It took over a week, but the clear-cut most qualified candidate in the Miami Dolphins‘ search for a new GM has emerged. After speaking to mostly potential up-and-comers for the vacancy during the first batch of interviews, the Dolphins scheduled a sit down with Detroit Lions senior personnel executive Brian Xanders on Tuesday.
Unlike the rest of Miami’s hopefuls, Xanders has prior experience as a GM. While he didn’t have full control during his tenure with the Denver Broncos when he served as assistant GM in 2008 and GM in 2009-2012, his hands-on experience distinguishes Xanders above the rest.
Experience alone doesn’t elevate Xanders to the status of most-qualified, however. If the Broncos would have been equipped with subpar talent during his stay, his competence would be in question. Instead, they’re in the AFC Championship Game. Peyton Manning is the biggest reason for Denver’s rise to prominence, but the moves Xanders facilitated if not made have given the future Hall of Fame quarterback a talented roster to work with.
It’s not certain who had the biggest input on many of the personnel decisions that were made while Xanders held the title of GM in Denver. Former head coach Josh McDaniels had the final say on roster moves from 2009-2010 while current Vice President of Football Operations John Elway seized that prerogative in 2011. So, it’s difficult to credit or blame Xanders for any one decision.
Still, while in Denver, the Broncos nabbed players like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Von Miller, Julius Thomas, Orlando Franklin, Zane Beadles, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan and Rahim Moore in the draft. It’s safe to say that the Broncos drafted quite well on Xanders’ watch, which is something Dolphins fans are undoubtedly envious of after witnessing former GM Jeff Ireland whiff on numerous prospects.
Although it’s impossible to know which selections Xanders advocated the most for, he was likely in compliance with the picks made. And if he wasn’t, he at least observed how a successful draft was conducted.
I hold the theory that Xanders, with 14 years of experience working in the Atlanta Falcons‘ personnel department, had the biggest say in most of the Broncos’ selections. McDaniels, big ego and all, likely trusted Xanders when he endorsed a prospect, and Elway was rumored to be getting on-the-job training from Xanders before the two “mutually” parted ways in 2012.
Devil’s advocates and those who just aren’t fond of the potential hire point to quarterback Tim Tebow, who the Broncos selected with the No. 25 overall selection of the 2010 draft, as a reason why Xanders isn’t the right man for the job opening in Miami. While I believe Xanders’ fingerprints can be seen on many of Denver’s picks, I don’t think he was Tebow’s biggest supporter. That title undoubtedly belongs to McDaniels, who, as a former quarterbacks coach, coveted the chance to work with and develop Tebow and all the intangibles that came with him.
It was impressive that Xanders was able to help facilitate the building of a playoff team in spite of Tebow starting at quarterback. Contrary to what ESPN may tell you, Denver captured the AFC West title in 2011 and won a playoff game thanks to its defense, offensive line and running game, not solely because of Tebow’s “miraculous” fourth-quarter play.
Yes, the Broncos were willing to part ways with Xanders in 2012. Some suspect that decision was the culmination of Elway being ready to take over the front office without tutelage and Xanders’ eagerness to eventually assume a role in which he had full control, though.
Don’t underestimate Xanders’ impact during his first two offseasons in Detroit, either, where many credit him for the rebuilding of the team’s offensive line. After being sacked 36 times in 2011, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was only brought down 29 times in 2012 and 23 times in 2013, and the club’s 17th ranked running game this past season was its highest finish since Barry Sanders‘ final year in 1998.
More than anything else, the Dolphins need someone to step in and immediately equip them with an influx of young talent during May’s draft. No other candidate has the resume Xanders does when it comes to identifying talented rookie prospects. Xanders should be the Dolphins’ next GM, assuming he wants to be. At this point, nobody would be surprised if he doesn’t, but if he does, owner Stephen Ross should make him an offer — preferably one he can’t refuse.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him Twitter @CodyJStrahm.