A few days ago, the Atlanta Falcons added two former general managers to their front office. Thomas Dimitroff has managed to keep his job in part thanks to ceding power to Scott Pioli, Dan Quinn, and bringing in a few experienced personnel evaluators to hopefully push back when someone wants to take Dezmen Southward in the third round.
With Ruston Webster and Phil Emery brought in as national scouts, we wondered how each performed as general manager. Obviously, with both fired (or allowed to finish out their contract in Webster's situation), expectations are not particularly high. Webster has been scouting in the pros since 1988, and held some positions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the early 2000s, and the Seattle Seahawks in the mid- to late 2000s.
Webster spent four seasons as the general manager for the Tennessee Titans, so we will take a look at his success in the draft and in free agency.
I am not sure how much "success" Webster had, but he has a lot of guys with an "incomplete" or a "not bad" grade. Webster's first 1st round selection was WR Kendall Wright, a potentially great slot receiver. However, Tennessee rarely had enough talent outside to best utilize Wright. He had 715 and 1,079 yards in his second and third season, respectively, but finished 2015 with only 104 targets for 626 yards. Wright's overall performance is a disappointment, but he has played well enough to contribute. He easily outperformed the next wide receivers taken in the draft: A.J. Jenkins, Brian Quick, and Stephen Hill. (Taken two spots after Hill: Alshon Jeffrey)
How did 2013 turn out? The Titans got a decent center in Brian Schwenke in the 4th round. The rest is a disaster.
2014 1st round pick Taylor Lewan has quickly become the Titans' best offensive lineman. Webster found mid-round gem DT DaQuan Jones, and picked up perennial preseason standout (and regular season scrub) Zach Mettenberger.
If Ken Whisenhunt was a better coach, he probably would have gotten Webster more time as general manager after selecting Marcus Mariota. WR Dorial Green-Beckham had perhaps the highest ceiling out of the entire 2015 draft, and he had a decent rookie campaign, finishing with 549 receiving yards and 17.2 (!) yards per catch. Still inconsistent, he had two monster games near the end of the season: 119 yards against Jacksonville, and 113 yards against the Patriots.
I hope you are sitting down.
LB Zach Brown has yet to put it all together, and the 2012 2nd round pick is still only a part-time player after four years. Same goes for 2012 3rd round pick Mike Martin. Coty Sensebaugh has received starter snaps, but has received negative scores from PFF nearly every year of his career. The rest of the 2012 class is off of the team.
2013 was a disaster. Alabama guard Chance Warmack was considered one of the best guards to come along in a decade. The plan was to pair him and big free agent Andy Levitre together, and run the ball with Shonn Greene. That never happened, in part to Warmack being a bust. Guard is typically not a premium position, and if a team takes one high in the first round, you better be 100% convinced that guy will be a Pro Bowler early in his career. Warmack is not even earning his starting job. He is making Peter Konz look like a success story.
WR Justin Hunter is perpetually expected to take that next step. His measurables are enticing. 6-foot-4, 4.36 40, and was third in receiving in his last season in the SEC. The Titans traded a 3rd round pick to move up for Hunter, and so far, have not received much from the investment. Despite different offensive coordinators and quarterbacks, Hunter has never been consistently impressive.
Webster used his two 3rd round picks on Blidi Wreh-Wilson, still on the team but playing poorly on limited snaps, and Zaviar Gooden, cut from the team and not signed elsewhere. He found a decent center in Brian Schwenke in the 4th round, but otherwise found no impact in the rest of the draft.
2014 was no different. 2nd round pick Bishop Sankey was a mediocre college back, 4th round pick Marqueston Huff has failed to earn any snaps, and 5th round ILB Avery Williamson has earned bad marks from PFF.
It is really too early to grade a draft class after only one season, but the back end of the 2015 looks bad.
Free Agency Success
Webster did well be signing Michael Griffin and Jason McCourty to contract extensions. He was involved in some potential big free agency moves, and was reportedly targeting Peyton Manning and Mario Williams when both were free agents. Rumors at the time were that the owner wanted to land Manning, while the front office wanted Williams. However, they were unable to afford both, and had to wait until Manning ultimately picked Denver before moving to other, significantly worse options (below).
His crown jewel from the 2013 free agency class was TE Delanie Walker, who moved from backup in San Francisco to very good starter in Tennessee. Even seasons later, Walker is a great pass catcher and competent blocker.
His most active free agency was, of course, 2015. The results were not bad. He retained Derrick Morgan, who sadly had a down year after receiving probably a little too much money. Brian Orakpo had a decent year, but if he remains healthy, would end up as a relative bargain.
Free Agency Failures
Webster started his first free agency by giving an ancient Steve Hutchinson a three-year deal, and Kamerion Wimbley a $35 million deal. Woof. He was not always a major spender in free agency, likely struggling to land any big names with a bad team and bad coaching.
Webster was also responsible for Andy Levitre's 6 year, $47 million contract. Levitre was one of the best guards in the league in 2013 (and in Buffalo), but fell off due to injuries and a new scheme in 2014. He was traded to Atlanta after only two seasons, where he played OK. Webster was active in 2014, signing the likes of Moise Fokou (ugh), Bernard Pollard (ughhh), and Shonn Greene (ughhhhhhh).
After hiring Ken Whisenhunt as the new head coach, the team signed a number of very bad players: Dexter McCluster, Marc Mariani, Leon Washington, and Michael Oher.
The Final Results
This is how you win 18 games in four seasons. The Titans needed a massive influx of talent, but struggled to put together a competent and balanced plan. Webster managed to churn the roster, but did not do much to change the overall level of talent. 2015 has a chance to be a great draft for Webster, but it was too little, too late to keep his job.
The big problems? Trying to wait on Jake Locker to stay healthy and develop until he ultimately retired. The worst free agency was when the Titans had to pass on top players while waiting for Peyton Manning to sign with a different team. Webster was forced to play catch up with some mediocre players.
Webster seemed to have a good handle on what players he should retain from his roster, but had stunningly little success in the draft. He appeared to improve in his later few drafts, but it is still too early to really know how those players will shake out. Perhaps the poor roster caused more desperate spending in free agency, but outside of Wimbley, there were no major blunders. Just lots of smaller bad decisions that failed to pay off.
What can Webster bring to Atlanta as a national scout? He is clearly an experienced evaluator, and had most of his success drafting along the trenches. He was not afraid of taking wide receivers that needed development, but otherwise failed to add any impact players to the roster. To be fair, his four years were similar to Thomas Dimitroff's: a couple of very bad years, and a couple of years with some potential upside. Perhaps he can help balance out big personalities in the war room, and continue to improve over his ugly early general manager career. Other than that, there is not much to take away from Webster's poor track record in Tennessee.