliant in business, excellent at drafting, erratic in free agency, counterproductive with coaching staff decisions and often loyal to a fault with players. The more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same. With help from his son Stephen (COO/director of player personnel) and VP of player personnel Will McClay, Jones has built a Cowboys roster as loaded with stars in their prime as any since Troy Aikman played. That only serves to make the three total playoff wins since 1997 more frustrating.
12) Brandon Beane, Buffalo Bills
Last year's ranking: NR
This ranking may look high for a GM who has only been at the helm for two drafts, but I wanted to reward Beane and coach Sean McDermott for an archetypal rebuilding job. The Bills have had a vision of the type of players they want to draft (Tre'Davious White, Tremaine Edmunds and Devin Singletary among them) and the type of free agents they want to bring aboard, like center Mitch Morse and wideout John Brown. This year's trade for Stefon Diggs was the perfect ante up for an organization that has addressed its biggest problems and is ready to compete now. I may disagree on their choice of quarterback, but there's no denying that what the Bills brass has done is working.
11) Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta Falcons
Last year's ranking: 5
The author of the most successful period in Falcons history, Dimitroff helped engineer incredibly successful starts for both of his head coach hires: Mike Smith and Dan Quinn. Then they hit some potholes. A 109-83 record with six playoff berths in 12 seasons has earned Dimitroff loyalty from his boss, but after back-to-back 7-9 seasons, the GM is facing a crucial year in a loaded NFC South. Dimitroff needs one of his patented trade-up moves to pay off soon, and he needs the big gambit on first-round 2019 offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom (No. 14) and Kaleb McGary (No. 31) to pay off more this year than it did in 2020. So many of Dimitroff's better recent picks (Desmond Trufant, Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman) are no longer with the team.
10) Les Snead, Los Angeles Rams
Last year's ranking: 7
When 9-7 is a down year, an organization is on solid footing. How the Rams follow up that 9-7, however, will be telling. Some of Los Angeles' biggest contracts (Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks) didn't work out, while some other valuable veterans (Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler Jr.) are gone. While the Rams are hardly a talent-poor squad in retrenchment (hello, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey), this is usually the time when an organization needs young players to step up. Snead hasn't had a first-round pick since Jared Goff, making his degree of difficulty higher. Finding some draft steals -- like Cooper Kupp, Taylor Rapp and John Johnson -- again would help immensely.
9) Chris Ballard, Indianapolis Colts
Last year's ranking: 8
The Colts have endured Andrew Luck's shoulder injury and abrupt retirement since Ballard took over. Those setbacks have obscured Ballard's excellent work building up Indy's talent base. He'll be able to dine on his '18 draft class (Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard and Braden Smith) for a while, but there have been similarly savvy moves for veterans, like the DeForest Buckner trade and Justin Houston signing. Even the team's unnecessarily big Jacoby Brissett contract was covered up by the smart risk-reward deal for Philip Rivers. Good GMs are able to quickly recognize mistakes.
8) Jon Robinson, Tennessee Titans
Last year's ranking: 13
Robinson's draft record was already impressive before last year, when he selected Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate A.J. Brown and impact first-round defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons. All of the Titans' transactions -- including the hiring of Mike Vrabel -- have a point of view. The organizational cohesion -- built around physicality -- helps explain why the team was greater than the sum of its parts in 2019. Robinson expertly navigated the transition from Marcus Mariota (whom Robinson inherited), while picking up Ryan Tannehill at a major discount (for one season, anyway).
7) John Scheider, Seattle Seahawks
Last year's ranking: 6
Schneider and Pete Carroll have done an incredible job staying competitive, even as their defensive identity has eroded. Wide receiver D.K. Metcalf helped to end what's been a rough stretch of drafts, however, and the team's offensive line improvement in 2018 fell back to bad form a year ago. Schneider does a great job finding the types of players Carroll wants, but this still feels like a roster that doesn't fully maximize Russell Wilson's gifts or Carroll's coaching strengths.
6) John Lynch, San Francisco 49ers
Last year's ranking: 22
Lynch and Kyle Shanahan took over in 2017. There were more standout players in place than most rebuilding jobs, but it's remarkable that the 49ers now have perhaps the most talented roster in football. Credit Lynch for overcoming a disastrous first two picks at the helm (Solomon Thomas at No. 3 and Reuben Foster at No. 31) to find core players at every level of the last three drafts, including George Kittle, Fred Warner, Mike McGlinchey, Deebo Samuel and Nick Bosa. New GMs are supposed to show their work by Year 3, and Lynch's work nearly won a title.
5) Mickey Loomis, New Orleans Saints
Last year's ranking: 9
Loomis is representing an excellent Saints triumvirate that includes assistant GM Jeff Ireland and coach Sean Payton. But it's worth giving Loomis his due for the salary jujitsu he performs annually, always finding cap space under a cushion for what the team needs. From draft picks (Michael Thomas, Erik McCoy, Alvin Kamara, Ryan Ramczyk) to free agents (Demario Davis, Emmanuel Sanders) to sneaky-useful trades like the '18 move for Eli Apple, the Saints' front office is flexible. Loomis and Payton have done some of the best work of their careers over the last three years, playoff heartbreaks notwithstanding.
4) Howie Roseman, Philadelphia Eagles
Last year's ranking: 2
Making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons despite being one of the most injury-plagued teams in football proves that Roseman is resourceful, if unlucky. The identity of the Eagles -- strong up front on both sides of the ball -- remains intact, as does the need for a productive young receiver and improvement in the secondary. For the first time in years, Philly has cap space (even after the savvy pickups of Darius Slay and Javon Hargrave) and a full assortment of draft picks. Don't be shocked if the Eagles still have one more big move left in them.
3) Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers
Last year's ranking: 3
I don't know whether to knock Colbert for believing so much in Mason Rudolph or give Colbert credit for putting together a defense able to go 8-8 despite Rudolph and Duck Hodges' quarterback play. 2019 had to be bittersweet for Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin. Their homegrown defenders finally lived up to their potential as a unit, and a savvy midseason trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick helped transform the Steelers into a title-ready outfit on one side of the ball. The body of work and consistency from Colbert is hard to match.
2) Brett Veach (& Andy Reid), Kansas City Chiefs
Last year's ranking: NR
Results matter. There were other teams high on Patrick Mahomes, but Veach was the guy who banged the table for him and helped make it happen. Veach's two drafts officially at the helm included some whiffs in 2018 and some hits in 2019 (safety Juan Thornhill and receiver Mecole Hardman) who helped bring the Chiefs a championship. Swapping Dee Ford for Frank Clark paid off and the Chiefs built a capable secondary on the cheap. Keeping Sammy Watkins at a reduced price is the type of move only strong organizations can pull off. I parenthetically listed Reid next to Veach at the top of this blurb after speaking to multiple people who believe that "Big Red" remains the biggest voice in Chiefs personnel, no matter his title.
1) Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Last year's ranking: 1
This ranking is more about Belichick's body of work finessing the margins rather than any recent draft hits. Guard Joe Thuney, retained via the franchise tag, is the only above-average starter Belichick has drafted in the last four years. (2018 first-rounder Isaiah Wynn has an incomplete grade thus far.) Tom Brady leaving didn't leave the Patriots flat-footed, although they have had young backups in place drafted higher than Jarrett Stidham, taken at No. 133 last year, for nearly all of the last decade. Still, this isn't a barren roster. New England's secondary and offensive line rival any in football. Running back remains deep, and the Pats' front-seven pieces play well together, even if the group lacks difference makers. That problem extends to the entire team. Beyond Stephon Gilmore, this is an organization that needs an influx of blue-chip players. Belichick has a history of finding them when he needs them most.