Free agency isn't over, but the most perplexing and exciting moments are behind us. Teams have been downshifting toward draft preparation for quite some time, as the players remaining on the open market will not make or break a season (unless your name is Ryan Fitzpatrick). With that in mind, we are excited to hand out our second annual executive superlatives based on how they have handled the most lucrative free-agency period in NFL history.
For a refresher on how this works, feel free to check out our awards from 2015 and laugh at what we got right and wrong.
Most likely to be "going for it" in 2016 -- Dave Caldwell (Jacksonville Jaguars): There are teams that sign expensive players in free agency just to mask their most glaring holes, and then there are teams on the verge of reaching the playoffs that add critical pieces to put them over the edge. This has really been a two-year plan for Caldwell, who stepped up and signed a few big names a year ago (Julius Thomas, Jared Odrick, Davon House). He doubled down in 2016, inking Malik Jacksonto a six-year, $90 million deal. The Jaguars also signed Chris Ivory, Prince Amukamara, Kelvin Beachum and Tashaun Gipson. Loading up on defense was the plan with their offense reaching encouraging highs in 2015 thanks to Blake Bortles, Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and a few others. There is no more exciting time to be a general manager than this, when all of the pieces are finally in place for a playoff run and the entire league is watching.
Most likely to be stuck between a rock and a hard place -- Jerry Reese (New York Giants): Should the Giants falter again in 2016, Reese will be blamed for spending an outrageous amount of money on Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins while leaving the team relatively threadbare at wide receiver behind Odell Beckham and at safety next to Landon Collins. However, if Reese opted to let Vernon go to Jacksonville, he would be criticized mightily for sitting on a massive trove of salary-cap space. Likewise, if the Giants succeed with Vernon, Harrison and Jenkins, he will be criticized for the years he sat idle in free agency, unable to lock down the types of players necessary to get Eli Manning back into the playoffs. Reese has had a rough offseason already in terms of perception. From the outside looking in, it seems as if the Giants blamed their struggles in 2015 on ex-coach Tom Coughlin, not Reese. The GM was blindsided with questions to that effect at Coughlin's "stepping down" news conference. It did not go well. Being "chosen" over a franchise legend is a difficult pill to swallow, even if it isn't true. Luckily, Reese understands by now what it's like to work in the big city.
Most in need of a beer -- Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta (Cleveland Browns): How many times can Brown and DePodesta politely say that they let Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz and a few other talented free agents go because the club simply wasn't going to compete at a high level in the AFC North this year? How many times can they insist this is not an "analytic" football team, and how many times can they insist they are not requiring Harvard degrees at the door? No one is saying this plan will work, but based on certain comments, it would seem Cleveland is committing football heresy by attempting to make some sound roster decisions. You cannot (really) "Moneyball" a team in a salary-capped league. You cannot rely on building a roster based off of defense-adjusted value over average projections and PFF grades (although I love Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus). That does not -- to me -- seem to be the case in Cleveland. Not many others feel the same way.
Most likely to succeed -- Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): There isn't a coach in football who knows his roster better than Belichick. This seems rather obvious given how long he's been in control, but he tends to surprise us from time to time. This has been a high-profile offseason for the Patriots, but not one that came at a significant cost. The team upgraded its offensive line, found a home for a wayward, championship-hungry pass rusher (Chris Long) and managed to pair Rob Gronkowski with a second elite tight end in Martellus Bennett. If there is an executive who had a better offseason, we're at a loss. It is hard not to picture New England contending for a Super Bowl title in 2016, assuming everyone remains healthy.
Most likely to employ a plan that leads to another successful season only to have the plan, which has worked for more than a decade, be systematically questioned by those who don't understand it after the team, which, again, had a successful season, but did not win a Super Bowl -- Ted Thompson (Green Bay Packers): Poor Ted Thompson. The man has overseen the drafting and development of so many talented players over the years and he gets consistently harangued for not dipping into the often unsuccessful world of free agency. The PackerssignedJared Cook on Monday, and it was as if the football world came to a stop. The reality is that Green Bay is still an excellent football team. It does things a certain way and that way typically leads it to the playoffs.
Most likely to be tired of having their aggressive maneuvers questioned because they did not come from a traditional scouting background -- TIE between Mike Tannenbaum (Miami Dolphins) and Howie Roseman (Philadelphia Eagles): Both of these executives had incredibly headline-worthy offseasons. Tannenbaum brought in the likes of Mario Williams, Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso. Roseman managed to get rid of Alonso, Maxwell and DeMarco Murray. Both have been questioned -- Tannenbaum for letting young talent like Olivier Vernon skip out the door and signing Williams; Roseman for paying Chase Daniel more than any backup quarterback in football. Each, however, has built competitive, championship-caliber football teams in the past. Every year we cycle back around to the football guy and not a football guy argument and these names come up frequently. Do they not know what they're doing, or are they simply trying to position themselves to recover and rebuild with new coaching staffs coming in?