When it comes to arm-chairing just about anything in football, few roles are harder to gauge than the general manager’s. A quarterback needs to read defenses before and after the snap, hand off with sound fundamentals, find open receivers, deliver the ball accurately after making solid split-second decisions, etc. When it comes to the general manager, the role isn’t as clear cut, with a variety of tasks that may or may not fall under the general manager’s oversight, depending on the structure of the franchise around them.
What I’ve listed below is a high-level overview of some duties the average GM might have. With teams ranging from the Dallas Cowboys, who have an owner micro-managing far too many facets of the organization, to the Green Bay Packers, who are kind of sort of owned and to a lesser degree run by committee, the division of responsibilities has 32 different profiles, each unique to the team in question.
General Manager Tasks:
- Salary Cap Management
- Contract Negotiation
- Talent Evaluation
- Draft Management
- Managing Trades
- Free Agent Acquisition
- Player Health Management (overseeing medical & training staffs, knowing when to place a player on IR, sign replacements, etc.)
- Managing the Front Office Staff
- Managing the Scouting Staff
- Hiring the Head Coach
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of duties, these are the big ones we’re going to focus on right now. The odds of finding a general manager who excels at all these tasks is pretty far-fetched. But that’s fine, since few teams actually have the general manager handle all these things. Often the head coach, a VP of Player Personnel, or some other person in the organization will handle some of these tasks. For example, many teams have a salary cap guru who handles cap management and contract negotiations.
Salary Cap - Unfortunately, Bill O’Brien and Easterby have taken an embarrassment of cap riches and turned it into a financial train wreck. Spotrac currently projects the Texans to land $12,781,813.00 over the 2021 NFL salary cap. With excessive contracts handed out to Laramy Tunsil, Whitney Mercilus, Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Zach Cunningham, and David Johnson (these six players combine to hit the Texans’ cap for a whopping $74.4 million in 2021), the incoming General Manager needs to either be a serious cap guru in his/her own right or bring one of the best with them in order to free up cash to fix the ailing Houston roster. They also better be ready to have the hard conversations about cutting or renegotiating with pricey veterans.
Contract Negotiation - Failing at this task is what got O’Brien and Easterby in salary cap trouble in the first place. Having the ability to re-work several deals to free up money now is a must for a quick turnaround in H-Town. A savvy GM will know how to play the signing bonus against guaranteed money against contract length and overall total dollar amount to maximize the team’s budget.
Talent Evaluation - When O’Brien and Easterby decided that David Johnson was an equal talent swap for DeAndre Hopkins, they failed in one of the most spectacular ways in Houston football history. Not re-negotiating Johnson’s contract (or Tunsil’s, for that matter, immediately before the trade with the Dolphins) feeds from this back to “Contract Negotiation” above. A new GM will have to bring some strength to this area.
Draft Management - Running the NFL Draft is possibly the highest pressure task in sports. Get enough picks right and you’ll never go without a job. Get enough wrong and you’ll be unemployed in short order. Draft Day is also a rapid-fire mixture of talent evaluation, trade management, player health management, scouting staff reliance, and knowing the sort of player the head coach needs to get the job done.
Managing Trades - Again, another area where O’Brien and Easterby failed epically. Shipping Jadeveon Clowney off for two players who were about to hit the waiver wire smacks of total incompetence. Kindergarten-aged kids make better trades with Pokemon cards than these two alleged “NFL experts” did over the last few years in Houston. Bringing in a GM who can at least trade with the skill Rick Smith exhibited is a must to fix the current roster.
Free Agent Acquisition - This one is a crucial mixture of several other duties (Talent Evaluation, Contract Negotiation, Salary Cap Management, and Player Health), with a bit of gut-instinct thrown in. Not only does the GM need to target the right player in the right way, they also need to convince the player that Houston is the place he should continue their career. While things like “Play with Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt” are enticing, the lack of state tax burden, culture of H-Town, schools, and other things all factor in. What’s important to a player with a growing family doesn’t much matter to a young single guy, so knowing the player and knowing what will entice them to Houston beyond dollars and cents is key.
Player Health Management - This one is often a “Hire people who know how to do what you don’t know how to do and let them do it” segment. However, every GM should remain well-versed in player health, the NFL rules of injury/injured reserve, PUP, and so forth. Digging into this historically goes a long way in Free Agent/Trade Acquisitions as well.
Managing the Front Office Staff - Every GM will have to be a leader of people and employ the management definition: a manager is someone who uses other people to achieve a goal. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for one person to do it all, so knowing they have competent people to handle many of the front office tasks, and knowing those people eagerly follow the GM’s lead, is crucial.
Managing the Scouting Staff - Teams often have anywhere from a handful to over a dozen talent scouts scouring the NCAA ranks, other team’s practice squads and, occasionally, the local grocery store. Knowing how to spot, evaluate, and rank talent is HUGE for an NFL team, particularly when it comes to the draft and free agency. The scouting staff also needs to have a loaded gun full of bullets to fire in case a player goes on IR and the team needs to replace them quickly.
Hiring the Head Coach - This is one of the most talked about aspects of a GM’s job. For many teams, getting this wrong leads to utter failure. Taking an incoming GM and saddling him or her with a coach not of their choosing often hamstrings the GM and may not play to their strengths. For instance, if a GM came up in, say, the Patriots’ football system but they’re forced to take a head coach who spent his career living and dying on the same set plays week in and week out, the GM might not have the best chance of populating the team with players that excel in “We do what we do and force you to stop us” systems.
When it comes to the next general manager for the Houston Texans, be it Louis Riddick, John Dorsey, Nick Caserio, or someone else entirely, the candidate should excel at several of these duties. Salary Cap, Talent Evaluation, Free Agent Signing, and Managing Trades at a high level will serve the team well in the coming months. Knowing how to best manage the draft will help, but with the lack of draft capital Houston has in 2021, fixing the cap and improving the roster via trades and free agency will go further and faster to getting this team back on track.
Hiring a solid head coach, like Eric Bieniemy, Robert Saleh, or Matt Eberflus, should also pay quick dividends as long as his style of football clicks with the GM’s.
- With Louis Riddick, he’s rumored to have a great eye for talent, but his horse trading skills are shadowy at best right now.
- John Dorsey has proven to know how to acquire talent through trades, free agency and the draft, but how is he in the other facets?
- Nick Caserio is a giant question mark since he’s apparently done very well for the New England Patriots, but former New England coaches and front office personnel tend to fall flat the minute they leave Foxboro.
Factoring in all these things, who do you want to see as the next general manager of the Houston Texans?