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NFL GM Candidates 2021: Who are the top names to know?

Running an NFL franchise isn’t easy. NFL general managers are required to evaluate personnel, negotiate contracts, and manage the salary cap while also work with the owner, coach, and other members of the front office. As we move through the season, here is my list of the best NFL GM candidates in 2021 to help rebuild and manage your team for the foreseeable future.

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What else do NFL general managers have on their plate?

In some cases, the general manager is also responsible for selecting a new head coach, and that coach/general manager duo is so important in the NFL. It’s the general manager who sets the overall vision and goals of the NFL franchise. The complexity of the job is a daunting task for any human being. It’s no secret that the NFL organizations that are the most stable at general manager tend to be the most successful — they’ve each found a person that can juggle these tasks with acumen.

Unsurprisingly, teams that have been the most unstable and unsuccessful have had high turnover rates at GM. Cleveland has fired five general managers in the last decade alone. The New York Jets have made three general manager changes in that same amount of time. Only four NFL teams have not fired their general manager in the last decade. Those four teams? The Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Identifying the next general manager isn’t an exact science. It’s hard to predict the behind-the-scene aspects of interviews and connections that play a part in these decisions. Former NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock didn’t have any experience managing a team. Yet, he formed so many deep connections and laid such a strong foundation in NFL circles; it aided him to make the switch from broadcasting to being the general manager of the Las Vegas Raiders.

Knowing who will and won’t be successful is impossible to predict. We’ve seen candidates from all different backgrounds have success — whether that’s a history in scouting or a different avenue that led them to the position.

Some just aren’t cut out for it. Already this season, four general managers have been fired: Atlanta’s Thomas Dimitroff, Detroit’s Bob Quinn, Jacksonville’s Dave Caldwell, and Houston’s GM/HC Bill O’Brien. These four certainly won’t be the last to be fired come the offseason and the infamous Black Monday that takes place every year.

As we move through the season and the offseason, these are the candidates to keep in mind to fill the various general manager vacancies and could turn your favorite NFL franchise around.

Note: These candidates are presented in alphabetical order to not reflect any inherent rankings or preferences of these candidates.

Top 2021 NFL GM candidates to watch for

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Cleveland Browns VP of Football Operations 

Adofo-Mensah’s journey to the NFL is an interesting one. A Princeton grad, Kwesi worked on Wall Street until he was hired by the San Francisco 49ers. In San Francisco, he was the Director of Football Research and Development. Andrew Berry and the analytics-driven Cleveland Browns front office brought him in. Adofo-Mensah is an intriguing GM candidate, as he is regarded as an innovative front-office mind and possesses a “new school” mentality. A minority candidate, Adofo-Mensah will likely receive his fair share of interviews with the Browns’ recent success.

Mike Borgonzi, Kansas City Chiefs Director of Football Operations

Mike Borgonzi has become a hot name in recent months with his quick ascension up the Chiefs’ front office. He’s been a scout for 11 years and has worked his way up the reigns, becoming promoted six times in 10 years. Working with one of the best general managers in the NFL in Brett Veach (as well as Chris Ballard during his time in Kansas City) and learning from former Chiefs’ general manager Scott Pioli have helped Borgonzi’s evaluations and developed his football mindset.

Borgonzi is at his best as a talent evaluator and takes a hands-on approach during the draft process — an area where the Chiefs have excelled as of late. Meshing that mindset and the skills learned under Veach about managing the cap and leading a Super Bowl team should make Borgonzi an appealing candidate for every vacancy.

Morocco Brown, Indianapolis Colts Director of College Scouting

Brown is an experienced front office executive. Brown was a former player before entering NFL front offices. From 2001 to 2007, Brown was the Chicago Bears Assistant Director of Pro Personnel. Washington hired him to be their Director of Pro Personnel in 2008, and he served there until 2014, where he was hired as the Browns VP of Player Personnel. Brown was let go as part of Ray Farmer’s staff before he landed on Chris Ballard’s staff in Indianapolis. Brown has interviewed several times for NFL GM jobs in the past. With the Colts’ recent success in the draft, Brown should be a hot name in the interview cycle.

Nick Caserio, New England Patriots Director of Player Personnel

Nick Caserio has been a hot name for several years. He’s been linked extensively to the Houston Texans’ job, especially after the shenanigans of the last offseason. The Texans committed tampering in an effort to get Caserio before backing off. Caserio has worked with the Patriots for over 20 years now and has been credited with building the Patriots roster into consistent Super Bowl contenders.

Caserio recently inked an extension with the Patriots, but if the right job came calling, I’m sure he’d listen. There is a concern about the popularity of the “Patriot Way” and its success outside of New England that might make a team wary of this hire, however.

Glenn Cook, Cleveland Browns Vice President of Player Personnel

Glenn Cook and current Browns general manager Andrew Berry have known each other for a long time, and the Browns are on the cusp of being something special, so this move might not happen in 2021. However, Cook’s name will start to circle soon. Cook came over from the Green Bay Packers in 2016 under general manager Sashi Brown and worked with the next Browns general manager John Dorsey.

Now with his third general manager in Cleveland, Cook took over Alonzo Highsmith’s role as VP of Player Personnel with the Browns. The Browns have had success in the draft and have turned around their free agency woes since Cook has been with the team. Cook is fairly young and is also a minority general manager candidate who is sure to get more and more “buzz” in NFL circles as the Browns keep winning.

Ian Cunningham, Philadelphia Eagles Assistant Director of Player Personnel

Ian Cunningham spent the first nine years in the NFL as a scout for the Baltimore Ravens before joining the Eagles in 2013. At just 35 years old, Cunningham was named the Eagles’ Director of College Scouting in 2017 before being promoted to his current role in 2019. He’s worked alongside several talented NFL evaluators in former Ravens’ general manager Ozzie Newsome, current Eagles’ general manager Howie Roseman, Jets’ general manager Joe Douglas, and Andy Weidl (who we’ll feature later in this article).

Cunningham is one of the few minority general manager candidates in the league. His young age and fast rise under several talented front office people will make him an appealing target for teams searching for a long rebuild.

Lake Dawson, Buffalo Bills Assistant Director of College Scouting

Lake Dawson has been linked to general manager jobs for a few years now. Most recently, he became a candidate for the Panthers’ opening in 2018. He previously was VP of Player Personnel in Tennessee, where he worked alongside then Titans’ general manager Ruston Webster managing day-to-day operations and all personnel matters, overseeing both the pro and college departments before Brandon Beane added him to his staff when he joined Buffalo in 2017.

Related | NFL Recap Week 12: Tennessee Titans rise, Matt Patricia is fired, and more

Dawson has over a decade of experience as a talent evaluator and has an extensive resume of success. Dawson is an intriguing front office member and will certainly be one of the top minority options to be evaluated as an NFL GM candidate for the 2021 season.

Ed Dodds, Indianapolis Colts Assistant General Manager

Out of every name on this list, Ed Dodds is one I expect will appear on every single team’s wishlist, and all of them will likely have him near the top. Dodds’ career got off to a hot start with Seattle, where his expertise helped the Seahawks draft Russell Wilson and the Legion of Boom (many credit him directly for the Seahawks drafting these players).

Dodds joined now-Colts’ general manager Chris Ballard, where he’s been influential in drafting several talented players for the Colts, including Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard. He turned down an interview with the Browns last offseason, which suggests he might not want to work on a team that needs a multi-year rebuild.

John Dorsey, Former Cleveland Browns General Manager

Dorsey’s name has popped up frequently in this GM cycle already. A long-time collegiate scout for the Green Bay Packers, Dorsey earned a reputation as a keen talent evaluator. This skill led Dorsey to become the GM of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013. While Dorsey’s tenure with the Chiefs only lasted till the end of the 2017 season, he drafted key players that form the nucleus of the Kansas City Chiefs today like QB Patrick Mahomes, WR Tyreek Hill, DT Chris Jones, TE Travis Kelce, OT Eric Fisher, and OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. After Kansas City, Dorsey became the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns. While he was also let go before the 2020 season, several of Dorsey’s acquisitions play a big role in the Browns’ success in 2020 such as RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, QB Baker Mayfield, WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, DT Sheldon Richardson, OG Wyatt Teller, and CB Denzel Ward.

Scott Fitterer, Seattle Seahawks VP of Football Operations

Typically, the best general manager’s come from successful NFL organizations. It’s hard to argue against the success of the Seahawks and their front office. Fitterer has been with Seattle for almost two decades now. When he was Director of College Scouting, the Seahawks added Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, and Kam Chancellor. Fitterer was a candidate for the Jets job in 2019 before they went with Joe Douglas.

Fitterer has more of a say in day-to-day operations and works with Pete Carroll and John Schnieder on personnel decisions. Working with Schnieder for so long and having an extensive resumé makes Fitterer’s name an intriguing one to consider for the top NFL GM candidates for the 2021 season.

Terry Fontenot, New Orleans Saints VP/Assistant General Manager-Pro Personnel

Terry Fontenot is another long-tenured front office member. Fontenot has been with the Saints for 16 years now. He has a rather extensive history of managing several different responsibilities and has held several titles throughout his time in New Orleans. Fontenot was a pro scout for seven years before being promoted to his current position, where he is responsible for managing the pro personnel of the Saints’ roster. Fontenot has also helped the Saints prepare for the draft and helps “advance scout” against their opponents every week.

Fontenot was instrumental in the Saints bringing aboard Demario Davis, Jared Cook, and Emmanuel Sanders in recent years, making him a potential focal point for the NFL GM candidate search for the 2021 season.

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