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Comparison: Why the Redskins Front Office Fails (and the Patriots Front Office Wins)

The Redskins' front office decisions the last ten years (outside the Gibbs II era) have been confusing, infuriating, frustrating to say the least. I decided to take a deeper look at the front office operations for two franchises that have had continued success, the Patriots and Colts, and compare their models to Washington's. 

The SB Nation bloggers for both the Patriots and Colts gave me an intricate look into their war rooms (the best they could), and after reading their team’s decision-making processes, the broken model for the Redskins front office becomes GLARINGLY obvious. 

Pats Pulpit explains the Patriots' decision making up to draft day:

Scott Pioli, former VP of Player Personnel and now GM of the Chiefs, said both Bill [Belichick] and himself discussed, sometimes vigorously, players for the team, but Belichick had the final say - always.  The belief was Bill had to coach the player and was the best resource for knowing whether or not a player was a fit for the team and its’ needs.  Owners, the Kraft Family, make the money decisions, but always defer to Belichick on player decisions. Scouts and coaches alike attend the combine and pro days, but again, it's up to Bill.


The Pats' model makes perfect sense, and it worked for the Redskins when Joe Gibbs ran the show (ah, the glory days). So, when does the model break? When the GM/VP of Personnel decides to sign free agents regardless of what the coaches think. For example, Cerrato signing Jason Taylor to a 2-year deal even though Blache was not in favor of the acquisition. Blache is a great defensive coach, and I would imagine he would know what players work best in his system. Square peg into circle hole!

The Colts have a model similar to the Redskins with one MAJOR difference (that is painstakingly obvious). Stampede Blue explains:

The Colts have a very simple system when it comes to scouting, grading, and drafting players. Bill Polian is a former scout. So, he invests a lot of time and resources in his scouting department, which is one of the best in football. Polian, however, is not a fan of NFL free agency. Why overpay for a veteran when you can get similar production from a rookie?

What Polian demands is that his scouts actively talk and meet with the coaches. They are encouraged (nay, ordered!) to meet regularly and discuss the kinds of players the teams need to succeed. For example, offensive line coach Howard Mudd likes coaching smart, technically savy players. He's not necessarily looking for "big" or "road grater" types. He needs kids who were taught in college how to balance their feet, position their hands, and work as a unit with teammates. So, the scouts take this info and look for players who fit that mold. A similar method is used when evaluating Wide Receivers. A story goes that Bill Polian once gathered his scouts and said "I don't want to see any scouting reports on players who can't catch or run clean routes. We have the best QB in the league. Why would we give him someone who can't catch? I don't care how fast the WR is or how high he can jump. Can he run and catch? If he can, scout him. If he can't, don't bother."

Once the scouts have completed their work, they submit their reports to Bill Polian and Chris Polian (Bill's son, and VP of Football Operations). When the reports are in Bill, Chris, Dom Anile Sr. (a longtime consultant) and the head coach gather and look over the players. Some of these players Bill Polian has scouted personally. After they look them all over, they grade the players on the big board. The board then gets adjusted and re-adjusted after the Scouting Combine and the Pro Days.

Then, on draft day, the final decision on ALL draft matters is Bill Polian's. No one else's. He asks for feedback and opinions in the War Room, and has often said that the person who always wanted to trade up or down or sideways on draft day was Tony Dungy. But, in the end, the decision is Bill Polian's.   

So there it is. Do you see the major problems? Let’s start with the Colts since their model is similar to the Redskins. They have a head scout leading personnel and making all the final decisions. Just like Bill Polian, Vinny Cerrato has the final decision on draft day. PERIOD. OK, so why does Polian’s model work so well? Simple…they avoid free agency. This goes back to Ted Leonsis’s 10-point plan, "build through the draft and use free agency to compliment the core group of guys." It's how you develop depth, chemistry, and keep the team youthful.

The Redskins obviously do not follow this model. Draft picks are traded away for veterans who have a handful of "prime" years left.

As for the Patriots, their plan makes the most sense to me. The Kraft family hit the jackpot with Belichick, and yes, he does everything but walk on water. The major problem for the Redskins in this regard is the carousel of head coaches. Whatever head coach Snyder brings in, that coach has to inherit the predecessor's mess while players are drafted and signed for the new coach's scheme. Within one to two years, that coach is fired and the next coach has to inherit the current group of guys. I can't help but think about the mess Joe Gibbs took on after the "Fun N' Gun"  era. It took Coach Gibbs a full year to gut the bad players, and by the second year, he had the team rolling again. After three years in the Gibbs era, he no doubt left the team in a better position. Why? He had his own scheme, everyone believed in it, and he had FINAL say of what players were drafted and signed.

Other failing models like Washington's were the Detroit Lions with Matt Millen and Jerry Jones with the Cowboys. Both are examples of an omniscient GM assembling a team they expect every coach to win with. Wade Phillips and Zorn are push-overs in this sense.

In my opinion, the Redskins need to start with the Coach, whatever coach, buy into his system, and steer clear of all the shiny objects that hit the open market (Shanahan, Spurrier, Cutler). Best of luck Coach Zorn, I'm pulling for you.

PS - A sincere special thanks to David of Pats Pulpit and Brad of Stampede Blue for their time and insight.