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NFL Power Structures: Who really runs a team?

We've heard over the past few weeks how confusing the power structure in Miami is, with three people all reporting directly to owner Stephen Ross. But, is it really that strange a situation? We look at the rest of the NFL to get an idea.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins seem to be setting up for a power structure in which Head Coach Joe Philbin, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Dawn Aponte, and whomever the team hires as General Manager all have an equal voice with owner Stephen Ross.  This triumvirate of power has confused people, leading to speculation that GM candidates are avoiding the team because the structure is too confusing.

To get an idea of how unique a situation the Dolphins are trying to establish, we look at the power structures in place around the NFL.  Thanks to's Albert Breer and a series of articles from June 2013, we can get a look at each team's situation.

(If you click on the respective divisions names, you can read each of Breer's articles, which lays out the team in more details, as well as gives an outside look from another NFL executive on the power structure of each team.)

AFC East:

  • Buffalo Bills - Head Coach Doug Marrone reports to GM Doug Whaley, who controls the roster and personnel moves.  Marrone then answers to President/CEO Russ Brandon, who controls the day-to-day operations of the team and then answers to owner Ralph Wilson.
  • New England Patriots - Bill Belichick runs everything.  Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio (a candidate for the Dolphins' GM position), President Jonathan Kraft, and owner Robert Kraft all meet with Belichick as a four man council for major decisions, but Belichick has final say on everything football related.
  • New York Jets - GM John Idzik came in last year and quickly took control of the team.  Head Coach Rex Ryan lost some of his power over the roster with the change to Idzik.  Ryan and Idzik report to owner Woody Johnson, who stays out of football operations and comes to the team facilities about once a week during the season.

AFC North:

  • Baltimore Ravens - GM Ozzie Newsome is the power broker in Baltimore.  Head coach John Harbaugh falls under him, as does just about everyone else on the football side of the house.
  • Cincinnati Bengals - Owner Mike Brown is also the team's GM and has full control over the personnel on the roster.  Head Coach Marvin Lewis and Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin have plenty of input into everything football related, but Brown is firmly in control.
  • Cleveland Browns - CEO Joe Banner has full control of the team, working with GM Michael Lombardi, Head Coach Mike Pettine, and Assistant GM Ray Farmer all in concert.  Pettine and Lombardi report to Banner, who reports to owner Jimmy Haslam.  Haslam is not a day-to-day owner, allowing the football operations people to run the team.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers - The Rooney family has the power in Pittsburgh, but the stability within the front office and coaching staff is what defines the Steelers.  GM Kevin Colbert, Head Coach Mike Tomlin, and Director of Football and Business Administration Omar Kahn answer to team President Art Rooney II

AFC South:

  • Houston Texans - A year of change this season with the hire of Bill O'Brien as head coach after eight seasons of Gary Kubiak at the helm.  Executive Vice President of Football operations and GM Rick Smith has complete control of the roster and reports to Chief Operating Officer Cal McNair.  O'Brien will likely also report to Cal McNair, who runs the day-to-day operations of the team as his father, owner Robert McNair, focuses on outside businesses.
  • Indianapolis Colts- GM Ryan Grigson controls the 53-man roster, with Head Coach Chuck Pagano providing plenty of input.  Owner Jim Irsay is in the building every day, and has experience of being an GM in the past, and is a part of all major decisions, but typically tries to remain hands off unless he is needed.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars - GM David Caldwell has full roster and personnel control, with Gus Bradley working as a partner.  Owner Shahid Kahn's son Tony runs an analytical staff that assists in draft preparation.  Everyone answers directly to the elder Kahn.
  • Tennessee Titans - GM Ruston Webster has full roster control, while Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt and his assistant coaches will have input into the personnel decisions.  Vin Marino serves as the Vice President of Football Administration and is the primary contract negotiator and salary cap manager.  Everyone reports to the group of President Tommy Smith, and Co-Charipersons Susie Adams Smith and Amy Adams Hunt.

AFC West:

  • Denver Broncos - President Joe Ellis runs the majority of the team's day-to-day operations for owner Pat Bolen, while Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway has complete control of the football operations and roster control.  Head Coach John Fox answers to Elway.
  • Kansas City Chiefs - This past season was the first time the Head Coach was equal to the GM in the reporting structure, with Andy Reid and John Dorsey both answering directly to Chairman and CER Clark Hunt.  Dorsey controls the 53-man roster, Reid controls the on-the-field football, and President Mark Donovan runs the business side of the team.
  • Oakland Raiders - After the death of Al Davis, his son Mark completely changed the team's power structure, giving full personnel and football operations control to GM Reggie McKenzie.  McKenize has all of the power, including hiring and firing coaches and final say on all football operations decisions.  Head coach Dennis Allen reports to McKenzie.  Mark Davis is away from the team most of the time, but stays in contact with McKenzie, occasionally stepping into the hands-on role of his father, but trying to allow his GM to do his job.
  • San Diego Chargers - GM Tom Telesco has full roster control, while he and Head Coach Mike McCoy both answer to President/Chairman Dean Spanos. John Spanos serves as the team's Executive Vice President of Football Operations, with Ed McGuire the Executive Vice President of Football Administration, both of whom also answer to Dean Spanos.  A.G. Spanos runs the business side of the team, with both Dean and A.G. answer to their father, owner Alex Spanos.

NFC East:

  • Dallas Cowboys - Owner/GM Jerry Jones runs everything and makes all decisions on both the football and administrative side of the franchise, with Head Coach Jason Garrett and Chief Operating Officer Stephen Jones reporting to him
  • New York Giants - GM Jerry Reese controls all of the 53-man roster and draft decisions, while Head Coach Tom Coughlin decides the game day roster; both report directly to owner John Mara
  • Philadelphia Eagles - GM Howie Roseman and Head Coach Chip Kelly reported directly to owner Jeffrey Lurie at best guess; Philadelphia is very secretive of their structure
  • Washington Redskins - Mike Shanahan was the primary power broker last year, with him and GM Bruce Allen reporting directly to owner Daniel Snyder, who is a hands on owner; best guess as team transitions to Jay Gruden is Allen will gain power and serve as the primary leader on the football side of the team

NFC North:

  • Chicago Bears - Head Coach Marc Tresman answers to GM Phil Emery who answers to President and CEO Ted Phillips who answers to Virginia Halas McCaskey; Emery has full control of the roster and personnel matters
  • Detroit Lions - Jim Caldwell is setting up his staff as the new head coach with Martin Mayhew working as the GM; how they report to President Tom Lewand and owner William Clay Ford has not been identified
  • Green Bay Packers - Head Coach Mike McCarthy reports to GM Ted Thompson who reports to President and CEO Mark Murphy
  • Minnesota Vikings - Mike Zimmer was just hired this month as the team's new head coach.  Assuming the team stays with their same structure as last year, Zimmer will report to GM Rick Spielman who reports to owners Zygi and Mark Wilf

NFC South:

  • Atlanta Falcons - GM Thomas Dimitroff controls all of the 53-man roster and draft decisions, while Head Coach Mike Smith decides the game day roster; Smith reports to Dimitroff who reports to owner Arthur Blank
  • Carolina Panthers - Head Coach Ron Rivera reports to GM Dave Gettleman who reports to owner Jerry Richardson; Richardson does not operate the team day-to-day, instead communicates about once a week with Gettleman
  • New Orleans Saints - GM Mickey Loomis has final say over the roster, though works with coach Sean Payton on most decisions; Payton reports to Loomis who reports to Rita Benson LeBlanc who is Vice Chairman and part owner.  Tom Benson is involved, but not to the degree at which he used to be.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Buccaneers replaced both their GM and Head Coach this offseason, giving full roster decision power to head coach Lovie Smith then hiring Jason Licht to be their GM.  How exactly they report to the owning Glazer family is not clear yet.

NFC West:

  • Arizona Cardinals - Head Coach Bruce Arians answers to GM Steve Keim who reports to Michael Bidwell, the team President and runs the team day-to-day for his father, owner Bill Bidwell.
  • San Francisco 49ers - Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke report to owner Jed York.  Baalke retains control of the 53-man roster, while Harbaugh makes the game day roster moves.  Chief Operating Officer Paraag Marathe controls the team's salary cap and negotiating, receiving input from Baalke, but reporting to York.
  • Seattle Seahawks - Head Coach Pete Carroll has roster control, but GM John Schneider controls the draft and free agency.  Both answer to owner Peter McLoughlin as the team's President with owner Paul Allen out of the day-to-day operations of the team.
  • St. Louis Rams - Head Coach Jeff Fisher, GM Les Snear, and Executive Vice President of Football Operations/CEO Kevin Demoff all answer to owner Stan Kroenke directly, with Fisher running the team during the season and Snead having control during the offseason.  Demoff runs the team's salary cap and contracts.

Every team in the NFL has a little different power structure, and several teams have owners who are not with the team day-to-day, similar to the oft-described  "absentee ownership" of Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross.  Miami's three-tier leadership level looks similar to the setup currently being used by the San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tennessee Titans, with the GM, Head Coach, and Vice President/Salary Cap Manager all reporting to either the owner, or his designated representative.

Will this work?  Who knows.  But, it doesn't appear to be as unique as people seem to think.  Of course, this could all change, and exactly how a team is run is not always clear.  But, Breer gave us a decent look at the other teams in the league, and we will see how the situation in Miami evolves with the hire of a new GM.