Parity Rules The NFL In 2017

The decision of Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to remain in New England has given new attention to the potential adjustment of the rule that prevents teams from hiring as head coaches assistant coaches whose teams are still playing postseason games. Some think that, if the Colts had been allowed to formally offer the job to McDaniels before the Super Bowl, the Colts would have known much sooner that McDaniels wasn’t going to follow through on signing the deal.

The NFL tabled the proposed rule change twice in 2017, kicking the can while never providing an up-or-down answer to the question of whether assistant coaches can be hired before their current teams’ seasons have concluded. The NFL also never provided a clear explanation as to why no action was taken on the potential rule change.

The question for the looming league meeting in March or the subsequent ownership meeting in May becomes whether the rule change finally will be put to a vote. Although McDaniels’ incident of cold feet may be an isolated event, the situation has proven that teams can’t trust the wink-nod process that had previously delivered coach after coach to the teams that unofficially hired new coaches before they could be officially hired.

There previously was no need for a rule change because teams were discreetly hiring their next coaches without actually hiring them, and the deals weren’t falling through when it was time to finalize them. Now that McDaniels has exposed the weakness in the current approach, it arguably become more important for teams to be able to secure fully enforceable legal commitments (or not) weeks before the candidate otherwise puts pen to paper. Or doesn’t.

It’s the “doesn’t” that has created a mess for the Colts and, in turn, a problem for the league. If teams can’t rely on the word of assistant coaches who can’t officially be hired, teams need to be able to secure the kind of clear commitment that puts the issue to rest. Or doesn’t.

Regardless, the rule change will let teams know where they stand early enough to devise and implement a meaningful Plan B, if Plan A goes haywire.

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