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Armando Salguero: NFL To Vote On Rule Change That, Unsurprisingly, May Come With Unintended Consequences

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NFL owners at the league’s winter meeting in Dallas are scheduled to vote on Wednesday whether to allow teams to do interviews for head coaches and general managers during the last two weeks of the regular season.

The league currently prohibits such interviews until after the regular season ends, but if the change passes — and one owner who spoke with OutKick recently said he thinks it will — there will be tangible reactions to the league’s action.

That’s almost always the case in a competitive environment because everyone is trying to gain an edge.

Except sometimes that leads to unintended consequences.

And here is a possible consequence:

If owners pass this measure, it will almost surely mean more coaches and general managers will be fired before season’s end than in the past.

The reason for that is teams that want to take advantage of the early interview window would likely not want to begin that process while they still have the current coach or general manager on the job.

Interviewing a new guy while the current guy is still working in the building, you see, is simply not a good look. Such an undertaking makes for a lot of drama the final two weeks of the season and a coaching or general manager change is uncomfortable enough without the added spectacle.

So some teams could go into the final two weeks of the season with interim head coaches while others go with an interim GM or no GM at all.

Not a big deal, you say?

Maybe not in most cases.

But more in-season firings, particularly the final two weeks of the season, could have unintended consequences on the league’s competitive balance.

Here’s how:

Two teams are vying for a division title. Both are playing losing teams in Week 17.

But in one of those games, the losing team has fired its head coach and is moving forward with interviews, while the other game doesn’t come with such a scenario.

Playing against an interim coach with a coaching staff that understands they’re likely gone in two weeks is an advantage. Playing against a roster that is practicing and playing amid a whirlwind of transition is an advantage.

All together, it would be an advantage for anyone playing that team.

A real life example could come in Week 17 this year when the New England Patriots play the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills play the Atlanta Falcons.

Both the Patriots and Bills are battling to win the AFC East. They play each other Dec. 26 as part of that battle.

But the following week would give the Patriots a significant advantage if owners give themselves the ability to interview new coaches the final two weeks of the season because Jacksonville owner Shad Khan might take advantage of the opportunity.

If Khan fires Urban Meyer to begin interviewing replacements, the Patriots would be playing a team with an interim coach and a roster that knows major changes are looming.

The Bills, meanwhile, would be playing a team trying to finish the season strong.

So the new rule affecting competitive balance has a real-life scenario.

Khan, by the way, met with Jacksonville area reporters this week and, given the chance to endorse Meyer beyond this season, never did that. He did not commit to bringing Meyer back.

So after much drama in Jacksonville this season surrounding Meyer and his decisions and people skills, the Patriots could find themselves playing a Jaguars team in Week 17 already setting up interviews for another new head coach.

And, yes, both the Bills and Patriots would be playing bad teams. But only one of those bad teams would already be in transition and upheaval.

There are obviously other head coaches and general managers on the hot seat as this season moves into its final month.

The coaches whose futures are uncertain include Matt Nagy in Chicago, Mike Zimmer in Minnesota, Vic Fangio in Denver, Matt Rhule in Carolina and possibly David Culley in Houston.

Giants coach Joe Judge would ordinarily be among that group, but the Giants are historically a very stable franchise (yes, with some exceptions) and Judge said this week the reason he took the job is because he understood he would be given the long-term security needed to turn the team around.

“I’ve said this from the beginning, I’m not interested in coming and having some kind of quick flash,” Judge said. “I’m not interested in shortcuts. I’m not interested in quick fixes. I want to do this the right way and when I took this job, I made it very, very clear that I was only going to do this if we were all committed to doing this the right way and that’s been something that’s been very clear from ownership on down.”

Sounds like Judge expects to be coaching the Giants the final two weeks of this season and beyond — even if owners pass the new interview window rule.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

3 Comments

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  1. Meh. If a team is going to fire its coach in right now or 2 weeks from now, I don’t see much of an advantage to their opponent. Its really no different than a team who has already locked up homefield, or a division, or a playoff spot who can’t move up or down sitting players in Week 17, thus guaranteeing a win for their opponent, who may then take a spot from another team in the playoffs.

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