Thursday, March 31, 2011
Draft Watch: NFC West
By Mike Sando
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.
The Cardinals' leadership team remains basically unchanged for a fifth consecutive offseason.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt is the face of the organization, even during the draft, in part because general manager Rod Graves keeps a low profile. Both earned contract extensions last offseason. Whisenhunt was coming off back-to-back division titles and had been to a Super Bowl at that point, so his profile within the organization was growing. One losing season hasn't changed that.
Whisenhunt, Graves, team president Michael Bidwill and player personnel director Steve Keim are the primary decision-makers. Whisenhunt appears most prominent among them.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers pulled a surprise of sorts when they named Trent Baalke general manager and made him the No. 1 personnel decision-maker in the building.
The feeling previously had been that the 49ers might have to hand over personnel power to their next head coach if they were serious about landing Jim Harbaugh or another top candidate. That did not happen. Baalke, whose profile became more prominent following Scot McCloughan's departure from the organization one year ago, will make the call during the draft.
The rapport between Baalke and Harbaugh appears much stronger, by all accounts, than the relationship between Baalke and former coach Mike Singletary. That is natural because Baalke played a leading role in hiring Harbaugh; he wasn't part of the process when the team promoted Singletary.
Coach Pete Carroll has the final say on personnel matters. It's in his contract, but not something he flaunts. Carroll played a role in hiring John Schneider as general manager last offseason. Their personalities mesh and the two worked together well in making multiple draft-day moves in 2010.
This is the Seahawks' most comfortable front-office arrangement in recent memory, largely because Carroll and Schneider were brought in together. Each is invested in the other to a degree that did not exist when Mike Holmgren was working with Bob Whitsitt, Bob Ferguson and Tim Ruskell over the years.
The Seahawks' decision-making process has more clarity heading into this draft now that Alex Gibbs has retired as offensive line coach. Gibbs' strong preference for a very specific type of offensive lineman affected how the team approached personnel decisions, especially at guard. His retirement has freed the team to more comfortably pursue the bigger guards its personnel department preferred.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams have new ownership with Stan Kroenke purchasing a majority stake, but the day-to-day decision-makers remain in place for a third consecutive offseason.
General manager Billy Devaney takes the lead in personnel matters with input from coach Steve Spagnuolo and executive vice president/chief operating officer Kevin Demoff.
Kroenke hasn't said whether the team will eventually hire a president. It doesn't matter heading into this draft.
The organization is coming off a transforming 2010 draft in which it landed quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Rodger Saffold with its first two choices. Two other recent high picks, Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, are also working out well.
That has to work in Devaney's favor as Kroenke assesses where the organization stands.