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How Jets GM Joe Douglas should replicate the Ravens: Developing front office talent

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame-Grand Parade Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Since the hiring of Joe Douglas, we have discussed some of the areas the new Jets general manager can copy successful techniques from his former employer, the Philadelphia Eagles.

You can read the first installment of the series here. You can read the second here. You can read the third here.

The Eagles are not Douglas’ only former employer, however. He spent his first fifteen years in the NFL working for the Baltimore Ravens, one of the league’s most successful franchises of the last two decades. Today we will look at something Douglas might want to take from his first stop in the league.

One cannot overemphasize the importance of developing homegrown talent in the NFL. In today’s league it is impossible to build a winner without doing so.

The NFL is built to prevent the good teams from keeping all of their players. The top teams can afford to keep a core of stars together. Because of the salary cap, valuable role players become too expensive to retain.

It isn’t a bad sign that other teams want your players. But they do need to be replaced once they depart. What better way to replace those players than with a cheap young player you have recently drafted and trained for your system?

Front offices aren’t entirely different. Those that function best are efficient teams with multiple people filling valuable roles. Eventually if your front office gains respect in the league, other teams will start poaching your talent for higher level jobs. Scouts will become directors of scouting and personnel. Higher level executives might land general manager jobs.

Again this is not a terrible thing. When another team wants your people, it is a sign those people are good.

When it happens, though, quality replacements must be found.

Perhaps no team has done a better job developing front office talent over the last two decades than the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have developed an innovative program to train young scouts.

When scouts have left, the Ravens have relied on internal promotions to fill their voids. Baltimore’s personnel department has been built by scouts who were once part of the team’s 20-20 club, which is a nickname originally given to scouts who started working for the team in their early 20s making about $20,000.

Bill Barnwell offered a detailed explanation of the 20-20 club for the great Grantland site back in 2013.

The Baltimore front office is full of people who graduated through what Newsome calls the 20-20 Club, the entry level in the Baltimore personnel department that pays twentysomethings little more than $20,000 per year. The guys who made it through the 20-20 Club, as Battista notes, have grown from being lowly interns designated to drive players to and from the airport into valuable personnel executives and scouts. One generation of scouts teaches the next, and by the time they grow up, they know exactly what the Ravens look for from a player in any given position. The Ravens also don’t subscribe to either of the independent scouting services (BLESTO and National Football Scouting) that the vast majority of the league’s teams use, so there’s no influence from outside sources who don’t take Baltimore’s specific schematic concerns and player-evaluation credos into account.

I put the end of that passage in bold for a reason. The scouting services provide preliminary reports on prospects to subscribing teams. Teams get the same information.

It can be a time-saver, but there is a clear problem. Teams run different systems. What the Jets value in a cornerback might be different from what the Bears value in a cornerback. Yet subscribing teams get the same information.

By doing all of their work internally, the Ravens evaluate players based on what they value from the outset.

The mode of operation is a microcosm of the 20-20 club’s ultimate purpose. Let’s say a scouting director leaves for a better job with another team. Wouldn’t the ideal candidate to replace him be somebody who has been immersed in your team’s culture for his entire scouting career and internalized the traits your team values?

The Ravens have consistently replenished their front office from within with positive results.

Douglas himself is an alum of the 20-20 club. While he does not need to create a program that is a carbon copy, developing a plan to nurture a pipeline of young front office talent should be at the top of his to do list.