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For these NFL GMs, the seat might be getting hot

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 12/6/2022 Jason La Canfora
The Denver Broncos, under GM George Paton, have been a disappointment this season. (David Zalubowski/AP) The Denver Broncos, under GM George Paton, have been a disappointment this season. (David Zalubowski/AP)

The NFL general manager carousel never gets as much attention as the league’s seemingly constant coaching churn.

In general, there is less GM turnover from year to year — it helps your job security when you watch games from the suite, sitting next to the owner, and can point out everyone else’s flaws — and general managers usually have a far lower profile than coaches. But some change is inevitable, and undoubtedly there will be moves made in those ranks in the next offseason. Firing a general manager in-season — as the Tennessee Titans shockingly did with Jon Robinson on Tuesday — can be complicated, with preparations for free agency and the draft already underway. Those moves typically come after the season and, with increasing frequency in recent years, right after the draft.

There has been increasing chatter about the Houston Texans making more front-office changes after the season, and multiple executives I have spoken with believe General Manager Nick Caserio is not on nearly as solid footing as he was in the past. Longtime Caserio ally Jack Easterby, a former team chaplain in New England when Caserio was there who rose to become the most influential executive in Houston, was abruptly fired in October. The Texans are the NFL’s lone one-win team and are facing another looming coaching decision; having Caserio fire Lovie Smith one year after also making David Culley a one-and-done seems untenable to some in the NFL agent and executive communities. Starting entirely from scratch might have better optics.

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If the Texans do, in fact, believe another coaching change is in order, several general managers I have talked to said they did not think Caserio would be there to fire Smith and be a part of the next hiring cycle. Houston’s rebuild has been agonizing, with signs of progress limited at best, and Houston’s ownership has been erratic since Cal McNair took over after his father’s death in 2018.

“Keep your eye on that one,” said one high-ranking NFL official who has interviewed with the Texans in the past and knows the organization well but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is precluded from discussing other organizations publicly. “I don’t think Nick gets to fire another coach, especially with Easterby gone. I’m hearing there is more to come there.”

Denver Broncos General Manager George Paton’s job security remains a topic of speculation as well. The Russell Wilson trade (and signing) has been a total flop, the hiring of rookie coach Nathaniel Hackett seemed doomed from the onset — and all of that was done before a new ownership group came in. The Waltons have unlimited resources, so eating the contracts for a coach and GM might not seem all that cost-prohibitive to them. There is a mounting consensus that Hackett will not return — “They can’t sell that to their fans in 2023,” one general manager said — and three executives I spoke to believe front-office changes are more probable than not in Denver.

Executives are anticipating the Arizona Cardinals to have a new coach next season as well, though it remains to be seen whether General Manager Steve Keim, who has overseen myriad poor rosters and put together most of Arizona’s coaching staffs, will be let go.

The Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers already fired their coaches. Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks has strong support within the organization; the team has played hard for him despite an odious quarterback situation, and several executives believe it’s possible Wilks lands the full-time job. That would bode well for Carolina General Manager Scott Fitterer, who began separating himself from outgoing coach Matt Rhule back in 2021, according to numerous people privy to that dynamic. Staving off a coaching hire would help his cause.

Colts General Manager Chris Ballard has been seemingly neutered by owner Jim Irsay’s handling of the coaching and quarterback situations. Irsay has said Ballard is safe, but he also gave Frank Reich repeated votes of confidence before tossing him out to hire Jeff Saturday even though the latter had no experience above the high school level. It remains to be seen whether Saturday is long for this task or what high jinks Irsay might be up to next.

I also continue to hear a Jaguars front-office shake-up is forthcoming, with Trent Baalke perhaps sticking around in another role but with his future as a general manager very much in the balance. Coach Doug Pederson could come away with more power in Jacksonville.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith has made a difference since arriving at the trade deadline. (Terrance Williams/AP) © Terrance Williams/AP Baltimore Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith has made a difference since arriving at the trade deadline. (Terrance Williams/AP)

Three trades that made an impact

A month removed from the trade deadline, I asked a few executives how they would review some of the most critical acquisitions now that those players have settled in with their new teams.

Three deals stood out.

The Baltimore Ravens’ front seven has been markedly better with Roquan Smith joining Patrick Queen at inside linebacker. It was a steep price to pay for a potential rental — a second- and a fifth-round pick — especially for an off-ball linebacker who doesn’t provide much pass rush, but the move has paid dividends. “He’s been an impact player for them,” said one NFL general manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t allowed to critique other teams. “Fit right in. But I still think they needed a receiver more than a linebacker.” Indeed, Baltimore’s passing offense has been among the worst in the NFL since Week 4.

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Christian McCaffrey has been a stalwart for the San Francisco 49ers, who need his dual-threat skill set now more than ever with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo expected to miss the rest of the season. The running game, short passing and screens will be even more vital with rookie Brock Purdy running the offense. Of course, McCaffrey staying healthy will be the litmus test given his long history.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had an improved offense and a better team since jettisoning disgruntled wide receiver Chase Claypool, who has brought little to the Chicago Bears. Pittsburgh will be getting one of the top picks in the second round for a player who wasn’t in their future. “The Steelers fleeced [the Bears],” the general manager said. “And they got Claypool out of their quarterback’s ear.” Indeed, rookie Kenny Pickett has gone four games without an interception after tossing eight in his first five appearances.

Notes from around the league

Joe Burrow will be a factor in the MVP equation. He outplayed Patrick Mahomes on Sunday, a week after Mahomes broke down in the red zone against a horrible Los Angeles Rams defense. His clutch gene is off the charts, and Ja’Marr Chase’s return paid immediate dividends for a team that has won eight of its past 10 games. During that 10-game stretch, Burrow has the best passer rating in the NFL (111.4) while completing a stellar 70.4 percent of his passes. His 22 touchdowns in that span are just one behind Mahomes, and Burrow has thrown just four picks in those 10 games. …

The Los Angeles Chargers’ defense continues to suffer, the franchise is unable to stack wins, and quarterback Justin Herbert isn’t in a scheme that plays to his strengths. All of that portends major change, with Coach Brandon Staley’s job security in peril. “They’ve wasted the three cheapest years of Herbert’s career,” said one NFL general manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because isn’t permitted to talk publicly about other franchises. “[Staley] has to go. They can’t keep him.” . . .

Plenty around the league noticed the Dallas Cowboys putting 33 points on the Colts in the fourth quarter Sunday night. Don’t underestimate how disrespectful many in the coaching community found Irsay’s handling of the Saturday hire. It was personal for Philadelphia Eagles Coach Nick Sirianni, a former Colts assistant, and it seemed personal for the Cowboys’ coaches, too. Saturday leaving Matt Ryan in until the bitter end to absorb more beatings was a bad look. Don’t be shocked if others, given the opportunity, run up the score as well.

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