Being the general manager of a professional football team can be a pretty thankless job. When the team is doing well, almost nobody knows your name. When the team is struggling, though, and the coach is already fired, all eyes are on you as the next to be on the chopping block. After all, the general manager puts together the roster, including the coaches.
While GMs tend to come and go rather quickly, there is a handful that became mainstays for a franchise over the course of multiple decades. Which ones have stood out as the best in NFL history, though? Here are our picks for the five best general managers who were able to command the war room with ease.
1. Bill Polian
While some would argue that Bill Polian doesn’t belong on the list, it’s impossible to leave off a man that has won the NFL’s Executive of the Year Award six times. Polian started as a scout with the Kansas City Chiefs before spending time as an executive in the Canadian Football League and USFL.
Polian returned to the NFL with the Buffalo Bills front office, with the team reaching four consecutive Super Bowls. Polian then became the first GM in Carolina Panthers history, with the team reaching the NFC Championship in their second season. Polian moved on to the Indianapolis Colts, drafting Peyton Manning, putting a good team around him, and winning a Super Bowl during his 13 years in the front office.
2. George Young
Along with Polian, George Young has racked up a lot of Executive of the Year Awards, taking home a total of five during his career. A former NFL player himself, Young was a coach before jumping into the executive chair in 1975 with the Miami Dolphins. Young helped form the Dolphins in the later part of the decade before becoming the New York Giants GM.
Young spent 18 years with the Giants in that position, building a roster that won two Super Bowls. The Giants started to decline a bit in the mid-1990s, so Young retired and worked for the league office until his death in 2001.
3. Kevin Colbert
Building a team after the implementation of the salary cap hasn’t been easy for any GM, but for more than 20 years, Kevin Colbert made it look easy. Colbert had been with the scouting departments in both Miami and Detroit during the 1980s and 1990s before becoming Director of Football Operations for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2000.
Colbert remained with the organization all the way up to his retirement after the 2022 NFL Draft. Colbert didn’t receive a lot of fanfare as he kept franchise stability, drafting the likes of Antonio Brown, T.J. Watt, James Conner, and Troy Polamalu, just to name a few.
4. Ozzie Newsome
A former NFL great as a tight end with the Cleveland Browns, Ozzie Newsome joined the franchise’s front office in 1991 and stuck with them when the team moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. Eventually, Newsome would be promoted all the way up to General Manager in 2002.
Newsome’s Ravens won two Super Bowls before he retired in 2018, but not before drafting several Hall of Famers. These picks included Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Ed Reed. In his final draft, Newsome selected eventual MVP winner Lamar Jackson.
5. Bill Belicheck
One of the reasons that Bill Belicheck left the New York Jets almost immediately after taking the job is because the New England Patriots were willing to give him roster control in 2000. Though some call his work as a GM “overrated” and say that it was truly Tom Brady that won him all of those Super Bowls, Belichick did make a ton of good roster moves.
Belichick was able to revive the career of Randy Moss, who many thought was done for after his time in Oakland. He also signed the likes of Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, and Stephon Gilmore. Add in amazing draft picks like Rob Gronkowski, Asante Samuel, and Devin McCourty and it’s clear that Belichick knows what he’s doing.
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