NFL Championship Sunday Proves Not All GMs Created Equally

Not All GMs Created the Same

The NFL’s last four general managers standing in this postseason are quite the eclectic mix. They all have different backgrounds and followed different paths as they climbed into their current roles as GMs of successful NFL teams.

These men started their NFL careers as a player (John Lynch, 49ers), a capologist (Howie Roseman, Eagles), a coaches’ assistant and scout (Brett Veach, Chiefs), and an assistant GM under his father (Mike Brown, Bengals). They’ve all wound up as masterminds of elite teams, and two of them will be headed to the Super Bowl after Sunday’s conference championships.

This proves there is no set formula to create an NFL general manager. When the opportunity presented itself for each of the four to lead a franchise’s efforts to build a champion, they came at it from different perspectives with a shared vision of working in concert with their head coaches and support staff to achieve ultimate success.

John Lynch: The Former Player

His pathway to becoming a general manager is a bit more common in other sports, such as the NBA. But it is a rarity in the NFL, where former players do not step into the general manager seat without working for several years in scouting or coaching.

Lynch was a third-round pick of Tampa Bay out of Stanford and played 15 years as a safety for the Buccaneers and Broncos. He’s a nine-time Pro Bowl pick and was a member of the Bucs’ Super Bowl champion team in the 2002 season. He’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his excellence on the field, which includes more than a thousand tackles, 26 interceptions and 16 forced fumbles.

Lynch became a game analyst on Fox in 2008 and was in the TV booth until his surprising hire as 49ers GM in 2017 when Kyle Shanahan was brought aboard as head coach. 49ers CEO Jed York said at the time, “John is equipped with tremendous insight into what it takes to create a culture that breeds sustained success.”

The first two years were rocky for Lynch with a 10-22 record before things turned dramatically with a 13-3 mark and a Super Bowl appearance (losing to the Chiefs) in 2019. After a dip to 6-10 in 2020, the 49ers have risen to final-four status the past two years, falling to the Rams in last year’s NFC title game.

Lynch has led the effort to build the league’s top defense by drafting stars such as defensive end Nick Bosa (Round 1, 2019) and linebacker Fred Warner (Round 3, 2018) to lead the defense while also adding top players on offense such as receiver Deebo Samuel (Round 2, 2019) and a sleeper in unbeaten QB Brock Purdy (Round 7, 2022). He’s worked the trade route to acquire players like star running back Christian McCaffrey.

Howie Roseman: The Attorney

Roseman is the anti-Lynch in terms of his non-playing background and path to becoming a top general manager. He climbed  the Eagles organizational ladder from an entry-level position. My NFL career trajectory most closely resembles Roseman’s in that I joined the Vikings on an internship and was promoted several times over a 15-year period before becoming GM.

Roseman is an attorney but says, “When I was 9 or 10 years old, people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told them I wanted to be the general manager of an NFL team.” He sent letters to every NFL team from high school through his law school years before landing an internship in the salary cap area with the Eagles in 2000. He was promoted to salary cap staff counsel, VP of Football Administration, Player Personnel VP and finally Eagles GM in 2010 with Coach Andy Reid holding ultimate power at the time.

After Reid left for the Chiefs, Roseman had to survive the Chip Kelly years. Kelly was given the GM duties, and Roseman continued to negotiate player contracts and manage the salary cap. He became de facto GM when Kelly was fired and finally had the power of the position when he helped hire Doug Pederson and the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017. In 2019, he was named Executive VP/General Manager.

The Eagles have been a playoff team in five of the past six years under Roseman’s guidance, and they are two steps from another Super Bowl title with the powerhouse team that Roseman has built. He has made astute draft picks such as QB Jalen Hurts (Round 2 in 2020), running back Miles Sanders (Round 2, 2019), guard Landon Dickerson (Round 2, 2021) and receiver DeVonta Smith (Round 1, 2021). He’s also been a great wheeler-dealer in the trade and free-agent markets, with his best moves being the trades for Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown this season and Pro Bowl corner Darius Slay in 2020 along with the free-agent signings of edge rusher Haason Reddick (16 sacks in regular season) and corner James Bradberry in 2022.

Brett Veach: The Coaching Intern

Veach played college football at Delaware and began his NFL front-office career in Philadelphia as a coaching intern and then coaches’ assistant under Reid in 2004. He became an Eagles’ scout six years later and followed Reid to Kansas City in 2013, where he worked in pro and college personnel before being promoted to co-director of player personnel.

Reid says that Veach brought Patrick Mahomes to his attention when Mahomes was a freshman at Texas Tech, and Veach said the quarterback was “the best he’d ever seen.” Veach was promoted to GM in 2017 after Mahomes was drafted by the Chiefs. While Reid reportedly holds the overall power in player personnel, Veach has played a major role in identifying talented players in the draft such as Mahomes and other Pro Bowl picks such as defensive tackle Chris Jones (Round 2, 2016) and center Creed Humphrey (Round 2, 2021).

Veach also has led the way in trading for key players such as Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown and signing quality free agents like Pro Bowl guard Joe Thuney.

Mike Brown: The Founder’s Son

The Bengals have been a family-run franchise since Paul Brown founded the team in 1968 and was the owner, general manager, and head coach. Mike Brown was a quarterback at Dartmouth who went on to become a Harvard Law graduate before working under his father as assistant GM when the Bengals were launched. He took over as owner and GM when his father died in 1991. Mike Brown’s family remains very involved in team management in support of his efforts to lead a team seeking its second consecutive AFC title this Sunday.

After a lack of success in Mike Brown’s early years overseeing the team, the Bengals had a run of five straight playoff seasons from 2011-2015 but no playoff wins in that period with Marvin Lewis as coach.

Five more losing seasons followed, including current coach Zac Taylor going 6-25-1 in 2019-2020. But Brown wisely stuck with Taylor as the Bengals reloaded through the draft with two superstars in QB Joe Burrow (first overall pick in 2020) and receiver Ja’Marr Chase (fifth overall in 2021) leading the charge along with defensive stars such as linebacker Logan Wilson (Round 3, 2020) and safety Jessie Bates (Round 2, 2018).

With the help of player personnel aides Duke Tobin, Paul Brown (Mike’s son), and Katie Blackburn (Mike’s daughter who handles contract negotiations), Mike Brown has rebuilt the Bengals into a top team. Along with excellent work in the draft, Brown and his staff have tapped into free agency for key signings in recent years such as defensive end Trey Hendrickson, a Pro Bowl selection the past two years, and corner Mike Hilton who was all over Josh Allen as a blitzer last week.

Final Four GM Comparison

General manager Team Tenure Began W-L (Incl. Playoffs) Playoff Berths (titles)
John Lynch 49ers 2017 58-48 3
Howie Roseman Eagles 2010 119-100 6 (1)
Brett Veach Chiefs 2017 83-28 6 (1)
Mike Brown Bengals 1991 219-303-4 8

Veach, as a former scout and player personnel director, may be the GM who is most typical of the individual most owners seek these days. It’s fascinating to view these final four GMs with differing backgrounds because they prove all successful GMs are not created the same.

The one thing that is held in common by all four: they want to win this Sunday and qualify for Super Bowl LVII.

Jeff Diamond is a former Minnesota Vikings general manager and Titans team president. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl

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