There is no question strong arguments can be made for Ryan Grigson as the league’s top executive, Bruce Arians as the top coach and Andrew Luck as the top three. All will be prominent on those respective combinations.
But will any of them actually win?
Let’s examine the landscape.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR
Early in the season the momentum was behind Denver’s John Elway, based purely on his decision to open the vault for Peyton Manning. To be sure, it was a substantial risk, putting the franchise’s fortunes in the hands of a guy coming off multiple neck surgeries. Not only has Manning returned to MVP candidate form, the Broncos look like one of the best teams in the league, so the gamble paid off. But remember, this was a playoff team a year ago with Tim Tebow at quarterback, so it’s not like the cupboard was otherwise bare.
Seattle’s John Schneider is the current darling of the national media, based largely on Russell Wilson’s emergence as a Rookie of the Year candidate as a third-round pick. All of a sudden, Schneider’s draft looks a lot better and to be fair both Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner have played major roles on a very strong defense. But again, the Seahawks were 7-9 last year with Tavaris Jackson at quarterback, so it’s not dissimilar to the Denver situation: a team already was in place waiting for its quarterback.
That’s what should separate Grigson from the pack. Somehow, it’s working against him that Luck was a relative no-brainer with the top pick, as if anybody could’ve made that call. The meat of Grigson’s work goes well beyond that. Of the 53 players on the active roster, 40 were brought in by Grigson this year. The team was completely overhauled during the offseason, and Grigson and his staff had to continue to make changes throughout the year as eight projected starters wound up on injured reserve.
Eyebrows were raised at the trade for Vontae Davis because of the cost but that has worked out nicely. Davis looks very much like the physical, playmaking cornerback the Colts desperately needed and wouldn’t have gotten with the draft picks they surrendered.
This was a case of starting from ground zero, a scenario frankly worse than those faced by expansion teams. Grigson put together the right coaching staff, the right players and helped re-establish a winning culture. Without his work, the third-biggest turnaround in NFL history (from 2-14 to 11-5) could not have happened.
Truth be told, the only valid debate for this award is who should finish second, but I am anything but certain Grigson will win. The award is selected by The Sporting News, not The Associated Press, so is therefore a little tougher to project. Elway has superstar profile, Schneider the trendy niche, while Grigson is relatively new to the national media scene. His body of work is impeccable but I would be surprised if he won the award he so richly deserves.
COACH OF THE YEAR
I’m not going to waste many words on this category because Bruce Arians will win. The only question is whether the award will be shared with Chuck Pagano – which, in my opinion, it should. While Arians did a magnificent job not only holding things together but building them up in Pagano’s absence, it should not be forgotten whose philosophy he was supporting. Pagano laid the groundwork for all of this and even during his three-month absence while undergoing leukemia treatment he stayed in constant contact with players and coaches.
Among the other candidates, the one least mentioned but comparably deserving is Leslie Frazier of Minnesota, who took a 3-13 team to the playoffs, albeit with more than a little help from Adrian Peterson. Pete Carroll, Mike Shanahan, Mike Smith and John Fox are all on the list, but nowhere near Arians/Pagano.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
A few weeks ago I weighed in very strongly on the side of Luck and I still believe he would be a deserving winner. But while his productivity dipped late in the season, Wilson came on strong and Robert Griffin III’s Redskins became the hottest team in the league.
All three have cases that can be strongly supported by statistics. All three were not just number-producers but difference-makers. All three are in the playoffs.
Griffin had the early hype and therefore equivalency of the preseason No. 1 ranking. Frankly, he has done nothing to lose it. Wilson is like the mid-major Cinderella capturing the hearts and minds of the nation at tournament time.
And Luck? Well, he’s Duke. He’s really, really good and will be for a very long time but he’s not all that exciting a choice for the voters. It’s absurd, of course, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Luck finished third in the balloting.