If you don’t have a good quarterback, then you don’t have anything. But if you do, then what the hell are you playing at not winning games?
There’s a particular sadness in watching a great quarterback toiling year-after-year on a team which, despite having found its keystone, is unable to put the rest of the pieces in place. Often we lament it – poor Philip Rivers, he deserved better. Sometimes we actually romanticise it, treating Dan Marino’s lack of a Super Bowl like a crack in an exquisite vase; a tragic reminder that none of us are destined for perfect happiness.
Whose name will be engraved on this coveted trophy?
One man, however, showed us that the proper response isn’t poetic melancholy, but anger. And that man, of course, was Ryan Grigson.
Rarely in the history of the NFL has a GM been gifted such a talented quarterback – a top player at overwhelmingly the most important position – and then made such a damaging mess of the rest of his job. It’s not just sad that people are already beginning to talk about Andrew Luck’s career in the past tense but a disgrace. And one that ought to be marked.
Introducing The Grigsons
“This is Grigson calling. Tell Tony and Oscar to move over.”
In recognition of this special incompetence, I propose to award, annually, at the end of each season, a Grigson – a trophy recognising the general manager who, having drafted or inherited a Super Bowl-calibre quarterback, has most obviously failed to build a team around him.
Note: As GMs don’t always get to choose their coach, when judging the Grigsons, I’ll be trying, in as far as possible, to assess only recruitment and retention of playing staff. There’s no avoiding, of course, that, as with the Rams, a great new coach can show a GM’s past work in a different light.
This year’s nominees…
Jerry Reese (New York Giants)
Rightly sacked in a full-on house cleaning, Reese illustrates how GMs, every bit as much as players and coaches, need to deliver every year. Despite a Super Bowl in the 2011 season and a stellar 2016 from his high-price defensive free agents, 2017 saw the Giants with a weak defence and, on offence, an aging Eli Manning with almost no running game, non-existent passing options after Beckham got injured and an offensive line with the much-criticised Ereck Flowers guarding his blindside.
Bruce Allen (Washington)
Not technically a GM, but after firing Scot McCloughan, the team president took over two key roles – coordinating an underwhelming draft and publicly ridiculing the team’s most important player. Kirk Cousins might not be many people’s idea of an elite quarterback, but there was unmistakable grigsoning in the way Allen spent the whole off-season antagonising someone who the team had repeatedly failed either to offer a satisfactory contract to or to trade. Reminiscent of Grigson in his pomp, bemoaning how having a star quarterback was hampering his team building, Bruce Allen deserves his place on the shortlist for the sheer tone deafness of his megaphone diplomacy.
Bob Quinn (Detroit Lions)
At the end of Quinn’s second season in charge, head coach Jim Caldwell got fired for back-to-back 9-7 seasons. Quinn, presumably believed more should have been got from the players he made available to Caldwell. But is that right? Perennial fourth-quarter comeback king Matthew Stafford had no running game, two good possession receivers – but still no replacement for Megatron – and a defence that looked to be moving in the wrong direction. Two drafts in, what top players has Quinn bought in? His most notable success this year was Jamal Agnew, an all-pro kick returner in his first season. Thrilling as he is to watch, great returners don’t transform teams. Grigson, at least, drafted the best player on his team, Quinn meanwhile has yet to find or sign anyone in Stafford’s class.
Before I announce the winner of this year’s Grigsons, I’d like to induct a few other outstanding candidates; lifetime achievement Grigsons for those who were grigsoning before the Grigsons were around to recognise their efforts.
The first award, of course, goes to Ryan Grigson. I was going to leave the inaugural class at one, but, after extensive consideration, I’m also going to award a lifetime Grigson to Mickey Loomis.
As I write now, with Loomis’s 2017 draft having turned the Saints into instant Super Bowl contenders, it can be hard to remember that, in four of the previous five years, the Saints have gone 7-9, with a perpetually broken defence, weak drafts and some terrible free agency signings.
How many other GMs can even dream of having had 12 seasons with a quarterback of Drew Brees’s calibre coached by Sean Payton, one of the great offensive minds of the game? Even now, I’m convinced we don’t properly appreciate Brees’s otherworldly ability as a passer. According to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, there have been nine 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history and Drew Brees has five of them. Yes, Mickey Loomis signed Brees, but one Super Bowl win still feels like a poor return for the riches at his disposal. It would certainly be an awful irony if, having finally hit big in the draft, Loomis’s Saints were to find themselves Super Bowl-ready but with Brees in terminal decline.
(Any further nomination for historical Grigson candidates going back to the 1990s and beyond would be gratefully received.)
And this year’s winner is…
Ryan Grigson, of course!
Thanks to injuries sustained on his watch, Andrew Luck wasn’t able to play for the entire of the 2017 season and, as yet, there is no date pencilled in for his return. There have even been dark rumours he may never play again. It’s a crime against football.
In other words, even though he didn’t work as a GM this year, Ryan Grigson still grigsoned to a level no other GM could match.
Special mention, of course, for the fact that Grigson now works in the back office of the Cleveland Browns, who just became one of only two teams to lose all their games since the season expanded to 16 games 30 years ago.***
Truly only Ryan Grigson could be the worse GM of the year while not being a GM.
That’s it for the 2017 Grigsons! See you next year!
If you enjoyed this, please buy my book “The Ugly Game: How Football Lost Its Magic And What It Could Learn From The NFL”. That way I’ll have the money to write more things you might like. Oh, and please spread the word, too. Thanks a lot.
*** Update: Only hours after I finished writing this piece, the Browns fired Ryan Grigson. It seems only fitting.