ESPN panel picks NFL executive of the year

Shrewd moves by John Schneider (Seattle), left, and John Elway (Denver) produced playoff teams. USA TODAY Sports

The Colts have legitimate candidates for two of the big awards handed out by the Associated Press: Chuck Pagano/Bruce Arians for coach of the year and Andrew Luck for offensive rookie of the year.

AP doesn’t name an executive of the year. The Sporting News does, and that’s regarded as the primary award in that category. The Colts have a strong candidate there, too, in general manager Ryan Grigson.

Indianapolis is having a wonderful and surprising season. But there are other teams doing good things, too.

At the end of the year, my view tends to broaden.

During the regular season, I focused primarily on the AFC South, of course. But now two teams will see their seasons end. I don’t have an AP vote, but I still feel compelled to present the cases for guys in my division who should be considered. I’ve written about Pagano/Arians and about Luck.

Now it’s time to ponder Grigson.

In all, 37 of the Colts’ 53 players were not on the team he inherited. Drafting Luck wasn’t a tough move. But he hit home runs, too, with third-rounders Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton, a tight end and receiver, respectively. Fifth-round running back Vick Ballard is a solid contributor. Grigson found inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman in Canada. As he jettisoned numerous veterans to reboot the franchise, he re-signed Reggie Wayne, who’s been fantastic, and Robert Mathis, who’s going to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl. He got production out of reclamation project Donnie Avery, a receiver who was an absolute zero a year ago for division rival Tennessee.

It’s a very good résumé.

I surveyed the other seven NFL bloggers at ESPN as well as Bill Polian, Trent Dilfer, Eric Mangini, Jon Gruden, Mike Tirico, Herm Edwards, Trey Wingo, Suzy Kolber, Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, John Clayton, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Barnwell, Matt Williamson and Mike Reiss.

Mangini, Wingo, Paolantonio and Schefter were big backers of Grigson.

“He totally overhauled that team in the most difficult of circumstances,” Wingo said. “Cut the right players, kept the right players. And look at all the rookies with major contributions.”

"Thirty-seven new players, a rookie QB and interim head coach," Mangini said. "I would go with Grigson."

But Grigson finishes a distant third in our poll, with Seattle’s John Schneider edging Denver’s John Elway for the award.

Schneider had a great draft. His first-round pick was widely panned, but Bruce Irvin has eight sacks. Second-rounder Bobby Wagner is a legit candidate for defensive rookie of the year as the every-down middle linebacker for the top defense. Third-rounder Russell Wilson has been a revelation and could upset Luck and Robert Griffin III for offensive rookie of the year. The rest of the draft is filled with contributors.

Schneider has made unconventional and even unpopular moves throughout his three-year tenure.

“He has repeatedly made fools of draft-day critics, however, and that is happening in a big way this year,” NFC West blogger Mike Sando wrote in his division wrap-up.

Elway found a graceful way to part with the immensely popular Tim Tebow while luring Peyton Manning to Denver.

Wrote Clayton recently: “Elway made the single biggest acquisition of the year. The fact that it has worked means he deserves the award.”

No offense to Clayton, but that’s way too simple a formula for me.

Says AFC West blogger Bill Williamson: “Elway, in his second season in his role, has been more than just a beneficiary of Manning’s decision. Nearly every move Elway has made has worked. In two years, Elway has taken the No. 32 defense and added the pieces to make it the No. 3 defense. This team was a mess when the Duke took over. Now, it may be weeks away from Elway’s sixth Super Bowl appearance in Denver.”

I’d put Elway third. Schneider and Grigson each did a lot more from my vantage point.

I’ve had a close view of the Colts' transformation from a 2-14 disaster to a 10-5 team heading to the playoffs.

As I broadened that view, however, I leaned on something Sando said as we discussed this: Take away the obvious moves, the moves your mom would know to make -- signing Manning, drafting Luck -- and find out who’s the choice.

I voted Schneider, and so did seven others, enough for him to edge Elway.

The total in straight name-your-guy balloting:

  • Schneider: 8

  • Elway: 7

  • Grigson: 4

  • Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta: 2

  • Trent Baalke, San Francisco: 1

  • Bruce Allen, Washingon: 1

It’s been a great deal of fun the last couple days rounding up votes. As I came to my deadline, I felt like an election official waiting on results to come in from the final precincts.

Since we’re AFC South HQ, I’ll leave Wingo with the final word. I told him he was part of non-winning support for Grigson, who was behind Elway and Schneider.

“I get both of those, truly I do,” Wingo said. “But can anyone honestly say they did more with less? Elway was really about one move, a pivotal move for sure, but how hard is it to go after arguably the greatest regular-season QB the league has ever seen?

“Grigson had to be the guy to get rid of him, replace him with the right choice, and gut the roster. His decisions to me by far are the most significant.”