POSTED 8:30 a.m. EST; LAST UPDATED 9:58 a.m. EST, February 13, 2006
CAP GUYS VS. FOOTBALL GUYS
Mike Florio

We've written several items over the past few weeks regarding the growing front-office tug-o-war between the "cap guys" and the "football guys."

The term "cap guys" refers generally to business types with no experience playing, coaching, or scouting pro football, but who made their mark by navigating the salary cap and negotiating contracts fitting thereunder.

"Football guys" are the folks with the experience drawing up X's and O's, breaking down film, and/or crisscrossing the country to eyeball college players.

With the promotion of confirmed cap guy Mike Tannenbaum to G.M. of the Jets, the debate has gone to a new level. Some football guys believe that Tannenbaum's inexperience in the football side of the business will translate to doom for the franchise, since he doesn't and won't have sufficient respect from the scouts or from the coaching staff, as an evaluator of personnel, when he breaks the tie on draft day between the guy the coaches want and the guy the scouts are recommending.

But there's two sides to every story. And the cap guys have a perspective on this, too. Part of the sense we're getting is that the cap guys think that the football guys might be trying to make what they do seem so specialized and difficult as a defense mechanism.

Says one league source: "Today's NFL is a business as much as it is a game. An organization cannot be successful without a good coach, a good personnel director, and a good cap/contracts guy. It seems is the en vogue thing to do is for 'football guys' to trash the 'non-football guys.' I find it amusing that it's okay for a 'football guy' to want to fool around with the cap and contracts, which is becoming more and more prevalent, but it's taboo for a 'non-football guy' to opine on whether an athlete can walk and chew gum at the same time."

And it's possible that, when it comes to being a G.M., the question of whether the guy has a football or cap background is irrelevant. The bigger issue is the guy's ability to run the operation.

"The G.M. . . . has to be an outstanding administrator," said the source. "The structure can work with a head coach G.M., a football guy G.M., or a non-football guy G.M.

"Every structure, no matter what the structure is, must have . . . the head coach, the top football evaluator, and the cap/contracts/football ops guy. The key is that people don’t have agendas, work together, and do what they do best and don't try to be what they are not and there are checks and balances.

"A 'non-football guy' can be very good in that role as a General Manager…strategic planner, consensus builder, process manager, etc. If he is working with a head coach (who always has significant input on personnel no matter the structure) and a top football evaluator (whose job is to manage the personnel department and evaluate talent), then the “non-football guy G.M.” doesn't evaluate the talent himself, he listens to those who do the evaluating. The benefit of this process is you don't have a football guy who falls in love with a certain player, you are relying on multiple opinions on a player instead of the danger of relying on one opinion, and you have somebody who is always focused on the big picture."

But the source acknowledges that the cap guys generally should not try to evaluate talent. (However, there's a school of though that talent evaluation is a skill that can be acquired and learned.) By the same token, a football guy isn't qualified to be a G.M. when his only skill is talent evaluation, and if he doesn't understand the business of the game and cannot appreciate the bigger picture.

As the source said: "The head coach should coach, the top football evaluator should evaluate talent, and the cap/contracts guy should negotiate contracts, manage the cap, and handle miscellaneous football operations. Whoever is the best manager, consensus builder, strategic planner, etc. of the three should be the guy who is the G.M. After that, chemistry, work ethic, good decisions, and a little luck make it succeed or fail."

Before anyone determines that the Tannenbaum experiment in New York will be definitive as to the question of whether a cap guy can be a successful G.M., keep in mind that the Panthers have been utilizing a similar structure for several years, with former beat writer Marty Hurney serving as G.M.

Then again, the system hasn't worked well in New Orleans, where bean counter Mickey Loomis inherited the G.M. gig after Randy Mueller was fired.

Even if Tannenbaum succeeds, the debate will continue to rage among league insiders, since it's human nature to carp and complain when guys get hired for key positions, in any setting. There are only 32 G.M.-type jobs in the industry. So whenever someone gets one of them, there will be other people who think that he didn't deserve it, whether it's because the guy is too young, like Tannenbaum, or too old, like Marv Levy. Or that he doesn't have enough experience evaluating personnel, like Mickey Loomis. Or he doesn't have enough business savvy, like Tannenbaum's predecessor, Terry Bradway.

The key, as we've heard time and again from folks who seem to know what they're doing, is to know your limitations.

In other words, to know what you don't know. To surround yourself with experts in area in which you're not one. To hire people whose judgment you trust -- and then trust it.

It sounds easy. But not many organizations have quite figured out how to put those principles into practice. That's because ego and pride inevitably get in the way -- regardless of whether the person calling the shots is a football guy or a cap guy.