The San Francisco-Green Bay NFC playoff game on Saturday night could have some added meaning in Kansas City.
Two of the leading candidates for the Chiefs general manager’s job will be involved in that game. And whichever candidate’s team loses could be available to talk with chairman Clark Hunt about the vacancy.
John Dorsey is the Packers’ director of football operations and has been part of Green Bay’s front office for 21 of the last 22 years.
Tom Gamble is in his eighth season in San Francisco and was promoted from director of pro personnel to director of player personnel last February after the 49ers reached the NFC championship game.
A third candidate is former Cleveland general manager Tom Heckert, who was dismissed by new ownership earlier this season but spent nine seasons working with new Chiefs coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia, including 2006-09 as Eagles general manager.
All three have been with organizations that have built winning teams through the draft while supplementing the rosters with productive free agents.
Here’s a look at three candidates, though there certainly may be others:
Dorsey, 52, has worked under some of the game’s top general managers, including Ron Wolf, who built the Packers’ 1996 and 1997 Super Bowl teams, and current general manager Ted Thompson.
Despite picking low in the draft in recent years, the Packers have come up with first-round picks such as MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker Clay Matthews and nose tackle B.J. Raji, who have been key members of a Super Bowl championship team and back-to-back NFC North championships.
And their second-round picks have included productive players in wide receivers Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson of K-State and Randall Cobb.
“The structure of the organization, in terms of drafting philosophy and how they put together a staff is very professional,” said former Chiefs quarterback Rich Gannon, who broadcasts the Packers’ preseason games. “They’re very selective when it comes to free agency. They’re not going to go out and throw a lot of money they’re going to scour the draft and do a good job, not just on day one, but day two, they’re very good, and even when that wraps up, they’ve had a lot of success with college free agency. If you study them, they do a good job developing players on the practice squad.”
Indeed, the Packers unleashed running back running back DuJuan Harris from the practice squad on Dec. 1, and he carried 34 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the regular-season finale at Minnesota and scored the first touchdown in Green Bay’s first-round playoff win against the Vikings last week.
Dorsey, who also played linebacker for the Packers during 1984-88, is expected to be a candidate for the vacant New York Jets general manager job, but the Chiefs could have one advantage. Dorsey’s wife, Patricia A. Sexton-Dorsey, is an attorney with the Kansas City-based law firm Polsinelli-Shughart, although she works out of their De Pere, Wis., home. She has her bachelor’s degree from Kansas and law degree from Washburn University in Topeka.
Heckert, 45, was hired as Cleveland’s general manager in 2010 after a successful run both in Philadelphia and for 10 years in Miami’s personnel department. Before Heckert arrived in Cleveland, he had experienced just one losing season in 19 years as an NFL executive.
But he never got the chance to see through a rebuilding job in Cleveland, though he upgraded the talent level by stockpiling players by trading down in the first round of the 2011 and 2012 drafts, netting two first-round picks and two second-round picks in 2011 and three first-round picks in 2012.
Once owner Randy Lerner sold the team to Jimmy Haslem at midseason and Mike Holmgren resigned as president, Heckert was let go, and coach Pat Shurmur was fired at the end of the season after just two seasons.
“Heckert turned the roster over and took an old , slow team and made it young and talented,” said former Browns Pro Bowl offensive tackle Doug Dieken, now the club’s radio analyst. “You couldn’t draft experience, and that’s something the team lacked. He did a great job. As far as the upside of the players, there’s a good nucleus of people he put on this roster.
“The other part of the equation people don’t understand is he was kind of handcuffed in regards to free agency. Randy Lerner was trying to sell the team, and he was taking some hits in England with his soccer team, and he was only able to go for some of the lower-end free agents as opposed to really getting your feet wet.”
Heckert could be joined in Kansas City by Shurmur, who spent 10 seasons with the Eagles, where he was Donovan McNabb’s quarterbacks coach from 2002-08; or former Philadelphia and Cleveland offensive coordinator Brad Childress. Both are candidates for the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator position.
“Pat got a bad deal,” Dieken said of the last two years in Cleveland. “The first year, he gets a lockout, and this year, he gets a new owner, and in the meantime, the CBA makes it so you can only practice so many days in training camp, and with a young team, that kind of hurts you.
“If they had gotten one more year, the two of them, I think they would have had something going.”
Gamble, 47, also could be a candidate with the Jets. He has an extensive resume, which includes work in both college and football personnel, contract negotiations and the coaching ranks. He grew up in a football family as his father, Harry, was a head coach at Penn and Lafayette College, worked on Dick Vermeil’s Eagles staff in the late 1970s and eventually became general manager of the club.
Tom Gamble has worked in the scouting and personnel departments of 12 playoff teams — five with Indianapolis, five with Philadelphia and the last two in San Francisco. Working with general manager Trent Baalke, Gamble oversees both the college and professional personnel departments of the 49ers.
This season, nine 49ers were voted to the Pro Bowl, and seven were draft picks, including first-round picks Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley. It doesn’t include quarterback Colin Kapernick, a second-round pick in 2011 who seized the starting job from Alex Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick.