(ed. note: This is cross-posted at Ditka in a Box.)
With 2012, the chapter was closed on a Kansas City Chiefs lesson the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, and Denver Broncos already learned: Hiring someone from Bill Belichick’s crew to run your personnel department results in terrible talent evaluation and decision more often than not made for ego gratification as for putting the best team on the field. Kansas City fired GM Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel at the end of 2012, a 2-14 team season where the team’s six Pro Bowl players only served to underscore just how bad the rest of the roster had gotten under Pioli (and how completely disengaged Crennel had become from his job).
Owner Clark Hunt moved quickly: He hired Andy Reid as soon as reasonably possible and plucked John Dorsey from Green Bay’s scouting department to be his GM. The two men, both possessed of solid credentials, went straight to work building the team in their image.
Now, any team with new management is going to make moves to bring in players they like, particularly when the team’s previous season was as disastrous as Kansas City’s. But Kansas City made what I feel is a major mistake. They clearly needed an upgrade at quarterback, where Matt Cassel was hideous in a “shouldn’t be on an NFL roster” kind of way last season (although still better than Joe Webb, apparently), and Brady Quinn showed nothing when given a chance to start. Needing to replace the most important position on the field, the team traded their second-round pick this year, #34 overall, and a third-round pick in 2014 (that could become a second-round pick if certain incentives are met) to the San Francisco 49ers for the now-benched Alex Smith.
This price is similar to the price Houston paid for Matt Schaub and Arizona paid for Kevin Kolb in trade. One of those trades worked out, one didn’t; I bring them up because they differed from the Smith trade in one very significant manner: Schaub and Kolb still had growth potential. Schaub was 26, had been with Atlanta for three years, and thrown a total of 161 passes. Kolb was 26 (he would turn 27 shortly before the season) and a fourth-year veteran who had thrown 319 passes. Given the two players’ age, experience level, and stretches of promising play, it was reasonable to expect they still had room to develop into good quarterbacks.
Alex Smith had been with San Francisco seven years, is about to turn 29, and has thrown 2,177 passes. He is not going to grow. He is what he is: A quarterback who can be moderately effective in a system that doesn’t depend on him and hides his weaknesses. His most recent season was his best, but it was also buoyed by San Francisco’s offensive line, running game, and receiving talent (and, to be sure, Jim Harbaugh’s coaching). If you’re going to use a second- and a third-round pick on a QB, you’d better hope you have confidence he can be a long-term starter.
Smith is a stopgap starter, and this price is far too much to pay for him. Consider that there are maybe as many as nine QB prospects who could be drafted in the first three rounds. Geno Smith is guaranteed to go in the first round; several others have a shot, but it’s hard to say if they will at this point. The next four, and the group of QBs most likely to produce a pick in the first round, are Matt Barkley, Matt Glennon, Ryan Nassib, and E.J. Manuel. And beyond these five, there’s Tyler Wilson, Tyler Bray, Matt Scott, and Landry Jones (and maybe even Zac Dysert if you want to stretch it, to say nothing of potential late-round picks or UDFAs like Sean Renfree and Ryan Griffin). Why not use that second-round pick on one of these guys and then sign a stopgap, like Matt Moore or (when he gets cut by the Raiders) Carson Palmer? And if you don’t like any of these guys in the draft, the #34 pick should still be able to land a player, on balance, who is an above-average starter. Surely the Chiefs could use one of those.
Wait, they did go out and sign a QB in free agency: Saints backup Chase Daniel received a 3-year, $10 million deal from the Chiefs. That’s an awfully expensive contract for a guy you want to be a backup. Why would you sign him and then trade for Smith? Now if you take a QB in the draft, he’ll be the #3 guy at best.
This trade is all the more baffling when you consider that John Dorsey, in spite of his thoughts that no QBs in this draft are worth a first-round pick, has been scouting Geno Smith and saying good things about him. If they take him #1 overall, this trade is a disaster.
I feel like Kansas City panicked and gave up too many resources for a very limited player, and while Smith could perform reasonably if the team builds around Jamaal Charles and the running game, that’s the best-case scenario. (And Andy Reid has repeatedly demonstrated in the past that the strength or effectiveness of his running game is no reason not to call pass plays 75% of the time.)
Beyond that, the Chiefs haven’t done too much exciting. They cut Eric Winston, a move I don’t particularly understand, although it should clear the way for them to draft Luke Joeckel #1 overall. Winston is still an above-average right tackle who is particularly good in a zone running scheme; more bizarrely, no one has taken a look at him. (The Texans had a huge hole there after they cut him– perhaps they could bring him back?) They franchised Branden Albert and re-signed Dwayne Bowe, thus retaining two of their most talented players, although neither one is without flaws. They also added Dunta Robinson and Seam Smith to the secondary, which should give them three reasonably talented cornerbacks behind #1 guy Brandon Flowers, depending on how they feel about Javier Arenas. This is a significant improvement over last season, when Scott Pioli let Brandon Carr walk because he thought Flowers’ ego might be hurt if Carr got a big contract (which suggest, more than anything, that Pioli’s ego would be hurt if he were in that situation), and then signed Stanford Routt, who was so bad the team straight-up cut him after seven games. They signed Donnie Avery, but I don’t think he’s any good. Geoff Schwartz should provide nice depth on the offensive line.
Of course, if Smith leads the team to ten wins and a playoff berth, Reid and will look like geniuses. Then again, Cassel did that in 2010, and the franchise thought so much of Todd Haley’s work that they fired him midway through the next season.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ offseason has been defined by one major acquisition, the Alex Smith trade. While the team could still produce results, I think the trade and the thought process behind it were mistaken, and I’ll continue to think so short of a dominant regular season. This team was bound to perform better than it did in 2012 with virtually no major changes; as it stands now, Smith may get a lot of credit he doesn’t deserve for “revitalizing” a floundering franchise if they catch some breaks and have a winning season. And that might set back the franchise’s long-term development even further.
Bad teams overpay for mediocre talent based on aberrant short-term results. Good teams build through the draft and aren’t fooled by variance. San Francisco now has the #31 and #34 picks in the draft, and I am sure they will find two good starters with them. After all, they found Colin Kaepernick, the guy who put Smith on the bench permanently, with the #36 pick overall in 2011. If only Kansas City had a pick in that range this year, they might be able to find their QB of the future as well.
14 comments on Offseason Review: Kansas City Chiefs
“Hiring someone from Bill Belichick’s crew to run your personnel department results in terrible talent evaluation and decision more often than not made for ego gratification as for putting the best team on the field”
Dimitroff and Newsome suggest hiring a GM from the Belichick tree can work out pretty well. And what decisions were made for “ego gratification?”
Well, the Carr situation is just one example– if not his own ego, than his perception of another’s. But I read quite a few reports that came out of Kansas City of Pioli instilling a culture of secrecy, insecurity, and paranoia. Here are some links::
Inside are more links, mostly from Kent Babb, then-Kansas City Star columnist. Jason Whitlock has similar opinions too, although I don’t think he went to the level of investigation Babb did. I see a pattern here, either way.
Don’t know a lot of the specifics with Pioli, but I was responding more to the idea that it is a universal trait among Belichick disciples (and presumably, of Belichick himself?). Anybody at this level is going to have a healthy ego, but I don’t think Belichick-tree guys are any more egocentric than Bill-Walsh-tree guys.
One thing to keep in mind re: Belichick and Pioli, neither of them talk to media much and both keep a lid on their internal matters as much as possible. Media doesn’t mind being lied to (Reid, Ryan, countless others) or even abused (Parcells), but when coaches / GMs don’t give them anything to write about, they hate that more than anything. I’m guessing a lot of KC media folks had it in for Pioli from day one.
I’m not saying that’s why Pioli failed, but I don’t think his ego is why he failed either. He repeatedly whiffed on personnel moves, both in trade (Cassel) and in the draft, and the head coaching hires were just bizarre. But I think the real problems are at the top of that organization; when you suck for 30 years as the Chiefs have, something’s wrong with ownership.
Well, I should clarify: I don’t believe it’s necessarily that anyone who comes from Belichick’s staff is going to have a huge ego. But I do think those three guys– Mangini, McDaniels, and Pioli– left for their new jobs with a mindset along the likes of, “I came from the winningest, most consistent organization of the last decade, and that means I know everything.” And it led to a series of bizarre moves and remarkably poor talent evaluation by each of those people (Mangini’s was more pronounced with Cleveland than with the Jets, but something was clearly wrong in New York considering he was fired after a 9-7 season. And in Cleveland, he made a number of terrible personnel moves to bring in “his guys”, and had two 5-11 seasons for it).
The things I’ve read about Pioli, especially from Barr, suggest that it’s not just media vindictiveness– a number of people inside the organization comment on his paranoia (tapping his employees’ phones?!) and need for secrecy, not to mention an insecurity that leaves him more concerned with public perception of himself than with building a winning team.
Anyway, after watching those three guys, I just came to the conclusion that the success they experienced in New England bred an arrogance that far outstripped their abilities. McDaniels’ two-year term in Denver may in fact go down as the worst stretch of personnel moves in the last 30 years. It’s not ego alone; it’s an ego that reaches far beyond the talents of those men.
And I do think something is wrong with the ownership. Lamar Hunt died in 2006; I’m not sure what Clark Hunt’s qualifications are, but he’s the guy responsible for both the Herm Edwards Disaster and the Pioli era.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Chiefs have mostly sucked for the same time period they have gone without using a first-round pick on a quarterback. If you aren’t trying to get a long-term star at the game’s most important position, you are going to struggle to build a winning team.
And, yeah, I’m sure the media would have been willing to overlook Pioli’s weird, secretive habits if he’d actually built a winning team, but every major move of his was a disaster.
In his very first offseason, he hired a head coach who was antagonistic to his best players, he traded for a QB whose numbers had been massively inflated by taking over one of the two or three best offenses of all-time, and he used the #3 overall pick on a defensive end the scouting reports said couldn’t rush the passer at all.
Hard to build a winning team that way. The Cassel deal is a perfect example of what’s wrong with these three men’s approach (especially since McDaniels was trying to get him, too, even though he already had Cutler): Instead of trying to continue to find good value in the draft and free agency, they overpaid (or tried to overpay) for mediocre players because they were “my guys” from a previous stop. That sort of attachment to your own past good work is what I mean when I talk about ego.
I’m definitely sensitive to the “ego” charge since I see it lobbed (unfairly, IMO) at Belichick so much. Acquiring past players could be ego, or desire for familiarity, or lack of imagination, or any number of things. Parcells brought in some of his guys everywhere he went, too. Hell, Jeff Fisher just traded for Jared Cook. It’s kind of standard M.O.
Mangini didn’t have personnel authority in New York, I’m pretty sure, which may be why you didn’t see the same patterns. Technically he didn’t in Cleveland either, but he did “recommend” the GM, so I think he wore the pants there. (It’s pretty funny how Cleveland, after running Belichick out of town, keeps trying to recycle his guys: Savage, Crennel, Mangini, now Mike Lombardi)
Using first-rounders on QBs can be a losing strategy, too. The Chiefs have had kind of bad luck where they’ve been bad, but not #1 overall pick bad, so they haven’t had a shot at Stafford / Ryan / Newton / Luck / RGIII. The next QBs taken after the Chief’s first-round picks: Mark Sanchez (2009), Tim Tebow (2010), Andy Dalton (2011, not a first-rounder though), Brandon Weeden (2012). I don’t think any of those guys would have saved Pioli’s job.
The big problem is how hard they whiffed on their skill position players: Jonathan Baldwin, Dexter McCluster, Tony Moeaki. Chiefs’ lines and secondary have been decent, but their receiving group is horrible outside of Bowe, who predated Pioli. (BTW, while you’re right on Jackson, that 2009 draft is horrible in hindsight – J. Smith, Curry, Sanchez, Heyward-Bay, Maybin, Moreno, English all total busts in the top 15)
And I think you’re right Pioli’s failure to hire a competent head coach was one of his biggest problems. Haley was a disaster and Crennel was just a bizarre mistake, one that any logical-thinking person could see in advance (and, ironically, the one move Pioli made that the national media all loved).
Well, just to be clear, I think Bill Belichick is a fantastic coach and has been running a top-notch organization (although finding a franchise QB in the sixth round certainly helped). If he has any issues with ego, they’re deserved, but I don’t think he does in this sense. When I speak of ego with these other guys, I feel like since they came from a successful organization, they brought an attitude that they know everything and don’t need to learn. Even at this stage in his career, I would never describe Bill Belichick as closed-minded.
I think there’s a difference between the acquisitions you mentioned and the ones I’ve thinking of. Jared Cook is a unique situation, IMO; Jeff Fisher thinks he can be a star and is paying him like a guy he thinks can be a star. (Whether he’s right or wrong is another story, but Cook has been fairly productive with not-exactly-scintillating QB play.) Bill Parcells speaks more to my point: He always ran a specific kind of 3-4 defense, so he brought in rotational veterans he’d worked with before that he knew could fit what his defense needed to be effective, because they had done so consistently. More importantly, he brought them in cheaply.
Mangini in Cleveland gave up a ton of value in the 2009 draft when he traded down so he could pick up three players in trade who were, essentially, a special-teams safety, a third-string QB, and a rotational 3-4 defensive end. Given that he traded from 5 to 19 with a team trading up for a QB, it’s not a stretch to say he could have gotten as much as a fourth-round pick and next year’s first-rounder instead of those guys. That’s a horrible price to pay for three players of such low impact. Similarly, Pioli overpaid (and McDaniels was willing to overpay) for Cassel. I think in these situations, these guys overvalued players BECAUSE these guys found those players and placed more value on them as “pet projects” or what have you. Or, of course, it could just be that these guys are bad at evaluating talent, period. (Lord knows the drafts these guys conducted are evidence of that.)
Using a first-round pick on a QB can be a losing proposition, but it’s still far and away the place you’re most likely to find a franchise QB. Kansas City has been trading for teams’ backups and guys on their way out the door for years and years instead of trying to address the solution long-term. Steve DeBerg! Joe Montana! Steve Bono! Elvis Grbac! Rich Gannon! (Wait, that last one actually worked out, but then they chose Grbac over him!) And now to the list we add Matt Cassel and Alex Smith.
The Chiefs may have not have a good opportunity to take a legitimate franchise QB, but they also hamstrung themselves with the Cassel decision and contract. (Cassel’s an interesting case: People look at the 2008 Patriots and concluded he must be pretty good because they still went 11-5, rather than considering that the offense dropped off something like 40% from the previous season.)
Of course, the bigger problem is that Pioli’s drafting was horrible in general. Justin Houston is the only real guy he found who was significantly more valuable than his draft position. Eric Berry and Jon Asamoah are pretty much the only other guys he drafted who have even so much as worked out. (The Moeaki pick was bizarre– when we did a mock draft on the sports forums that year, he went undrafted, and Pioli took him at the end of the third round.) The 2008 draft alone netted the team Branden Albert, Brandon Flowers, Jamaal Charles, and Brandon Carr; the four of them along are more valuable than the entirety of Pioli’s draft picks during his four-year tenure.
I’m kind of baffled, really, that Pioli ended up being so bad; he seemed to be in many ways the personnel architect of those Patriots teams. Yet you look at those decisions with the Chiefs and he seems to have no idea how to rate personnel.
I too find it funny that the Browns keep trying to find old Belichick guys when they had the real thing. Especially so because Lombardi WAS a personnel guy for them back in the 80s– and, actually, his draft track record then was pretty terrible. I will say, though, that the Holmgren / Shurmur team was horrible: A former coach whose track record as a GM was extensively poor, yet got another job as one anyway, and a head coach who seemed disinterested in winning games. (Shurmur owns my favorite WTF coaching decision of the 2012 NFL season.) So Jimmy Haslam deserves credit, at least, for recognizing how bad they were and making the change immediately. (I don’t even think Holmgren got to finish out the season.)
Agree re: KC’s handling of the QB position, though. Smith’s a JAG and they paid too much for him.
I don’t see a big difference between Fisher / Cook and Pioli / Cassel. In hindsight Cassel obviously wasn’t a star, but he improved as the season went on in ’08 and seemed to have upside.
I wonder if Pioli’s undoing was the success they had year 2, making the playoffs and Cassel making the Pro Bowl. It likely delayed finding a better alternative to Haley and Cassel, and might have confused Pioli into thinking they were closer than they were. McDaniels, I think, had a similar issue with the start Denver got off to in his first year. It raised expectations for a team that was really not very good. That makes me really respect what Reggie McKenzie’s doing in Oakland; he was not fooled by their 8-8 record last year and he is gutting that thing completely. Of course, you need total support from ownership for a total rebuild like that, which is not always easy to come by.
I have a hard time taking teams / GMs to task for draft misses; every team has them. I’m increasingly convinced that no one has actual drafting skill and that any apparent skill (or lack of skill) is just random results within expected variance. When Pioli was with the Patriots he had a picture of Tom Brady on his desk … and next to him, a picture of tight end Dave Stachelski, the player the Patriots took in the round before Brady.
“I have a hard time taking teams / GMs to task for draft misses; every team has them. I’m increasingly convinced that no one has actual drafting skill and that any apparent skill (or lack of skill) is just random results within expected variance.”
I can see why you might think that, but I don’t quite agree. As befits my experience, I’ll use poker tournaments as an analogy. Even the best tournament poker players are going to lose a substantial portion of the time, because tournaments are by and large crapshoots where luck rules the day, and beyond that, sometimes the right move in a tournament is to go all-in as only a small favorite (or even an underdog), so you’ll bust out almost as/more often than not, yet you might have played perfectly.
That said, there are clearly people who are good at tournaments and people who are bad at tournaments. As an example, if you entered a 100-person tournament, by completely random chance you would win it 1 out of 100 times. Very good tournament players might win 3 or 4 out of 100 times. Very bad players might win less often than even random chance would dictate.
It can be hard to tell who’s good and who’s bad because luck is still the dominant factor here, which is why analyzing process is important. I conclude Mangini is bad at drafting in part because his 2009 trade showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of draft picks; the failure of many of his selections is additional data. Similarly, I conclude Mike Ditka was a terrible drafter because his approach to the Ricky Williams deal revealed a certain allergy toward the work necessary to do his job properly.
Pioli may or may not be a failure at drafting, but when looking at his Kansas City selections in the context of the other disatrous moves he made while he was there, it’s hard not to see him as one.
(And McDaniels… oh boy. Look, when someone literally trades the #14 overall pick in 2010 for a seventh-rounder in the same draft, it’s safe to say he doesn’t know what he’s doing.)
Don’t have time to respond to the rest right now; hopefully this gives you some food for thought.
I think there’s two kinds of good and bad drafting.
1) There’s hitting on picks and not having busts. That’s the part I question whether there’s a real skill – not that teams shouldn’t invest in improving on this, but everyone has roughly the same information and everyone is engaged in the same uncertain exercise of projecting into the future based on uncertain information.
2) There’s playing the game of drafting, where you know your board and the tendency of other teams well enough to trade up and down smartly, where you know good deals, where you don’t panic and you take advantage of other teams’ desperation, where you can maintain long-term perspective even as you try to fill short-term needs, etc. Versus falling in love with players, trading future firsts for current seconds, giving up a king’s ransom to move up a small number of picks, etc. There is absolutely a variation in skill here.
Most of the criticism you’re levying falls into that second bucket, and I think that’s absolutely fair. Some GMs are just really stupid about this stuff, though I think in general teams have gotten better. As a Pats fan, I’ve seen Belichick just absolutely dominate the “game” of the draft, allowing them to stay ahead even though I don’t think he has any particular skill at making picks.
I don’t disagree with this, but I want to break it down a little further:
Your 1) can come in several forms. You can draft a guy thinking he’s a 90/100, and he may turn out to be a 60– that’s a failure, but it’s not an egregious one. It could have happened for any number of reasons out of your control. But what when you draft a guy who turns out to be a 10/100? I think that’s got to be in some part on the GM and the talent evaluation process. Prospects may not develop like you expect them to– I think coaching can be highly underrated in this regard– but to use a high resource on a pick and then get absolutely nothing from him is a whole other matter.
That’s one reason I’m so low on the triumvirate I keep mentioning. Eric Mangini got an extra second-round pick in 2009. He used his three second-rounders on WRs Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi and DE/OLB David Veikune. Massaquoi has been on the team all four years, but has produced less and less as his career went on and will be allowed to sign elsewhere this offseason. Robiskie was released six games into the 2011 season. Veikune was so bad he was cut after ONE SEASON. He’s been in the CFL since 2011. If you think a guy is one of the top 60 prospects in the whole draft, and he turns out to be so bad you give up on him after one year, you have seriously failed. (Again, it’s one thing to make a move for a guy you think will be great who ends up being merely average or a contributor; it’s another to go after someone who ends up being a complete non-entity.)
McDaniels made similar errors in his time in Denver. In 2009, he traded next year’s first-rounder to the Seahawks for the #37 overall pick and selected CB Alphonso Smith. Smith was such a bust that before the 2010 draft, McDaniels traded him to the Lions for a seventh-round pick. Again, if you think a guy is so good to merit trading a first-round pick for him, and it only takes one year for you to give up on him like that, you seriously screwed up.
McDaniels had five picks in the first two rounds of the 2009 draft. Not a one of those five players had been a significant contributor until Knowshon Moreno finally discovered his feature-back talent late last season. Robert Ayers has been a non-factor rushing the passer, but at least he gets some playing time. The other three players– Smith, S Darcel McBath, and TE Richard Quinn– were all gone from the team before the 2011 season. Going 0-for-5, with three guys who couldn’t even stick on the roster for a third season, means you really, really have done a terrible job evaluating players. (You can’t even say McDaniels did a terrible job developing them, because he gave up on them before they had any real chance to develop!)
Here’s a look at the 2009 second round. Notice the kind of talent the Browns and Broncos could have had if they were smarter with their selections. In particular, check out picks 48-60, and how nearly every other team who drafted there found someone who has been at least a solid contributor. (Fili Moala and Sherrod Martin are the worst players not drafted by the Browns or Broncos of that bunch, and they each started 39 and 36 games, respectively– and the Colts still resigned Moala. Massaquoi never had more than 36 receptions in a season and is always injured; Veikune and McBath didn’t even stick on their teams’ rosters for 36 games and have one start, total, between them.)
I think we’re in agreement on #2. And I agree that Belichick has done a very good job at this, even as he has not necessarily drafted well (he also had two second-rounders in 2009, and Ron Brace and Darius Butler have not been contributors to the team– Butler was gone after two seasons and Brace barely saw the field in four years). He was one of the first to understand that, under the old CBA at least, the best value in the draft was typically between picks 25-40, and generally tried to hoard picks there, or trade down from 25 to 35 or so whenever the opportunity arose. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first draft where the new rookie scale was in place in advance is the first one where Belichick actually traded up in the first round– twice, no less.
And I agree that trading future high picks for lower current picks is usually a losing strategy. It’s generally only attempted by GMs desperate to win now and save their jobs, which is what makes it all the more baffling that McDaniels did it in his first offseason. (On another note, this is pure speculation, but I think his ego shone forth in the 2010 draft: McDaniels wanted to be remembered more as “The guy who traded up to take Demaryius Thomas over Dez Bryant, defying all the experts, but making it work in the end,” than just simply to get good value in the draft. He probably thought of Tim Tebow in a similar manner– “I’ll be the guy who turns Tim Tebow into a viable NFL quarterback!” Just my opinion.) The 49ers picking up Joe Staley at #28 overall in 2007 for a fourth-rounder and a 2008 first-rounder is the only example I can remember recently that worked, and that really isn’t an expensive price to pay at all. Picks will hit and miss, but if you target a player that intensely, you damn well better be right about him.
(And yes, I was dumbfounded by the Mark Ingram trade then, and The Iron Ginger’s draft punishment has only compounded that mistake.)
One last note: You might enjoy this Bill Barnwell column where he writes about Ozzie Newsome’s draft success. I was blown away to note that the Ravens are one of the only teams who actually use their own scouts to evaluate players rather than BLESTO or National Football Scouting. How can you know how a player will fit your team or what your coaches want if you don’t actually have your own people checking him out?
Not sure I agree on your take on “60/100” vs “10/100” guys. Some guys are inherently boom/bust. Demaryius Thomas, who you mention, is a great example – an insanely gifted athlete playing in a 80+% running system so his receiving skills were extremely raw. He looks like he’s going to be a star, but if he had failed, he likely would have been a total bust. And Dez Bryant, for completely different reasons, was also a boom/bust guy. Depending on your situation, it might make sense to go for a boom/bust guy, or you might need a high floor type. But I think you will find spectacular failures in every GM’s resume. Newsome has as good a track record as anybody, but he’s still got Kyle Boller and Sergio Kindle. I think the best GMs build strong-enough teams so their failures don’t drag the team down, and they move on from their mistakes quickly.
Denver / McDaniels actually had a really good 2010 draft – in addition to Thomas (success) and Tebow (failure), he picked up Eric Decker and two starting OL – Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton. You’re right that the 2009 draft was atrocious, with McDaniels making just about every mistake possible.
Great article on Ozzie. But I think you’re misinterpreting the role of BLESTO/NFS. The fact that other times subscribe doesn’t mean they don’t have scouting departments (I’m sure every team has scouting departments). Rather, the Ravens specifically DON’T subscribe because they want their scouting to be totally independent. It certainly works for them.