In the NFL, a general manager has many core functions. He must have a vision of the type of team he wants to have, he must hire a coaching staff that can translate that vision to specific goals and objectives on the playing field, and he must evaluate players and find those that have the ability to fulfill the goals given to them. And just like you and me and our grocery bill, he must do all of this on a budget. He does all this while competing with other general managers for those same players and who want to succeed as badly as he does.
To me the most important of these jobs is to evaluate talent. It doesn’t matter if your vision is a strong defense and you are able to resurrect Vince Lombardi and hire him as your head coach, if you cannot evaluate a player properly you will not field a successful defense. From his coaches and the scouting department a general manager has a plethora of data available on every player, including everything from game tape to measurables obtained during the scouting combine and other player evaluations. He has salary cap experts that tell him his budget. Medical doctors analyze medical histories to determine the likelihood of injures. But it is the general manager’s job to use this data to decide, based on his budget, which players he wants, and how much it will take to get them. He has three main ways to obtain players– the draft, trades, and free agency.
While the 2011 draft was held, the lockout and the ongoing negotiations regarding a new Collective Bargaining Agreement have delayed the start of free agency. It appears an agreement may soon be in place, but because the process is taking so long (don’t get me started on that again) there will be an exceptionally short amount of time to sign free agents before training camp and the regular season begins.
Which is why the 2011 season will soon get very interesting, for both us as fans, and for Martin Mayhew, general manager for the Detroit Lions. In a “normal’ year, i.e. a year with a Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, a team would have from the end of the season to the beginning of March to determine what to do with their current free agents (either restricted or unrestricted), evaluate restricted and unrestricted free agents from other teams, and then from early March to training camp to sign them or match offers for their own restricted agents. In the past Martin Mayhew had ample time to evaluate, negotiate and sign players. I think we could agree that he has done a decent job.
If there is a CBA agreed, one proposal for the 2011 season (posted on Profootballtalk.com and not yet confirmed) means Mayhew has to meet the following schedule in the next months:
4 days after the ratification: Teams will be able to sign undrafted players. On the same day, teams will get a three-day window to re-sign their own players.
7 days after ratification: Free agency starts.
12 days after ratification: Rosters will be set at 90 players.
13 days after ratification: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.
17 days after ratification: A four-day period for teams to match restricted free-agent offer sheets ends.
22 days after ratification: This one isn’t agreed upon, but it could be a deadline for rookies to sign.
26 days after ratification: The signing period for RFAs, franchise players, and transition tag players ends.
The roster currently stands at 81 players (including the unrestricted free agents listed above), and includes 14 unrestricted free agents and 14 restricted free agents. Notable names include Cliff Avril, a restricted free agent, and Chris Houston, Turk McBride, and Drew Stanton, who are unrestricted free agents. Martin Mayhew will have 26 days to review and understand the new CBA (which will probably be the size of a book), determine the impact of the CBA to his team (including the new rookie salary cap), sign the players drafted this April, sign any undrafted college players, sign any unrestricted free agents, make offers to any restricted free agents they want, and determine if they must match any offers that their own restricted free agents might have received. Of course before any free agent player is signed there might be visits, physicals and negotiations, all while the players are negotiating with other general managers at the same time.
Think that is complicated enough? It is also likely in the new CBA that the minimum salary floor – the amount of actual cash required to be spent by the team each year – will likely increase substantially; giving teams not only the incentive but the requirement to spend money. Every GM in the league now has money to play with and has had several months to do nothing but think about they players they want, so Mayhew will be competing under new rules and with cash to spare against other GM’s for the same players, who also have cash to spare.
This means that there is an incredibly large amount of work to be done in a very short time, in an incredibly competitive environment. It means that the best and the brightest of the general managers will figure out the system, target the correct players, pay the right amounts, and continue to win. We can only hope, that when it is all said and done, that Mayhew is considered one of those managers.