GM Cian Fahey on RSPWP III Scenario No.1

Dennis Pitta. By Phil Romans.
Dennis Pitta. By Phil Romans.

Your team is finally coming together and is poised to make its first playoff run under your tenure as GM, but will your tight end derail it?

What is 2014’s Writer’s Project?

This year’s RSPWP is a different take on team building. I will have 15-20 written scenarios based on true NFL stories provided to me from current and former NFL employees (scouts, players, and consultants). In each scenario, the participating writer is the general manager of an NFL team has a decision to make. Each scenario will have at least two different writers. I will post the writers’ responses and the actual outcome of the case study (if applicable).

Find out more about RSPWP3.

GM Scenario No.1: To Cut or Not to Cut? (If you’ve read this before, skip to “Arif Hasan’s Response”)

It’s Monday afternoon after Week 13 in the NFL. You’re a general manager of a team that is fresh off a victory where it rallied from 28 back to win by 7 and go 7-5 on the year. The squad has won four in a row and is now second in a division where the leader is two games ahead. However, your team is in a better position than it appears.

You play your 9-3 division-leading rival twice during the season’s final four weeks. If you sweep or split these games your team could win the division title. The overriding factor for your teaming having an advantage despite trailing the division leader is that your competition is in a vulnerable position:

  • The rival team has played a softer schedule and faces two difficult teams in December.
  • All three of its losses are division games and your team has a better division record.
  • The rival team lost a starting wide receiver and safety—both Pro Bowl talents.

While these factors are favorable, it’s likely that you won’t make the playoffs if you don’t win the division because of the records of the rest of the teams in the conference.

Your team is playing well, but this morning you had yet another off-field issue with your starting tight end. This player is the second-leading receiver on the team and the offense’s leader converting targets on third down and the red zone.

Today he missed his second team meeting in six weeks and there have been multiple incidents involving a “civilian” at the team facility. It’s important to note that missing a team meeting is a huge deal for this squad and everyone knows that when it comes to this head coach a player better not miss more than one meeting during his career with the team if they want to live to tell the tale. No player has ever missed two meetings during this coach’s career and remained with the team.

One of the issues for this player is his ex-girlfriend—the mother of their three year-old daughter. The tight end has a new girlfriend who he also got pregnant—before he moved the ex-girlfriend out of his house. The ex-girlfriend has come to the facility four times this year—twice this month alone.

Three times the ex and then player have had heated arguments in the parking lot. One of those instances required security to separate the two after the ex took a swing at the player and the player grabbed the ex from behind and held her tight to protect himself while attempting to calm her.

Another time the ex tried to enter the facility and she was verbally abusive to a team employee when she didn’t get her way. Her behavior generated enough disruption that the organization could have gotten the police involved. However, the head of the facility’s security team was able to calm her (again) and talk her into leaving.

The player missed his second team meeting because when he woke this morning after an argument with his ex he found someone slashed his tires. The player believes the ex or a friend of the ex was responsible and it stemmed from last night’s argument about finances to assist with his child.

In addition to the domestic issues, the player has invested in a restaurant with a cousin and uncle that are running the operation. The start-up phase of the business has been an added distraction. These two issues are beginning to hurt the tight end’s performance.

The player has made mistakes in practice that he hasn’t made in the past. The tight end has played well overall in recent weeks, including a game-winning touchdown this weekend and a 100-yard effort two weeks ago. However, he also misdiagnosed an option route in the first quarter of last week’s contest that resulted in a pick-six and put the team in the hole early.

A more significant concern is the player’s performance with strength and conditioning maintenance. Trainers aren’t seeing him work at the same level of intensity in the weight room. Worse yet, he’s not addressing his recovery needs well after games. He’s skipping physical therapy sessions, not icing down sore spots, and not using the cold tub.

Even so, the pro scouts and coaches believe this player will be a huge factor in the match-ups with your division rival. The reason is a season-ending injury to the rival’s Pro Bowl safety. The replacement lacks coverage discipline and he misses tackles because is too apt to deliver hits without wrapping his opponents.

Although your tight end isn’t a Pro Bowl-caliber player and he’s weak as a run blocker, he and the quarterback have excellent rapport and his skills as a receiver and runner are a good match for the opposition. The problem is that the distractions have the staff split about his ability to avoid more mental mistakes and the domestic issues in particular are escalating to the point that the police could be involved next. This divided house among the coaches was before the tight end missed his second meeting.

The player has another year on his contract and his potential is maximized at this point. He’ll never be a star, but he’s a good fit for your passing offense.

The coaches aren’t completely sold that they can weather the loss if you cut him. The veteran backup at the position may not be as good of a receiver, but he’s a much better run blocker. They staff is also optimistic it can do more with its athletic young slot receiver who has been showing more in practice. However, the match-up between the slot receiver and reserve tight end against this rival’s defense isn’t nearly as juicy.

A third option is to acquire a free agent tight end—a former Pro Bowl player with excellent hands and questionable knees. The team recently worked out this veteran, but the coaches are skeptical that he has the stamina (he hasn’t been on a team in 14 months) or long-term health to hold up against your rival’s defense.

With the trade deadline over so you can’t deal this player in question, either.

If you cut your starting tight end the team may suffer on the field, but the issues with the ex-girlfriend will go away. However, there could be a media maelstrom about ditching a key part of the offense when he’s needed most.

If you keep him, you could win the division and make a run in the playoffs. However, he could wind up arrested if this behavior keeps up or his play continues to deteriorate and he hurts the team on the field and costs you the division title.

It’s your third year as GM and this team has gone 9-7 and 8-8 the past two seasons—missing the postseason twice. You have a good, but not great player with deteriorating focus and mounting off-field concerns. He has now missed two meetings and if you keep him, he’ll be setting a precedent with this coaching staff as the first player to remain with the team.

Do you cut him or keep him? Do you consult with anyone? What about this scenario influenced you most to make your decision—the performance, the mounting off-field issues, or both?

Cian Fahey’s Response

“Every general manager in the NFL should be thinking about winning a Super Bowl at all times.”

“Every general manager in the NFL should do what is best for the franchise for the long-term and only make moves that set them up well for the long-term.”

“Every general manager should be aggressive, but also cautious enough so that he doesn’t make stupid mistakes.”

Overly simplified guidelines for an overly simplified process.

Building a Super Bowl team. That’s what being a general manager is all about. Everyone wants to be the next John Schneider. Everyone wants to be that guy who takes a roster full of holes and unknowns and turns it into a roster full of superstars and valuable complementary pieces. Everyone wants to establish a “winning culture” and only bring in players who are 100 percent committed to winning as a team.

Being a general manager is easy really. You just follow the steps on the stairs. The first step: Find all of the overpaid players with bad attitudes who helped get the old general manager fired…then get rid of them. The second step: Use your high draft picks and cap space to bring in new, better players who will make your team on the field play better. The third step (if applicable): Hire the right coach. The fourth step: Win Super Bowl.

Only idiots such as Matt Millen, Jeff Ireland or Mike Tannenbaum couldn’t follow those instructions…right?

Overly simplified.

The truth about being an NFL general manager is that it’s not a linear process. Every general manager makes mistakes and goes off course at times. In the staircase analogy, their head gets stuck between the banisters and their legs begin to flail over the side (That’s physically possible…I think). It’s those moments that make you lose your values and lose sight of the things that are supposed to be most important for long-term success. Because during those moments, long-term success doesn’t matter.

Building a Super Bowl team isn’t the main goal for most general managers. Most general managers are simply trying to hold onto their jobs. How desperately you clutch to it depends on the situation you find yourself in. Ozzie Newsome, Kevin Colbert and now John Schneider all have the freedom to make a few mistakes or endure a losing season or two. Jeff Ireland has already landed where Reggie McKenzie, Thomas Dimitroff and Les Snead could go after a few wrong decisions this season.

For that reason, the overriding aspect of this situation that must be considered is the final part. How long you’ve been in the job and how successful you have been during that time?

It’s your third year as GM and this team has gone 9-7 and 8-8 the past two seasons—missing the postseason twice.

Three years is a long time to be an NFL general manager. Much like the quarterback position, you’re supposed to be impressing by your third year, not regressing. Even someone like McKenzie in Oakland who took over a horrible situation with the Raiders doesn’t appear to be getting too much leeway. Based on the information I have been given, this situation wasn’t nearly as bad as the Oakland one.

With that in mind, there’s no chance that I cut this player right now. He may not be the character I want for the long-term, but he’s the player I need right now to extend the lifespan of my time in this general manager position. Once we hit the offseason, and if the situation hasn’t changed, we’ll either release him or trade him (if he does well enough against the matchup advantage to build value).

This is something that will be made clear to the coaching staff. It is also something that will be discussed directly with the player, but in less definite terms. Instead of “We’re going to release you if  you continue to miss meetings,” we will say “ We’ll be forced to reassess the situation after the season if you continue to miss meetings.” That way the player shouldn’t be disgruntled and he may be more determined to resolve the off-field issues and become more focused on his career.

In a perfect world, I’d cut him immediately and move onto someone else. In a perfect world, I’d be Bill Belichick with Peyton Manning’s personality and Tom Brady’s good looks.

Matt’s Notes

I like Fahey’s sentiment that he wants to cut the tight end immediately, but I understand his reluctance to do so. His points about the length of his tenure as GM are important. It’s easy for us to say (as I did in Arif Hasan’s post) that I’d stick to my boundaries or back my coach and dump the player to the curb.

But did you buy that new house and car? Do you believe the playoffs will buy you another year or two in your role and that bought time will eventually erase any issues that occur because of this decision? Do you believe this team is good enough to push all of your chips into the middle of the table this year?

Tough decisions. If you’ve lived in the adult world long enough then you know how difficult it is to remain faithful to one’s ideals–especially when the “acceptable/safe route” is often nothing more than an “acceptable/safe route” to failure or mediocrity.

It’s easy for me to say I’d live well below my means while working in the NFL. I know enough people in Corporate America who fail to do so. They might be more financially savvy than the typical NFL player we read about going broke, but are these front office types in a position to ignore personal fiscal pressures influencing their decisions? If GMs are like much of America the answer is no.

However, the best decisions are often the most difficult test of character.

Fahey, like Hasan, chose a pragmatic solution. I’d be skeptical that his meeting with the coach will generate any positive outcome if the coach has a reputation for sticking to his guns about missed meetings. I understand Fahey and Hasan’s attempts to keep the player, but considering that a player’s career living beyond a missed meeting is rare their approach might be difficult on their relationship with their respective coaches.

The one argument I would make to my staff if I were to keep the tight end is the potential of my division rival acquiring this player off waivers and using his knowledge of the offense against us. It would be a selling point that I’d consider given the situation.

Cian Fahey writes for Bleacher Report, Football Outsiders, and Footballguys. He also runs the site Pre Snap Reads where he likes to write about cornerbacks.

2 responses to “GM Cian Fahey on RSPWP III Scenario No.1”

  1. Offensive Knowledge. For the most part, teams around the league know everybody’s playbook. Some are VERY simple (Manning’s), and Chip Kelly’s wild attack is actually based on a thinnish playbook (just that every package is well designed and hard to cover). Losing a player to another organization should not be a major loss in terms of understanding a teams offense.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: