Detroit Lions General Manager Brad Holmes at his introductory press conference. Courtesy of detroitlions.com.
January and February are the two most important months of the year in the National Football League, and not just because that’s when the playoffs take place. The 18 teams that didn’t make the postseason are busy designing new reporting structures, crucial to long-term organizational development, by hiring coaches and front office executives.
And while the public’s attention is mainly focused on coaches, many of these front office moves will end up being more important to the team’s future success. These positions have the most say in shaping a roster, from the draft to free agency, and generally have a longer leash than coaches do. With free agency starting on March 17 and the 2021 NFL Draft set for April 29, these new hires will soon be counted on to make franchise-altering decisions.
Through exclusive org chart data, The Org identified 613 executive moves in the NFL in January and February, around half of which were in the front office. Here are seven that could have huge impacts not just for their new teams, but for the NFL as a whole:
Martin Mayhew: General Manager, Washington Football Team
In 2020, the Washington Football Team pushed for a litany of external changes. The organization underwent a complete rebranding, ditching its problematic mascot and nickname, and also hired two-time NFL Coach of the Year Ron Rivera to stabilize its coaching staff.
In 2021, Washington now appears to be focused on internal change. The organization has completely revamped its front office, starting with the hiring of Martin Mayhew as general manager. Mayhew, a former defensive back who won a Super Bowl with Washington in 1991, has more than two decades of front office experience, most notably as general manager with the Detroit Lions (2008 - 2015). He then spent 2016 with the New York Giants as director of football operations before joining San Francisco as a senior personnel executive, where he was promoted to vice president of player personnel in 2019.
Rivera is still the top decision maker in Washington, as ESPN reported that Mayhew will report to the head coach. In a statement, Rivera said, “He will be an integral part of running the daily football operations and will allow me the opportunity to focus more on coaching.”
To assist Mayhew, Washington also hired director of pro personnel Chris Polian and senior vice president of player personnel Marty Hurney, giving the front office an impressive three former GMs in total. Alongside new president Jason Wright, who became the first Black president in the NFL in August 2020, the Football Team now has arguably its strongest stable of decision makers since owner Dan Synder bought the team in 1999.
Woody Johnson: Chairman, New York Jets
While not technically his decision, Woody Johnson has returned to the U.S. to run the New York Jets. The Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2017 to 2021, Johnson relinquished a lot of his day to day duties for the Jets while in his role across the pond. Now that President Joe Biden took office in January and made his own changes to the White House org chart, Johnson is back in New York in his role as chairman.
A fourth-generation member of the founding family of Johnson & Johnson, Woody has co-owned the Jets with his brother Christopher, the team’s vice chairman, since 2000. The team has been as up-and-down as any organization in sports since then, getting to the AFC championship game in both 2009 and 2010 and then recording only one season over five wins since 2016.
Johnson’s return comes at a pivotal time for the franchise. New head coach Robert Saleh, a highly-touted defensive coordinator from the 49ers, just signed a five-year deal. The team also owns the No. 2 and No. 23 overall picks in the draft and needs to make a decision on the future of fourth-year quarterback Sam Darnold.
Brad Holmes: Executive VP and General Manager, Detroit Lions
After a tumultuous seven-year stretch that saw day to day leadership responsibilities change frequently, the Detroit Lions seem to have found the man for future stability in Brad Holmes. The new general manager impressed ownership with his insights into analytics and scouting and was given a five year contract to work alongside new head coach Dan Campbell.
Holmes comes from the Los Angeles Rams, where he had been the director of college scouting since 2013. He started with the Rams as a public relations intern all the way back in 2003 and worked his way up the organization until he was eventually making decisions on draft picks. In retrospect, his gutsiest call was drafting undersized, underrated defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the 13th pick in the 2014 draft. Donald has since won three Defensive Player of the Year Awards and is considered one of the best defensive tackles ever.
Despite his lack of time on the job and no prior experience as general manager, Holmes is already making a big impact in Detroit. Two weeks into the job, he sent franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford to his old team, getting quarterback Jared Goff and draft picks back in return.
John Dorsey: Senior Personnel Executive, Detroit Lions
The other notable hire in Detroit was bringing on John Dorsey to report to Holmes as a senior personnel executive. Dorsey, the former general manager of both the Kansas City Chiefs (2013-16) and Cleveland Browns (2017-19), has a lightning rod of a reputation around the league. He has a long track record of draft success, having picked All-Pro players like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Nick Chubb, but also a history of dysfunctional leadership and a willingness to draft players with a criminal record (Hill, Kareem Hunt, Antonio Callaway, etc.).
Dorsey started his executive career with the Green Bay Packers in 1991 and helped them win two Super Bowls (1996 and 2010). Though he has more experience in player personnel than maybe any other non-GM in the league, how much power he yields on a day to day basis remains to be seen.
Nick Caserio: General Manager, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans are, to put it lightly, in flux. Houston just released the most popular player in team history, J.J. Watt, hired a 65-year old with no prior head coaching experience as head coach, David Culley, and is trying to convince its star 25-year-old quarterback, Deshaun Watson, to roll back his trade demands.
The one thing that appears to be solid is the standing of new general manager Nick Caserio, who previously spent his entire 20-year front office career with the New England Patriots. Caserio started as a personnel assistant (2001) before rising to director of pro personnel (2004-06) and player personnel (2008-20). While the Patriots won six Super Bowls while Caserio was in New England, head coach Bill Belichick always had final say in personnel decisions.
Caserio’s biggest priority right now is Watson, who is "furious" at the front office for asking for his input on the general manager search and then hiring Caserio without asking. The GM is new to the job, but convincing the young QB to stay with the Texans might become the most important aspect of Caserio’s entire tenure. That’s how good Watson is, and that’s how hard it is to find a great young signal caller in the NFL.
Trent Baalke: General Manager, Jacksonville Jaguars
After losing the AFC Championship in 2017, the Jacksonville Jaguars won a combined 12 games in the following three seasons, including just one in 2020. That level of failure comes with opportunity, though. The team completely cleaned house, firing the leaders of its front office and coaching staff, and has the No. 1 overall pick in a draft that includes the most hyped quarterback of the decade, Trevor Lawrence.
On the leadership side, the big hire for owner Shad Khan was Urban Meyer as head coach. Meyer has won three national championships (two at Florida, one at Ohio State) and is one of the best college coaches ever, but the 56-year old has also retired multiple times due to health issues and has never coached in the NFL.
A little more under the radar was the hiring of Trent Baalke as general manager. He joined the Jaguars as director of player personnel in February 2020 and served as the team’s interim general manager from November until his full-time promotion in late January.
Baalke does not have the same gravitas as Meyer, but what he does have is NFL experience. The former GM of the 49ers (2011-16) took what was a 6-10 team in his first year at the helm and transformed them into a 13-3 perennial contender, winning the 2011 PFWA Executive of the Year award in the process.
He was fired after several failed coaching decisions, though, and then worked as a football operations consultant to the league for a few years before landing in Jacksonville. The Jaguars are keeping the reporting structure between Meyer and Baalke a little opaque for now, but it does seem like the two will work in tandem on personnel and draft decisions.
“It's a partnership,” Baalke told the team’s website. “If you're not aligned and you don't think the same and you don't have the same vision – regardless of whether you've been here or not been here – you're going to run into problems. The thing I'm very confident in is Coach Meyer and the vision he brings to this organization.”
Amy Palcic: Head of Communications, Jacksonville Jaguars
Another big hire in Jacksonville came this week, as the team hired Amy Palcic as head of communications. Most PR position changes do not make headlines in the NFL, but Palcic is a special case. The first woman to serve as the primary media contact for an NFL team when she was promoted to the head of Houston’s communications department in 2016, she helped the Texans receive the 2017 Pete Rozelle Award, presented annually to the league’s best public-relations staff by the Pro Football Writers of America.
When Palcic was let go by the Texans in November 2020 for no longer being a “cultural fit,” the league backlash was immediate. Everyone from players to former coaches to media members ripped the Texans, with one tweeting that Palcic is, “literally one of the best PR people in the world.”
She’s now landed in what appears to be an ideal PR situation, with a young star quarterback and a charismatic new coach at her disposal.
The Org is a professional community where transparent companies can show off their team to the world. Join your company here to add yourself to the org chart!