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HomeNFLSuper Bowl-bound Eagles among NFL teams succeeding with aggressive roster-building tactics

Super Bowl-bound Eagles among NFL teams succeeding with aggressive roster-building tactics

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Even though the Rams suffered through an injury-plagued 5-12 campaign this year, their belief was that the all-in approach was vital. The franchise had gone 13 straight years without a winning season (2004-2016) before Snead, who has been the GM since 2012, decided it wasn’t worth waiting on first-round picks to save the day anymore. If Los Angeles keeps its first-round pick in 2024, that will mark the team’s first Day 1 selection since Goff.

“The amount of energy and effort you put into the top of the draft is enormous,” Farmer said. “When we started making these deals, we were able to be more focused on the guys in the middle and late rounds of the draft. You don’t really care where a guy gets drafted because it’s only the performance that gets rewarded. And when you get the right 53 guys, nobody cares about the acquisition process.”

To understand how much the job of roster-building has changed, you first have to go back a bit to remember what the NFL was like in the past. The general manager position in the 1980s and 1990s was defined by shrewd, pragmatic executives who often had the benefit of time to execute their visions. George Young held the GM job for the Giants from 1979 to 1997 and hired five different coaches in that span (including Hall of Famer Bill Parcells). Bobby Beathard, who just passed away this week, ran the personnel departments in Washington and San Diego for 11 seasons at each post. Powerful figures like Tex Schramm (Dallas), Ron Wolf (Green Bay) and Polian erected consistent winners in their own respective cities.

That was all before the NFL changed in considerable ways. The arrival of free agency and the salary cap in the first half of the 1990s made the job of GM more complicated. The more success some head coaches attained after winning Super Bowls — as was the case with dominant figures like Parcells, Mike Holmgren and Jon Gruden — the more they wanted to control the personnel decisions. Finally, new-age owners found it much harder to be patient with teams that couldn’t win quickly, so both coaches and eventually GMs faced the realization that they might have two or three years to deliver a contender.

Of the 32 teams in the league, 29 have a hired GM on staff (with the exception of the Patriots, Bengals and Cowboys), and of those, 14 have hired new GMs over the last two years. The Tennessee Titans actually fired GM Jon Robinson midway through this season, his seventh on the job … and that team had won two consecutive AFC South titles and reached the AFC Championship Game in the 2019 campaign.

“Years ago, you’d get the chance to draft five quarterbacks and hire five coaches if you were the general manager,” said Dimitroff, whose tenure in Atlanta lasted 13 seasons, from 2008 to 2020. “That’s not the case anymore. The fact that Jon Robinson got fired during a winning season (at the time) this year is unbelievable. This NFL has long been known as the ‘Not For Long’ league, but it’s more that way than ever before. These guys can’t sit on their hands. They have to go for it.”

A current NFC GM agreed with that sentiment, saying, “It used to be that if you wanted a third-round pick for a player, the other team might say they need that pick because they were focused on development. Now they’re looking at the options at their disposal. It’s becoming more like the NBA, where teams are constantly trying to find ways to get players. And teams are more willing to do deals, because there’s more trust. It’s easier to feel good about doing business together when both teams feel like they’re getting something out of it.”

Of all the variables that have led to more aggressive deal-making — which includes practice squads expanding from 10 players to 16, a salary cap that continues to swell thanks to massive broadcasting deals (the cap was $208.2 million this season and will jump to $224.8 million next season) and the trade deadline moving in 2012 (from the Tuesday after Week 6 to the Tuesday after Week 8) — the most critical has been enlightened thinking about franchise quarterbacks. The 2011 collective bargaining agreement established a rookie wage scale, meaning teams no longer had to negotiate contracts with first-time pros. Before that point, a mistake on a highly drafted player, especially a quarterback, could capsize a team’s salary cap. After that critical juncture, the consensus was that the most sensible way to operate was by betting big on talented, young quarterbacks before their rookie contracts expired and teams had to pay substantial long-term extensions.

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