The general manager is the highest ranking member of the personnel department. Their job entails hiring the head coach, implementing a scouting system/grading scale, and managing the overall roster within the confines of the salary cap. However, the responsibilities have grown, the requirements have evolved, and the expectations have become more demanding. In fact, the evolution of the general manager position in the NFL has rivaled the evolution of the game itself.
No longer is the general manager only responsible for football operations. On any given day they can find themselves meeting with the sales and marketing team or being the liaison between the team doctor and coaching staff. They could be discussing a contract extension with an agent and later joining ownership in a meeting with the board of directors. Suffice to say, delegating responsibility is important for any person in a position of leadership, but having a diversified skill set should make one a more attractive candidate in the eyes of ownership.
A good general manager should be a “unifier” amongst the departments and someone with enough conviction to make tough decisions. As one former general manager said, “No matter how prepared you are for the day, there’s at least one thing that comes across your desk every day you are not prepared for.”
Here’s my list of general managers with diverse backgrounds that should be attractive in the eyes of ownership in 2021:
Mike Borgonzi (Director of Football Operations, Kansas City Chiefs): The former Brown Fullback who worked briefly in the financial sector before coming to the NFL, Borgonzi brings his Ivy League-educated aptitude to evaluation and team building. He’s known for his attention to detail, keen eye as an evaluator, collaborative approach, and his unparalleled work ethic. Now in his 11th year, he is extremely well versed in every aspect of football operations as Brett Veach’s right-hand man. He started as the college scouting administrator, then managed football operations, then was a pro personnel scout, Assistant Director of Pro Scouting, Director of Player Personnel, and then Director of Football Operations. He’s worked with and learned from Scott Pioli, John Dorsey, Andy Reid, Chris Ballard, and Brett Veach in the construction of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV winning roster.
George Paton (Asst. general manager, Minnesota Vikings): He’s a former defensive back at UCLA who has spent more than 20 years in the NFL. He was alleged to have been offered the San Francisco 49ers job prior to John Lynch and was Kevin Stefanski’s choice for general manager in Cleveland. Has turned down numerous inquiries in the past, but this could be the year for him. He was the Pro Director in Miami from 01-06, so he can talk ball with the coaching staff. He was Director of Player Personnel in Minnesota from 2007-2011 and currently the Assistant general manager in Minnesota. He’s regarded as very professional, collaborative, and extremely proficient as an evaluator.
Jon-Eric Sullivan (Director of Player Personnel-Green Bay Packers): A former wide receiver at South Carolina and Gardner Webb, Sullivan grew up around the game learning from his father, legendary NFL wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan. He initially followed his father into coaching then diverted his path to scouting. He was an area scout for seven years and then became the Director of College Scouting. As Director of Player Personnel, he currently oversees the entire college scouting operation. His wide range of coaching connections could afford him the ability to hire the next young coaching phenom. He’s well rounded, articulate, collaborative, understands the game, and has a keen eye for talent.
Chris Shea (Football Operations Counsel/Personnel Executive-Kansas City Chiefs): Shea may be the most diverse candidate in this cycle with a skill set that rivals very few in the NFL. He is an attorney who also has extensive expertise in salary cap management, evaluating both pro/college prospects, coaching, analytics, and NFL labor law. After earning his Juris Doctor and a license to practice law, he was hired to work in the NFL league office. He then returned to the NFL with the Miami Dolphins in the role of Player Personnel Coordinator and Administration. He was later promoted to Assistant Director of Pro Scouting. He then became the Director of Scouting Administration/Strategic Management with the Philadelphia Eagles. He is currently with the Chiefs, where he has contributed to scouting, salary cap, legal counsel, football operations, and player personnel—working in nearly every capacity of football operations. He has worked with Bill Parcells, Dick Haley, Dan Henning, Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, and currently works closely with Brett Veach.
Dark Horse Candidates/Out of the Box Hires:
Trey Brown (President of Trey Brown Consulting, inc.): Only 35 years old, the former UCLA cornerback and son of former first-round running back Theotis Brown, Trey was identified as a “future star/fast riser” in the business very early in his career. He was hand-picked (along with Louis Riddick, Andrew Berry, and others) as one of 10 future NFL general managers to participate in an NFL leadership summit in the summer of 2019. Brown was mentored by Carl Peterson, started scouting in New England under Bill Belichick, and later accepted a promotion to become Director of College Scouting in Philadelphia—the Eagles won a Super Bowl in 2018. Brown interviewed for general manager jobs in Buffalo (at age 32) and Oakland/Las Vegas (at age 33) before Las Vegas hired Mike Mayock. Owners suggested he only needed to gain experience running an entire operation and develop in the business sector, so in 2019 he went to the AAF and the XFL as Director of Player Personnel. He is currently consulting potential ownership groups on the purchase of professional sports franchises.
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah (VP of Football Ops-Cleveland Browns): Adofo-Mensah completed his undergraduate studies at Princeton and earned a Masters in Economics at Stanford. Ten years ago, Adofo-Mensah was a commodities trader and portfolio manager on wall street. A chance meeting with NFL analytics pioneer Paraag Marathe landed him in San Francisco leading the research and development department. During his seven years in San Francisco, he developed under Paraag, who is widely considered the best in the NFL at what he does. After meeting Andrew Berry and exchanging numbers with him at the NFL Scouting Combine, he was hired to become VP of Football Ops. While Adofo-Mensah lacks a background that is entrenched in the game, he is lauded for his extremely high level of intelligence and his willingness to grow and develop in the aspect of X’s and O’s
Future Stars (a couple years away):
Ryan Poles (Director of Player Personnel-Kansas City Chiefs): Boston College linemen are regarded as highly intelligent. Poles has an extremely high mental aptitude while also being thorough and detailed as an evaluator. Has had a similar trajectory as Borgonzi.
Quentin Harris (Director of Player Personnel-Arizona Cardinals): Harris is a former NFL safety who commands instant respect from players. He’s another “unifier” to be a conduit between the coaching staff and scouting department. Thought to be Steve Keim’s eventual successor in Arizona, Harris is highly intelligent, a great communicator, and willing to stand on the table with conviction about his players.