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The NFL’s top ten executive of the year candidates


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The NFL’s top ten executive of the year candidates

By Albert Breer - SportingNews

14 hours, 18 minutes ago


Buzz Up PrintThe Detroit Lions couldn’t be more of a mess. The Cincinnati Bengals have issues, too. The St. Louis Rams might need an overhaul.

And as any football man worth his salt will tell you, “It’s not about the Xs-and-Os. It’s the Jimmies and Joes.”

So while you listen to the names bandied about in those NFL wastelands—Cowher!! Garrett!!! McDaniels!!!!—remember this: The most important hire isn’t always the coach, but the guy charged with stocking the roster.

This fall, several teams have benefited from positive turnover in the front office. Just look at the Miami Dolphins and their Bill Parcells/Jeff Ireland tandem. Or the Atlanta Falcons, with Thomas Dimitroff calling the shots.

That’s not to discount what Tony Sparano and Mike Smith have done, orchestrating turnarounds in Miami and Atlanta, respectively.

But it is to say they had help. So if you root for the Lions or Bengals or Rams, you have to hope for your very own Sparano or Smith. Just do it with the knowledge that the whole thing really works only if you have a Dimitroff or Ireland to go along with him.

Here are the 10 best jobs done by such men, the leaders for executive of the year, to this point in 2008:

1. Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons: What Dimitroff has accomplished in 10 months in nothing short of miraculous, taking a star-crossed franchise and completely shifting its course. He had what’s looking like a draft for the ages (Matt Ryan, Sam Baker, Curtis Lofton, Chevis Jackson, Harry Douglas), he picked up the right veterans (Michael Turner, Domonique Foxworth), cut the fat and has what looks like a dynamic team going forward. He’s gone off the board plenty, reaching for Baker and ignoring bigger names to tab Smith. For a young guy, that self-assuredness is immensely impressive and has served him well.

2. Jeff Ireland, Dolphins: He and Parcells swiftly turned over the roster—more than half of the 53 eligible to play on opening day were elsewhere in 2007—and changed the culture in Miami. Jake Long looks like a franchise cornerstone at left tackle, and fellow rookies Phillip Merling, Chad Henne and Kendall Langford have all flashed potential. Plus he kept the right vets (see: Porter, Joey), rid the club of others and acquired tone-setters like Chad Pennington, Anthony Fasano, Jason Ferguson and Akin Ayodele.

3. Mike Reinfeldt, Tennessee Titans: The G.M. drafted under-the-radar running back Chris Johnson, who is on track for 1,200 yards. But what really stands out about the job Reinfeldt has done is in the symbiosis on that club. The players are all tough-minded, hard-nosed and physical, it seems, with problem children like Pacman Jones exiled, and solid veterans—like Jevon Kearse, Jake Scott, Chris Carr and Alge Crumpler—added to the roster.

4. Jerry Reese, New York Giants: Maybe it was more maintenance than anything, but the Giants haven’t fallen off in the least. Jeremy Shockey’s been dealt, and Reese was able to swindle a second-round pick out of New Orleans for his troubles. New York’s ability to maintain outstanding depth in the face of injury has been off-the-charts good, starting with how Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka have stepped into roles once held by the retired Michael Strahan and the hobbled Osi Umenyiora. The 2008 draft class looks like a solid follow-up to Reese’s bumper crop of 2007, and the free-agent signing of Danny Clark was a nice under-the-radar move.

5. Marty Hurney, Carolina Panthers: So much for the end of the John Fox era. Hurney hit a couple of home runs this offseason, drafting the explosive Jonathan Stewart, pile-driving tackle Jeff Otah and playmaking safety Charles Godfrey, and adding a bevy of complementary parts, like reacquiring Muhsin Muhammad, to put the Panthers back in the hunt. Which, at 8-2, they are.

6. Scott Pioli, New England Patriots: First, he and the coaches had the wherewithal to hang on to Matt Cassel through some struggles, and that’s paying off big-time. Then, there’s rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo, who looks a lot like Patrick Willis did for the 49ers as a rookie, meaning he’s been an absolute beast. If there’s a flaw, it’d be in the holes that haven’t been filled at corner. Perhaps the league’s finest personnel man, Pioli would be able to name his price should he ever seriously entertain the idea of leaving New England.

7. Mike Tannenbaum, New York Jets: He pulled the trigger on perhaps the best acquisition of the offseason. No, not Favre. Kris Jenkins. His signings of Calvin Pace, Alan Faneca and Damien Woody have further stabilized the Jets in the trenches, and Favre’s presence has done wonders for the club’s mentality. If there’s anything to kvetch about, it’s the lack of production the Jets have gotten from first-round draft pick Vernon Gholston, though he’s in the midst of a position switch while learning to beat blockers with more than just athleticism.

8. Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers: Again, the system rules. Here’s how it works: Veteran free agent leaves Pittsburgh. Steelers replace said player from within. So it goes. Clark Haggans left, and Pittsburgh had LaMarr Woodley to replace him. That’s typical, and that’s why no one’s been as consistently competitive over the last 15 years. Now, about that offensive line …

9. Rod Graves, Arizona Cardinals: Maybe in a few months, if Arizona proves itself to be much more than just a good team blasting through a terrible division, Graves will be higher up the list. As it is, he’s having a pretty good year. Subtle pick-ups like Haggans and Travis LaBoy has buoyed the defense, as has the drafting of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Tim Hightower has wrested the role of bellcow from Edgerrin James, and decisions to retain veterans Kurt Warner and Karlos Dansby are coming up aces.

10. Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore Ravens: Switching coaches signified big change for one of the NFL’s most stable outfits over the last decade. But the work of Newsome was never compromised. He found a quarterback, Joe Flacco, and tailback, Ray Rice, of the future in the draft, diffused a contentious situation with star edge-rusher Terrell Suggs and resisted any urge to blow the whole thing up. Those inside the league really aren’t surprised that Baltimore has bounced back the way it has. Not with Newsome in charge.

Staff writer Albert Breer covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at abreer@sportingnews.com.

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