Experts agree: Quinn, Wolf should top Lions list

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Ironically, a curious NFL trend could play into the Lions favor as team leaders hunt for their next general manager and personnel head.

It has to do with the national landscape. And with a pro football marketplace experts regard as being uncommonly thin in blue-chip candidates for a job that most directly affects a NFL club’s fortunes.

The very fact the pool appears small but still holds potentially bright GMs could become a Lions edge, experts argue.

Two possible remedies for a nearly 60-year championship drought in Detroit are among scouts and front-office contenders the Lions could interview in the coming weeks or, perhaps months, following Thursday’s firings of president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew.

Bob Quinn, 39, the Patriots director of pro scouting, is considered a future GM whose skills at grading talent is part of New England’s regular seat among the NFL elite.

Likewise, Eliot Wolf, 33, director of player personnel for the Packers is another bright light whose eye for players and whose lifelong exposure to Green Bay’s culture makes him all but certain at some stage to snag a GM’s job and perhaps begin building a brand of roster in the Packers’ image.

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Several former NFL general managers praised Wolf, son of retired Packers championship architect Ron Wolf, whose Super Bowl teams were built around Brett Favre then stretched into the Aaron Rodgers era, all because of an organization’s long-term skill at designing balanced, mostly home-grown rosters.

Those same GMs requested anonymity because of sensitivity to clubs and colleagues with whom they still work.

But another NFL personnel standout, Gil Brandt, who helped construct a yesteryear Cowboys dynasty, and who regularly is consulted by NFL and college teams, said Friday the Lions would be smart to hand their franchise keys to Quinn.

“I think he’s Secretariat,” said Brandt, an analyst for who who compared Quinn with the Triple Crown thoroughbred winner from 1973.

“There’s nobody close to this guy as far as knowledge and ability to evaluate. He understands analytics, he understands the salary cap, and this guy, to me, is a superior evaluator of people and players.”

Quinn has been with the Patriots in a stream of scouting posts since 2000. He has undergrad and graduate degrees from Connecticut.

Wolf, likewise, has dazzled because of personnel wits that remind people of his dad. What Wolf and Quinn bring, say the GMs who were interviewed along with Brandt, is familiarity with the “ways” a successful franchise operates. It is methodology as well as philosophy, they say, that becomes a difference-maker in personnel assessment.

When she announced Thursday the exits of Lewand and Mayhew, Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford made clear Detroit would dig deeply into the national market to find a personnel general with insight and the skills to build consistent playoff-grade teams.

The absence of such mastery, or in some cases even base competence, has been blamed for decades of struggles and frustrations fairly unique to the Lions and alien to teams such as the Packers and Patriots.

Why there appears to be such a dearth of Grade A talent competing for a GM’s job in the supposedly dreamy NFL is in one sense mystifying but is no surprise to the GMs interviewed and to Brandt.

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“It’s a hard job, it’s so multi-faceted,” Brandt said. “What we did 20 years ago was one percent of what we do now in a NFL front office. What we did 10 years ago is 15 percent of what we do today.”

One of the former GMs who chose not to be identified agreed with Brandt. The problem, he said, is NFL personnel jobs have become specialized, virtually from the point of entry.

It was common in earlier decades for front-office types to have worked in college and in pro scouting, they say, to have had input on contracts, to have worked on matters with the league office. There was resume diversity.

This is separate from a new era that arrived in 1994: the NFL salary cap. It is not that the cap is overwhelmingly difficult to process, said one of the NFL GMs, but that too few scouts with front-office credentials are being sufficiently exposed to it early enough in their careers.

Departments have gotten larger within NFL franchises. Responsibility for the salary cap and its intricacies often are designated, as is the case with so many football disciplines, to select people or carriers.

That can make skills integration difficult, if not all but non-existent, within many NFL organizations.

The best remedy there, said all the men interviewed, is to look at people who have been exposed continually to ongoing success and methods. In other words, at men who have been crafted throughout their careers by winning regimes and by the machinations that have made Super Bowls an occasional, if not regular, stop for teams such as the Packers and Patriots.

There are few concerns about the Lions, said the former GMs, even with their dark history.

It is because the Lions long have been renowned for resources: facilities, budgets, not to mention a fan base with 80-year NFL roots that is starved for any semblance of a title contender.

Any anxiety on the part of candidates, the GMs said, would center on ownership. Is there a line of succession established beyond Martha Firestone Ford? Will the franchise remain in family hands? Will it be sold? Who will be in charge?

Those questions, of course, figure to be answered once a formal interview process begins. The Lions at that time will be seeking their own answers, with their primary question shared by Detroit’s football community:

What person can turn a strife-weary franchise into a respected team and winner?

On the radar

A look at possible candidates for the Lions general manager opening:

Bob Quinn

Director of pro scouting, Patriots

Age: 39

Background: Joined the Patriots in 2000 as a player personnel assistant and moved up as a scout on all levels until he was named pro scouting director in 2012. Considered about as comprehensive of a talent evaluator as any staffer in the NFL. Massachusetts native and Connecticut graduate (bachelor’s and masters degrees). Married, with a son and daughter.

Eliot Wolf

Director of player personnel, Packers

Age: 33

Background: Son of the venerated and retired Packers GM Ron Wolf, whose personnel wizardry beginning 20 years ago re-established Green Bay as an annual championship contender. Eliot, at age 10, joined his father in the Packers film room and began an apprenticeship that showed a son’s skills were not dissimilar from his father’s. Has had a rapid ascent as a scout and personnel director. A graduate of the Miami. Married, no children.