Most writers don't want to rank general managers for fear of losing them as sources. That's not a problem here, because no NFL decision makers care what I have to say in the first place. Behold: the list of the top general managers/decision makers in football, based on body of work in the big chair. That includes drafts, free agency, hirings and basically any avenue available to improve the roster and organization.
*NOTE: I did not rank first-time decision makers hired since January of 2017, because they have not been on the job long enough to allow for a fair evaluation. I did, however, include those who came to the job with an established track record from previous tenures, including Dave Gettleman, John Dorsey and Marty Hurney. Before we get to them, let's dispatch with the unranked, presented in alphabetical order. *
THE RELATIVE NEWBIES
» Chris Ballard, Colts
It felt like Ballard started from scratch after the Ryan Grigson era, especially on defense. After undertaking an incredible amount of personnel changes over the last 15 months and putting a new coaching staff in place this year, Ballard is still playing the long game with a number of sensible signings. Like Grigson, he'll look a lot smarter if Andrew Luck is on the field.
» Brandon Beane, Bills
Since taking over last May, Beane has systematically rid the Bills of former general manager Doug Whaley's handiwork. Working in concert with coach Sean McDermott, his former Panthers colleague, Beane traded stars like Sammy Watkins and Marcell Dareus. He reshaped the roster with free agents this offseason like Star Lotulelei, Vontae Davis and AJ McCarron. Beane's first draft will set up his future, with two picks in each of the first three rounds and a burning need at quarterback. Despite the Bills coming off their first playoff trip in 17 years, this is an organization early in the rebuilding process.
» Brian Gaine, Texans
It's tempting to list coach Bill O'Brien as the prime decision maker in Houston. Following former GM Rick Smith taking a leave of absence from that position in January, the Texanshired Gainewhile stressing that his "aligned" relationship and "communication" with O'Brien was paramount to the hire. (Gaine worked in Houston from 2014 to 2016 previously.) This appears close to a setup like what the Chiefs undertook with Andy Reid and John Dorsey in 2013 and what the Seahawks did with Pete Carroll and John Schneider in 2010, where the head coach helped hire the general manager, rather than the other way around. Gaine and O'Brien's first offseason together produced intriguing value in the secondary, with the signings of cornerback Aaron Colvin and safety Tyrann Mathieu.
» Brian Gutekunst, Packers
Packers fans were irrationally excited about the January job change of longtime general manager Ted Thompson, despite his overall draft-day acumen and obvious influence around the NFL. Gutekunst quickly showed he'd take bigger risks in free agency, although making Jimmy Grahamthe NFL's highest-paid tight end might not be the type of risk worth taking.
» John Lynch, 49ers
The seed Lynch planted by calling Bill Belichick with interest in Jimmy Garoppolo last summer wound up bearing fruit when the Patriots chose to call back in October and send the QB to San Francisco. That one transaction and Lynch's excellent head coach (Kyle Shanahan) could result in stability for the 49ers deep into the 2020s. Lynch hasn't been shy about paying top-of-market deals to surprising players, and it's too early to evaluate whether his first draft will pan out, although the legal troubles of linebacker Reuben Foster (picked 31st overall in 2017) are already a huge concern.
» Brett Veach, Chiefs
Promoted last July after former Chiefs general manager John Dorsey suddenly exited, Veach has worked for Andy Reid going back to their days together in Philadelphia. While the organizational flow chart says Veach reports directly to ownership, this is clearly a partnership in which Reid holds deserved sway. The early signs for Veach are strong: He made tough decisions by releasing costly veterans like Tamba Hali and orchestrated an excellent trade haul while sending Alex Smith to Washington.