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The Top 10 NFL front offices

By Josh Katzowitz | NFL Writer
Ted Thompson, right, has been one of the major reasons for Green Bay's success in the past half decade. (US Presswire)

With CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco set to drop his list of the top-100 players, we thought it'd be appropriate also to grade the top-10 front offices. You know, the people who actually put those top players in position to perform all the wondeful feats Prisco is writing about.

The top five or six are relatively easy to predict (and you can shift the order around a bit and not be incorrect), but there are some front offices in this year's list that would have been nowhere near it last season. Which is why we continue to give the newcomers a healthy dose of skepticism and why we give extra credit to those franchises that are continuously near the top of the standings every season.

After all, it's not just the players and the coaches that make a team successful. It's the scouts, the player personnel evaluators, the general managers and the owners. That's why we recognize the top-10 front offices here.

10. Vikings: While Minnesota has made plenty of mistakes in the past couple years -- signing Randy Moss and acquiring Donovan McNabb, for example -- I like the direction in which it's going now. I was skeptical when the team promoted Rick Spielman to the general manager position, but he did a fantastic job getting the Browns to trade up to the No. 3 spot in the draft and then landing Matt Kalil, the player Minnesota wanted in the first place. Obviously, Spielman's reign has to be judged an incomplete, since he's only been on the job for a few months. But give credit to owner Zygi Wilf for helping push the Minnesota state legislature into agreeing to terms on a new stadium. Perhaps Los Angeles would have been more lucrative for the organization if it had moved there, but the West Coast wouldn't have loved the team as much as Minnesotans have.

9. Saints: Major points off for the tiny issue you might have heard about recently regarding something about somebody offering to pay somebody money to hurt somebody from the other team. If not, no big deal. But aside from igniting the NFL's wrath and having coach Sean Payton suspended for the entire season, there's no doubt that the introduction of Payton and the work done by general manager Mickey Loomis the past six years has been impressive. They helped take a city recovering from Hurricane Katrina and turned the team into a Super Bowl champion for the first time in franchise history. Yes, there seems to be a seedy culture that comes along with Payton -- not to mention a franchise full of arrogance -- but on the field, New Orleans has become a top-notch club.

8. 49ers: After a decade of mediocrity or worse, I have mixed feelings putting San Francisco so high, especially when coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke only are entering their second season in their respective roles. But damn, the 49ers were so good in 2011, ending a nine-year absence in the playoffs with their 13-3 record and transforming into a Super Bowl contender for 2012. Somehow, the franchise even got quarterback Alex Smith to perform at a career-high level, and now that the 49ers have added a slew of receivers to a top-notch running game and a dominant defense, it wouldn't be a surprise to see San Francisco return to its glory days.

7. Eagles: So many fans like to bad-mouth Andy Reid, and yes, he has made some questionable calls in the past year (No. 1 on the list: giving the Philadelphia defensive coordinator job to the offensive line coach?!?). But if you look at his overall track record, the coach who runs the player personnel side has been more consistent than just about anybody in the league. The major knock is that the Eagles haven't won a Super Bowl in Reid's time, and that's a fair criticism. But Philadelphia, under his leadership, has averaged 9.7 wins per season since he took over as coach in 1999. The man knows what he's doing, and he's a survivor. He just hasn't yet figured out a way to get to the very top.

6. Falcons: Much like the Saints, Atlanta has never had a sustained period of success. Until, that is, the past four years. While I've always believed owner Arthur Blank wants badly to put a winner on the field, he really nailed it by hiring Thomas Dimitroff as general manager and Mike Smith as coach. While the duo's first draft pick, Matt Ryan, still isn't a top-five quarterback, the Falcons have drafted well (with the big-time exception of Peria Jerry) and have led the organization to playoff appearances in three of the last four seasons. Considering Atlanta had never gone to the postseason in back to back seasons before Dimitroff and Smith arrived, it's clear the Falcons are experiencing the best of times now.

5. Ravens: Ozzie Newsome is one of the best general managers in the game, and since he took over in 2002, the Ravens have been on a wonderful run, winning at least 11 contests in three of the last four years. Not every top Baltimore pick has worked out well, but the Ravens have been more than solid when picking in the middle rounds of the draft. We still don't know whether selecting Joe Flacco in the first round of the 2008 draft was the right move, but landing Ray Rice a round later that year was a decent-enough pick. In many ways, the Ravens' scouting abilities has helped lead them to the point where they're a perennial AFC conference title contender. And considering that a number of Ravens assistant coaches have moved on to become successful head coaches, the front office must get some credit for fostering an environment of excellence.

4. Patriots: Bill Belichick has had one of the greatest runs by a coach/general manager in NFL history, and it's tough to argue at his record (a sterling 139-53 while in New England to go with three Super Bowl titles). Even if the Patriots haven't won a league title in seven years, they're always in the mix. A big part of that is because of Belichick's attitude as a coach, but you can't discount the role New England's front office has played in the success of the franchise. Their drafting has been strong, and their ability to collect a multitude of draft picks every year through trades is impressive. The team never has to rebuild. It just drafts well and does the same through careful free agent acquisitions. Listen, the Patriots defense was atrocious last year, and much of that was the fault of Belichick. But does it matter? After all, New England ended the season with a narrow loss in the Super Bowl. That's not a terrible accomplishment.

3. Steelers: Regarded as having one of the best owners in the Rooney family and one of the best (if not most underrated) GMs in Kevin Colbert, the Steelers continue to win division titles, conference crowns and the occasional Super Bowl. Since Colbert took over his job in 2000, in the midst of Bill Cowher's 15-year run as head coach, Pittsburgh has put together eight seasons of double-digit victories. You talk about consistency, the Steelers are consistent with a GM that's been in the job for 12 years and only three head coaches in the last 42 seasons. Now, there was some talk about possible friction between the ownership and coach Mike Tomlin this offseason based on assistant coaches, but there is obviously a system in place in that organization. And the Steelers have stuck to it forever to great success.

2. Giants: Taking over for the legendary Ernie Accorsi as the Giants general manager in 2007, Jerry Reese has helped the franchise to two Super Bowl titles in just five years. A big reason has been New York's ability to find players in the early rounds of the draft (Jason Pierre-Paul, Aaron Ross and Hakeem Nicks in the first round), the middle rounds (Mario Manningham and Kevin Boss between rounds three and five); and late in the draft (Ahmad Bradshaw in the seventh round). Reese also has figured out when not to go after big-name free agents. Never was that more evident than before the 2011 season when the Eagles definitively won the offseason title and the Giants laid low. You'll recall that Philadelphia missed the postseason and that New York won the Super Bowl. “Our goal,” Reese told the Sporting News, “is to make good football decisions.” The Giants have.

1. Packers: Like the Steelers, the Packers don't spend much money in free agency. Instead, general manager Ted Thompson prefers to build through the draft. Since beginning the job before the 2005 season, the Packers have drafted much of the core of the team that's made Green Bay one of the best squads in the NFC every year since (including Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, Josh Sitton, B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews). But the best part about the Packers (and this is not just a blatant suckup): the fans own the team. They don't get votes on team matters or anything substantial, but there's a reason Green Bay's fans are probably the best in the league. They feel a sense of ownership, and with a squad that is very rarely on the downswing (only two non-winning seasons in the past 20 years), they're caught in a vicious cycle of winning. Which is pretty pleasurable indeed.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Josh Katzowitz on Twitter here: @joshkatzowitz.
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