The Cleveland Browns hired Andrew Berry as general manager in 2020. Berry joined Chris Grier of the Miami Dolphins that year, doubling the NFL’s number of Black general managers to two.
The following year, three Black general managers joined teams: Atlanta Falcons’ Terry Fontenot, Detroit Lions’ Brad Holmes, and Washington Commanders’ Martin Mayhew. The Chicago Bears hired Ryan Poles in 2022, and the Minnesota Vikings hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, bringing the league’s total number of Black general managers to seven.
The NFL has never had more than seven quarterbacks. The Arizona Cardinals hired Monti Ossenfort, a former director of player personnel with the Tennessee Titans, as their new general manager on Monday.
The NFL has an opportunity to break new ground with the Titans’ search for a new roster architect. And, according to several high-ranking league officials, there are many top-tier candidates in the pipeline for the positions.
“The pipeline is extremely strong,” wrote Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, in a text message to Andscape.
“As hiring season approaches each year, continuous daily efforts are made to intentionally identify and develop general manager talent. The emphasis now is on ensuring that these extraordinary individuals are treated fairly and given an equal opportunity to lead a franchise.”
Vincent and Rod Graves of the Fritz Pollard Alliance share this goal.
Graves monitors job openings at the franchise level as the executive director of the independent organization that advises NFL leaders on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring. He is pleased that the league has recently made significant progress in the hiring of general managers and team presidents.
“The gains we’ve seen… have been gratifying,” Graves, a former NFL general manager and senior vice president in the commissioner’s office, texted Andscape. “Each of the executives has an impressive track record. They had been in the works for a long time.
“There are other executives and coaches of color who deserve an opportunity to lead in their respective areas. The league’s emphasis on fair, open, and competitive processes has resulted in an increase in the number of [general managers and team presidents]. If we are to see long-term progress, that emphasis must remain strong and universally applied in all areas of leadership.”
The number of Black NFL team presidents increased from one to five in 2022, with Kevin Warren of the Bears becoming the latest member of the exclusive club last week. Sandra Douglass Morgan of the Las Vegas Raiders, the league’s first Black female team president, is among the newcomers.
Despite these advancements, the NFL currently has only two Black head coaches: Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Remember, the NFL has 32 teams, and players who identify as Black or African American make up 57.5% of NFL rosters. This figure has risen as high as 70%.
Still, league leaders can point to recent gains, which is a welcome change.
“We feel really good about the progression with the role of [team] president,” NFL senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer Jonathan Beane recently told Andscape. “We are very pleased with the progression of the role of general manager.”
Andscape has identified six potential GM candidates who are ready to run a shop based on more than 15 interviews with league and club officials: Malik Boyd of the Buffalo Bills, Brandon Brown of the New York Giants, Ran Carthon of the San Francisco 49ers, Ian Cunningham of the Chicago Bears, Champ Kelly of the Las Vegas Raiders, and Adrian Wilson of the Cardinals.
Ran Carthon, director of player personnel for the San Francisco 49ers, before a game against the Minnesota Vikings on November 28, 2021, in Santa Clara, Calif.
Associated Press photographer Jed Jacobsohn
Let’s begin with Boyd.
Since 2017, Boyd, 52, has served as the Bills’ senior director of pro personnel. Boyd has played a key role in helping to build one of the league’s strongest rosters. The Bills made the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year this season. During that time, Buffalo has won three straight AFC East championships.
Boyd began his career as a scout for the Cardinals and steadily rose through the ranks of the organization’s football operations. Boyd played defensive back for the Minnesota Vikings for two seasons in the mid-1990s.
Brown of the Giants did not play in the NFL, but he is a rising executive.
Brown, the Giants’ assistant general manager, is the club’s top lieutenant despite his young age. Brown helped the Giants reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season during his first season in New York.
Brown, who has a law degree, spent five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles before joining the Giants. Brown oversaw the Eagles’ pro scouting department as director of player personnel.
Carthon, 41, currently works as the 49ers’ director of player personnel. Carthon began his second NFL career as a pro scout with the Atlanta Falcons after briefly playing in the league as a running back.
Carthon eventually left Atlanta while also rising through the ranks, becoming the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams’ director of pro personnel. He joined San Francisco as its director of pro personnel in 2017.
Carthon was raised in the league. Maurice Carthon, Ran’s father, had an eight-year NFL career as a running back with the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts. The elder Carthon also coached for a number of teams in the league.
Ian Cunningham, assistant general manager of the Chicago Bears.
The Associated Press (AP)
Cunningham, 36, has advanced quickly up the corporate ladder.
Cunningham, a protégé of Ozzie Newsome, the NFL’s first Black general manager, has just finished his first season with the Bears. Cunningham spent five years with the Philadelphia Eagles before joining Chicago to become the Poles’ top adviser. He learned to evaluate players by analyzing game tape with Newsome. He was Philadelphia’s director of player personnel in his final year there.
Kelly, 43, recently completed his first season with the Raiders. He is the team’s assistant general manager and works closely with Las Vegas general manager Dave Ziegler.
Kelly previously served as the Bears’ assistant director of player personnel. He was also the team’s director of professional scouting. Kelly began his career as a scout for the Denver Broncos and rose through the ranks to become the Broncos’ director of pro personnel.
Wilson, 43, is one of the Cardinals’ top player-personnel executives, having spent his entire 12-year NFL career with the team. Wilson was a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection as a safety.
Wilson is currently Arizona’s vice president of pro scouting. Wilson joined the team’s scouting department after his playing career ended. He was also the Cardinals’ director of professional scouting.
The Titans have a lot of good options with so many talented Black executives to choose from. The question is whether they will choose one.
Jason Reid is Andscape’s senior NFL writer. He enjoys watching sports, particularly those involving his son and daughter.