I firmly believe that the success of an NFL franchise over a long period of time hinges on the stability of the front office and their ability to build through the draft. For that reason, I have a more interest in how a team handles its search for a new GM than for a new head coach.
This offseason the most high profile search for a new GM appears to be going on in San Francisco. They’ve been a floundering franchise for longer than most of their fans would care to admit and this has a chance to be the turning point.
Here’s a quick look at their candidates and my assessment of how they would fit in.
Trent Baalke - 49ers VP of Player Personnel
Baalke essentially became the 49ers GM last offseason when Scot McCloughan stepped down/was fired/whatever happened to him. Prior to his most recent promotion he was the Director of Pro Personnel for one season. Given his short time in high-level front office positions, it’s difficult to evaluate his draft style and success.
The 49ers draft didn’t yield much in 2009, but it’s difficult to say what role Baalke had on draft day. The jury is still out on Michael Crabtree, but it appears that he is the only thing that draft class will yield.
In 2010 they reached for Anthony Davis and then added Mike Iupati later in the 1st round. Davis was nothing short of a disaster at right tackle, having yielded 11 sacks already this season. If this draft is an insight into how Baalke will run a draft, he seems like the type to favor need over best available players. I disagree with this strategy, but as I said, that assumption is only based on one draft.
Michael Lombardi - NFL Network Analyst
Lombardi has been out of the NFL since 2007, and hasn’t played a meaningful role in front office decisions since the late 90s. He was Al Davis’ right hand man from 1999-2007, serving as the “Senior Personnel Executive” (whatever that means). Essentially his role was to oversee the scouting process, from both the pro and college side, but as we all know Al Davis always called the shots in Oakland. For this reason, it’s tough to judge Lombardi’s talent evaluations, but I would be wary of hiring someone who served as Al Davis’ assistant. The Raiders are a mess and Lombardi at least played some role is sending them spiraling downhill.
Tony Softli - NFL Analyst for various media outlets
I hate to be this cynical, but I find it hard to believe that Softli was interviewed for any reason other than the Rooney Rule. Softli was the Rams VP of Player Personnel from 2006 through this past May – the most embarrassing four years in franchise history. It isn’t fair to pin all of their troubles on Softli, but it was his job to oversee both the pro and college scouting departments.
During the first three drafts of the Softli era the Rams 1st round picks were Adam Carriker, Chris Long and Jason Smith – none of which have lived up to expectations. Long has been a quality starter, but certainly not what the Rams envisioned after taking him 2nd overall in 2008.
I have a hard time believing the 49ers would go this direction.
Ted Sundquist - Director of Player Personnel, Omaha Nighthawks
Sundquist is another guy that’s tough to evaluate. He was the Broncos GM from 2002-08, but by all accounts he was below Mike Shanahan in the chain of command. Shanahan made the final decision on all personnel moves (many of which were bad decisions) so it’s tough to know which moves Sundquist agreed with and which ones he challenged Shanahan on.
It sounds as though Sundquist was really had little to do with personnel decisions in Denver. He was essentially in charge of contracts and balancing the salary cap. However, he was the Broncos director of college scouting from 1995 to 2002. That’s a nice background to have, but that was a long time ago in NFL years.
Sundquist is an interesting candidate based on his past experience, but probably not someone to get too excited about. Afterall, there has to be some reason why he hasn’t managed to resurface in the NFL since 2008 and has been banished to the UFL.
This isn’t a group of candidates to get excited about, by any means. It lacks anyone with a proven track record and each candidate comes with legitimate concerns. If I had to rank them, I’d go in this order:
1. Baalke – Pros: college scouting background, familiarity with organization – Cons: lack of experience
2. Sundquist – Pros: experience in GM role and college scouting – Cons: out of NFL since 2008
3. Softli – Pros: scouting/front office experience – Cons: poor track record in St. Louis
4. Lombardi – Pros: scouting/front office experience – Cons: questionable track record in Oakland, out of NFL since 2007