As the Broncos interview candidates for their open general manager position, we're connecting with reporters across the country who have covered the candidates in their current job. Our aim is to provide a closer look at the prospective candidates and the skill set each may bring to Denver.
We continue by talking to Mike Reiss of ESPN about Dave Ziegler, the Patriots' assistant director of player personnel.
Aric DiLalla: The national understanding is that Bill Belichick makes the final roster decisions in New England, but what role does Ziegler play in the operation?
Mike Reiss: "Ziegler is the assistant director of player personnel, which means he has his hand in both pro and college scouting. He had previously been director of pro personnel, which would usually mean the work is specific to just the NFL, although Ziegler was still involved in other areas, as I understand it. So the title of assistant director of player personnel – which was new this past season – sort of better reflects his wide-ranging responsibilities. Ziegler has not been on the front lines from a media perspective here in New England, but the folks I talk with regard him very highly – from his presentation to internal staff, to his command of a room, conviction, and knowledge of personnel."
AD: Are there any specific signings and/or picks that you know he had a hand in?
MR: "Because Bill Belichick is the final decision-maker, it's hard to identify one move and say, 'This was all Dave Ziegler.' That's just not the way the Patriots work. But for those behind the scenes, a picture has been painted to me that Ziegler is always well prepared on a daily basis, and when a need arises, he puts the organization in the best spot to fill it decisively. One recent example along those lines came when there was a run of injuries at defensive tackle this season, and the team needed to find someone who fit their system, and they signed Carl Davis off the Jaguars' practice squad. Davis helped the Patriots before concussions ended his season. It's that type of work – knowing which players across the NFL best fit the Patriots' system – that Ziegler has seemed to carry out well in his role."
AD: From what you know, what are some of Ziegler's characteristics that would make him a strong candidate?
MR: "Decisiveness. He isn't afraid to have a strong opinion on a player – for better or worse – which can be refreshing in a business where protecting one's own reputation by staying on the fence is often the easier road to take. I believe that's one reason Ziegler is respected within the Patriots' offices, and in position to succeed Nick Caserio in the director of player personnel role should he stay with the franchise."
AD: What are some of the foundational aspects of New England's front-office philosophy that you think could be brought to Denver if Ziegler is the new GM?
MR: "System fit is the main thing that comes to mind. How one player fits with what Vic Fangio wants to do might be completely different from how that player fits for Bill Belichick, which in turn, helps provide what value to place on that player. So I would imagine the first thing Ziegler would do is embed himself with Fangio, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and special teams coordinator Tom McMahon and find out what they are looking for from players at each position. 'What is important for an outside linebacker in your system? Do you want bigger, powerful offensive linemen, or is it more smaller quicker ones? What is your philosophy in the kicking game in terms of devoting roster spots to that third phase of the game?' Stuff like that. And then once he's equipped with that information, he and his staff can blanket the country, and the NFL, and find the best fits for the Denver Broncos. That linkage between coaching and personnel, and how system fit drives decisions, is what stands out to me."
AD: I believe this is Ziegler's first time going through the GM interview circuit. Why do you believe his name gained traction this year?
MR: "That's a good question and one I'm probably not qualified to answer. I think the whole process of when people get interviews, and why they get interviews, is probably a bit flawed across the league. Vic Fangio is one example of that. What took him so long to get his first interview for a head coaching position this late in his career? It wasn't like he all of a sudden became a good coach in his late-50s. He was always a good coach. Sometimes aligning oneself with a powerful agent behind the scenes can open doors, but I'm not sure if that dynamic is necessarily in play with Ziegler in this case."
AD: Ziegler has been rumored as a potential internal replacement for Nick Caserio. What do you think the chances are that he ends up staying in New England?
MR: "I'd just be spit-balling, but if Denver doesn't offer Ziegler the general manager job, a return to New England in an increased role would seem to be an obvious landing spot for him. Any decision he makes on relocation would affect more than just him, as he and his wife, Carissa, have two sons (Asher, Camden) and a daughter (Georgina)."