Top five candidates for 2023 NFL Executive of the Year

The Pro Football Writers of America’s Executive of the Year award isn’t something you earn overnight.

Receiving that honor is typically the product of several years of premier team building — and talent acquisition goes beyond the players. Being a general manager/vice president of player personnel sometimes includes the hiring of head coaches. It also requires building and developing a strong scouting/personnel staff that learns and executes the grading system you create or implement.

Being the head of football operations also includes salary cap management and roster building with a strategy. For instance, I am a true believer that accumulating resources (draft picks) creates value for a multitude of reasons. There is not one GM who is perfect; in fact, even the very best at drafting players miss more than they hit. It’s similar to baseball, where the game’s best get a hit three out of 10 at-bats but find additional ways to create value with on-base percentage (OBP). As a general manager, you must find alternative ways to acquire (free agency, trades, waivers), develop, retain and move on from players to help your system. That’s why having more draft capital gives you a better chance of getting it right. Some argue about the value of draft picks, but acquiring and developing young talent gives you financial flexibility to sustain longer-term success.

Success of an executive is often a product of strong draft classes, which can sometimes pay immediate dividends or blossom over time. What’s important is receiving an impact beyond just one season. For instance, we have no idea what careers will look like when players are drafted. In the last 20 years, nine quarterbacks have won Offensive Rookie of the Year. Just one — Ben Roethlisberger — has won a Super Bowl. That longevity of a player’s career, along with postseason performance, is equally important.

Today, I’m taking a look at five general managers who have done a fantastic job in putting together their respective teams. In fact, these would be my top candidates for Executive of the Year (listed in alphabetical order).

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Key acquisitions/signings: Caserio nabbed a ton of free agents last offseason who have paid off in big ways this fall, including offensive playmakers Devin Singletary, Dalton Schultz, Noah Brown, Robert Woods and even fullback Andrew Beck. His biggest priority was shoring up the offensive line for a soon-to-be drafted rookie quarterback, and he did so by extending Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil, trading for Shaq Mason and signing George Fant. Additional signings Sheldon Rankins, Jimmie Ward, Denzel Perryman and Shaquill Griffin have also keyed a big improvement on the defensive side from a year ago.

Draft outlook: The impact of this year’s Texans rookie class can’t be overstated. Caserio and the personnel department hit this haul out of the park. C.J. Stroud has exceeded expectations, becoming the clear front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year by elevating the play of Houston’s attack in every way. Trading a bundle for Will Anderson Jr. looks like it was a savvy move, given the rookie’s five sacks and the ability to consistently disrupt opposing offenses. While both have dealt with injuries in Year 1, second-rounder Juice Scruggs and sixth-rounder Jarrett Patterson have each played center for Houston. Tank Dell was absolutely sensational prior to breaking his leg earlier this month, racking up a team-best seven TD receptions in 11 games. Houston is also getting role production out of Dylan Horton, Henry To’oTo’o and Xavier Hutchinson.

Overview: The success Houston is enjoying in 2023 is chiefly the product of two straight strong draft classes. However, Caserio’s best offseason acquisition of all might be DeMeco Ryans, who has been exceptional in his first year as head coach. It’s extremely rare that a general manager gets to hire three head coaches in a three-year span. The only other instance of this during the Super Bowl era? Vikings GM Mike Lynn, who hired a new head coach each season from 1984 to ’86 (Les Steckel, Bud Grant, Jerry Burns). This season, we are seeing Caserio’s decisions over the last three years come together in alignment, putting the Texans in the playoff hunt for the first time since 2019.

Key acquisitions/signings: DeCosta made several key moves in free agency, signing Odell Beckham Jr. and re-signing Geno Stone, who have been significant contributors this fall. DeCosta also made some under-the-radar moves on team-friendly contracts/short-term deals, including those signed by Nelson Agholor, Kyle Van Noy, Jadeveon Clowney and Ronald Darby, who was signed for $1.7 million after CB1 Marlon Humphrey’s injury in training camp. The biggest checked box of all, though, was finally agreeing to terms with Lamar Jackson, ending a years-long contract situation and locking in the 2019 MVP quarterback through 2027.

Draft outlook: Each of Baltimore’s first three draft picks this year — wide receiver Zay Flowers, linebacker Trenton Simpson and defensive end Tavius Robinson — have produced. Flowers, the No. 22 overall pick, has lived up to his draft standing early in his career, as he leads the team in targets (92), receptions (65) and receiving yards (680) through 15 weeks.

Overview: Baltimore boasts one of the more complete rosters in the NFL this season, and it’s paying off, as the Ravens currently own the best record (11-3) in the AFC. DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh have ideal organizational stability that shouldn’t be overlooked or taken for granted. (I had the luxury of enjoying similar cohesion during my time with Bill Belichick in New England.) This game breeds paranoia and lack of trust because there are so many moving parts and so much pressure to achieve immediate results, so when you are partnered with someone you know you can trust (and someone who trusts you, too), you can’t put a value on that. When the partnership has that trust, it allows everyone in the entire organization to just do their jobs.

Key acquisitions/signings: Believing his team is in a Super Bowl window, Grier made a number of huge moves last offseason, including the re-signing of Raheem Mostert, who leads the league with 18 rushing touchdowns this season. Adding linebacker David Long has elevated Vic Fangio’s defense, while the trade for Jalen Ramsey has proven to be a huge acquisition; after starting the year on injured reserve following a training camp injury, Ramsey has returned to post three INTs in seven games. 

Draft outlook: The Dolphins had just four draft picks in 2023 after giving up serious draft currency in the trades for Tyreek Hill and Bradley Chubb in 2022. Miami has gotten contributions from second-round DB Cam Smith and sixth-round WR Elijah Higgins, but the biggest story of this class is third-round RB De’Von Achane, who fits right into Mike McDaniel’s need-for-speed approach and has nine touchdowns in eight games.

Overview: The Dolphins’ ascension has been a gradual manifestation of several good years from Grier. His 2021 draft was very strong — a class that featured Jaylen Waddle, Jaelan Phillips and Jevon Holland — and the 2022 hiring of McDaniel and trades for Hill and Chubb have paid off. This year’s elite roster has created a window where success is required. The urgency is high, and the Dolphins are answering the bell thus far. 

Key acquisitions/signings: Replacing Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift in the backfield with David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs has proven to be quite savvy. The Lions have also received key contributions from free-agent signings Graham Glasgow and Cameron Sutton, as well as the re-signing of Alex Anzalone, who leads the team with 108 tackles. I have always emphasized the importance of re-signing your own top players — that’s a critical part of free agency.

Draft outlook: Gibbs, LB Jack Campbell, TE Sam LaPorta and DB Brian Branch (all taken in the first two rounds this past April) have been exceptional as rookies, providing a number of game-changing plays in 2023. A couple examples: Branch’s pick-six of Patrick Mahomes in the Week 1 win at Kansas City; LaPorta and Gibbs’ five combined touchdowns in this past Saturday’s blowout of Denver. I also love that the Lions drafted quarterback Hendon Hooker, who tore his ACL last November while at Tennessee, in the third round. The young passer has the luxury of logging a redshirt year and could become the eventual replacement for Jared Goff. This rookie class has a chance to be special.

Overview: Hired in 2021 as part of a culture change, Holmes has routinely added the right pieces to build a playoff contender through free agency and, most importantly, the draft. A key component of Holmes’ success is that he has an aligned vision with head coach Dan Campbell. Holmes has put a premium on acquiring players who match the makeup and profile they collectively believe in.

Key acquisitions/signings: The Eagles lost a host of starters from the 2022 NFC championship roster, but reloaded in free agency. Roseman re-signed instrumental pillars of the team like C Jason Kelce, DT Fletcher Cox, DE Brandon Graham and CB Darius Slay. Another key priority of the offseason: The Eagles and franchise quarterback Jalen Hurts agreed to terms on a five-year extension, solidifying the dual-threat playmaker as Philly’s long-term answer at the game’s most important position. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the two key trades for D’Andre Swift (made during the draft) and Kevin Byard (made before October’s trade deadline).

Draft outlook: Job security and recent success allowed Roseman to operate in a way that may seem too risky for others — like trading up to select DT Jalen Carter (arguably the best defensive player in the draft, but someone who had character concerns) and then taking LB Nolan Smith (who was coming off a torn pec) later in the first round. Carter is currently the favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile, Philly has also received role production from third-round OL Tyler Steen and mid-round DBs Sydney Brown and Kelee Ringo.

Overview: Roseman was the PFWA Executive of the Year in 2022, managing a team that wound up in the Super Bowl. He has done a great job of keeping the nucleus intact, re-signing several notable veterans who are equally important on the field and in the locker room. Too often, fans and analysts want sizzle with personnel moves, but the most important part of free agency is retaining the best players who are also the right players. Roseman has mastered this, while also adding key playmakers to fill certain roles.

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