John Schneider and Ryan Grigson have a lot in common. Both are gladly overshadowed by their head coaches, both spent years on the road paying their dues, both stay well wide of the media spotlight, putting the team before everything else, both are willing to go bold and make trades, and they are clearly two of the brightest young executives in the NFL.
In fact, I'm having such a difficult time separating the outstanding jobs they did in 2012, I'm inclined to name them co-executives of the year. We'll go ahead and split the award, and give it to Grigson, the Colts GM, in the AFC and Schneider, GM of the Seahawks, in the NFC.
They have thrived in all avenues of player acquisition, they have built young and deep rosters, and they have their upstart teams poised for the postseason. It has been good to see them get the recognition they deserve as the regular season winds down, and if you are a fan of the Colts or the Seahawks, you have to feel pretty good about how these gentlemen have positioned your franchise for the future.
In Seattle, head coach Pete Carroll is the rock star, and the face of the franchise, but Schneider is the one doing the heavy lifting on personnel behind the scenes. His background runs deep in college scouting, and Seattle has absolutely killed it in the draft. No one made any pick in 2012 as superb as Schneider taking quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round (and then they had the organizational cojones to start him from the get-go despite having just paid Matt Flynn to a fairly hefty free-agent contract).
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Seattle knew what an impact Bruce Irvin could make, and made a helluva first-round selection on the pass rusher, investigating his off-field issues and seeing the extreme value in him while others dismissed the kid as a second-rounder. Bobby Wagner (second round) and Robert Turbin (fourth round) paid big dividends already. The gutsy trade for Marshawn Lynch has proven to be a steal for the Seahawks (as was the Leon Washington trade among others). Ditto for the Chris Clemons trade with Philly. Sidney Rice has stayed relatively healthy and given them a deep threat. Schneider knew that Breno Giacomini was a project worth investing in from his time with him in Green Bay, when Gaiacomini was on the practice squad, and he has been a solid right tackle.
In fact, Schneider has totally rebuilt the offensive line, finding studs like Max Unger, and his first pick on the job, from 2010, is now playing like an All-Pro left tackle (Russell Okung). He found absolute steals in his corner tandem of Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman (and how about Sherman actually beating a drug-test rap last week? When does that happen?).
So, yeah, dude has the Midas touch these days. Schneider has done an excellent job since first arriving, he and Carroll assembled a top-notch staff and he had built a team that perfectly suits the natural competitive advantages of his stadium. He began overhauling the roster right away and is reaping the rewards now. Most of his best talent is still very young, and very cheap, and he also has an owner behind him who isn't afraid to spend. Could be a perfect formula for long-term success.
As for Grigson, well, no one faced a more daunting task in the entire league.
Consider for a moment that he was a relatively unknown scout for the Eagles -- an organization with some big personalities that left him deep in the shadows. He's then thrust into a situation in Indianapolis where he steps in for a legendary GM, Bill Polian, at a time when some guy names Peyton Manning is about to exit the building for the final time. Yeah, um, no biggie, right?
Just reshape this franchise on the fly, with a tough cap bind, limited wherewithal to do much in free agency, a roster loaded with recent draft-pick busts, and even have to launch a somewhat-belated coaching search with owner Jim Irsay keeping Jim Caldwell on for a while before starting the process than ended with the sage hiring of Chuck Pagano -- and a perfect selection of Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator, who would go 9-3 in Pagano's absence as he battled cancer.
Yes, he got Andrew Luck with the first-overall pick, but let's not pretend that Luck hasn't looked every bit like a rookie quarterback for much of the year. Yes, he had the seven comebacks, but he has also turned the ball over plenty and thrown a lot of picks and struggled on the road for much of the season. So he hasn't been a one-man salvation. Retaining Reggie Wayne was vital, and he has shuffled his woeful offensive line through trades and the waiver wire.
Grigson has been in perpetual motion, has received immediate contributions from a slew of rookies. He'll have more freedom moving forward with some massive cap figures like Dwight Freeney's coming off the books. This year, he had huge voids to fill along the offensive line, in the secondary, on the defensive line, and found great value free agents like Corry Redding to help plug them.
The stain of losing that tarnished everything the Colts did in 2011 is long gone, and Grigson is a primary reason why (big tip of the cap to Tom Telesco in the Colts' front office, someone Irsay would not part with in his purge, for being a glue guy in Indy as well). Soon enough, other teams will probably come calling for some of the men who work under them, and both Schneider and Grigson have already proven to be fairly fearless leaders who are not afraid to break from the pack and groupthink of the NFL.
Ending with a thud
I found the bulk of the games this weekend to be borderline unwatchable. It was like the preseason all over again. I don't blame teams like the Ravens at all for playing virtually their entire second team in what was a meaningless game, and especially given all of the injuries they have suffered, but man, the 1 p.m. games were rough.
This was a fluky year where only a few games really held huge playoff ramifications in Week 17, in terms of who is in and who is out of the playoffs, and given the brutal nature of this game, you can't expect to see the kind of tackling, hitting and intensity that typifies an NFL Sunday under these awkward circumstances.
From a mental standpoint, however, this weekend was still very important for some teams with postseason designs. Houston must still be troubled about the uneven performance it put forth, and you have to wonder if the Texans will be able to pull out of that funk in January. I wouldn't expect it at this point. Losing home-field for the playoffs, and the bye, all at once ... well, it seems to have gotten to them. Matt Schaub is slumping, and that defense has fallen a few rungs from its first-half form.
• Can't help but wonder -- if the Bills do make a head coaching change, if Russ Grimm gets a shot. He nearly had the job a few years back, and though the Cardinals have struggled, Grimm is highly thought of there, and he has a strong relationship with assistant GM Doug Whaley from their time together in Pittsburgh. If GM Buddy Nix is gone, Whaley could be promoted. And if the Bills again cannot land any of the "hot" candidates, Grimm could end up back on their radar.
• Heard some rumblings that perhaps the Bengals beef up their front office this offseason, and maybe add a general manager position. Owner Mike Brown did expand his scouting staff, finally, a year ago. Worth keeping an eye on.
• I expect Houston quarterback coach Karl Dorrell to get some head coaching interviews, or at least one. Ditto for Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, despite the rough season the Jags have had. Tucker is well thought of and nearly got the Jacksonville job last year.
• Jack Mula, the former general counsel-player personnel, for the Patriots, is drawing interest from some teams, according to sources, and could have options back in the NFL in a front-office capacity. Mula is a former agent and was a key contract negotiator for New England.