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NFL insider notes: Rule to delay coaching hires wouldn’t fix real problem, plus more cap casualties coming

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The rule change to NFL hires the Buffalo Bills are proposing is great in spirit and was surely introduced with the best of intentions, but there’s little chance it becomes the law of the NFL land this offseason.

That’s what I’ve gathered after talking to sources around the league. I’ll get into the host of reasons why it likely wouldn’t pass, but first a refresher.

On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported the Bills have submitted a rules change proposal that would prohibit front office and head coach interviews from taking place before the conference championship games. The hires couldn’t take place until after the Super Bowl. CBSSports.com can confirm that report.

It’s a change that has been advocated by folks like Sean Payton for years. Club personnel and media have pushed for it over the years, too. The thought goes that a coach or personnel executive shouldn’t be penalized because his or her team is playing well and competing for a championship in January.

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And it makes sense for the Bills to make this proposal. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll appeared to be the odds-on favorite to land the Chargers gig before L.A. hired Brandon Staley while the Bills went to the AFC title game. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was in the final two for the Texans‘ gig before Houston went with David Culley. And the impressive front-office staff that GM Brandon Beane has assembled – including Joe Schoen, Brian Gaine, Lake Dawson and Dan Morgan – got zero GM jobs and few GM interviews.

In theory, their guys would have had better opportunities to interview with a more level playing field and they could have had full focus on the 2020 postseason.

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The overall argument is definitely not without merit. Would Robert Saleh have landed a job last year if the 49ers didn’t go to the Super Bowl? Perhaps. Did Eric Bieniemy not get a job because he’s gone to consecutive Super Bowls? By now we know that’s not the case.

In the past few years teams have been willing to wait on Matt Patricia, Brian Flores, Josh McDaniels and Frank Reich. And it’s hard to imagine that if the Saints had beaten the Buccaneers in the divisional round that Detroit wouldn’t have hired Dan Campbell, whom it had identified early as its favorite. Or Atlanta wouldn’t have tabbed Terry Fontenot as its guy for GM.

This rule proposal is regularly summoned after another disappointing hiring cycle for minority candidates. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case here with the specific Bills proposal, but in any case I’ve never subscribed to that logic. In fact I almost see it as unintentional cover for team owners who refuse to open their minds to the value of diversity in their head coach or GM ranks.

If owners don’t value diversity now, making them wait a month to hire key positions won’t change their minds. It may even force them to stay within their circles rather than broadening their search.

Once and if team owners identify their guy, there aren’t many rules that are going to stand in their way. They are still going to hire search firms upon firing their coach/GM. Worse, they’re still going to surreptitiously conduct searches behind the lame-duck coach/GM’s back.

But more than anything, why this is unlikely to pass is because it would strip some teams (about a quarter of the league each season fires its head coach and/or GM) of the ability to get started on next season immediately after the previous failed season.

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From a pure timeline perspective, you could make a good argument that it would hurt a team coming off a failed season. Especially with a 17-game season looming and the Super Bowl being pushed back a week, which may well happen beginning with the 2021 season.

Say a team fires its head coach or GM midseason during a miserable 2021 year. It limps to 4-12 with interims. It has a top 5 pick in the 2022 draft locked up by New Years. But it can’t interview anyone for that post until the end of January at the earliest and can’t make a hire until Valentine’s Day. The combine would still be at the end of February and free agency would still begin in mid-March.

That’s a hard turnaround for a team that was already in tough shape. It would just solidify its position behind the 8 ball.

Because more than half the NFL misses the playoffs each year, and because this proposal would take away whatever “advantage” there is by not playing in January, I don’t see it passing. Even though it is meant with the best of intentions.

Cap casualties

  • As we’ve been reporting for 10 months, this upcoming week will be a massacre. The NFL’s middle class is going to get squeezed in a big way, and there will be surprising cuts that we will eventually grow numb to most thanks to sheer volume of them. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has been encouraging agents to collude (which is not prohibited under the CBA) with one another to figure out the best market and get the best deals for their clients. Though I appreciate the thought, it does produce a chuckle thinking these agents will suddenly band together for two weeks. Smith said he’s “bullish” on the salary cap getting back to normal in 2022 and beyond. If that’s the case, teams and players have to make a decision about their respective futures. You can take your chances on this season by signing a one-year deal and getting back into the market next year. Or you can ink a deal that may pay less in 2021 but offers enough protection after this season where it’d be difficult for the team to cut you as you cash in.
  • I think the Chiefs are going to be players in the first wave of free agency. I know it seems unlikely today since they’re nearly $20 million over the cap, but GM Brett Veach won’t have much problem restructuring deals to get them below the cap and with a little money to play with. If, as mentioned above, it turns out to be a buyer’s market, watch for the Chiefs to continue to be aggressive.
  • The Saints are making hay with their restructures. They freed up money from defensive tackle David Onyemata and kicker Wil Lutz earlier in the week. I’d expect an extension for right tackle Ryan Ramczyk soon, too. He’s due $11 million thanks to his fifth-year option, and the Saints want to get that number down while securing their 26-year-old tackle for the remainder of his 20s.
  • Congrats to Thomas Davis on his retirement. On March 11 he’ll sign a one-day contract to retire as a Panther. As a former beat writer covering the team, I can say Thomas was one of the best guys to deal with on a daily basis that I’ve been around in my career. Best of luck to Thomas, Kelly and the entire Davis family in their next chapter, and I look forward to seeing Thomas joining us lowly media folks soon enough.
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