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NFL changes its hiring policies, but what does this mean for the Patriots?

Related: NFL expands ‘Rooney Rule’, could introduce incentives for hiring minority coaches

New England Patriots v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

As was reported earlier this week, the NFL is looking to improve job opportunities for people of color. The league has already started by amending the so-called “Rooney Rule” which now requires clubs to “interview at least two external minority candidates for head coach openings and one minority candidate for any coordinator job” as part of their hiring process. Further measures to enhance diversity were announced by the NFL on Tuesday.

As part of its virtual league meetings, the league’s 32 owners voted to adapt the anti-tampering rules and hiring policies. The official release announcing the changes describes them as follows:

The resolution changes the current Anti-Tampering Policy by establishing a system that prohibits a club from denying 1) an assistant coach the opportunity to interview with a new team for a bona fide Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, or Special Teams Coordinator position; (2) a non-high-level/non-secondary football executive from interviewing for a bona fide Assistant General Manager position. In either case, a contract could not be negotiated or signed until after the conclusion of the employer club’s playing season; and 3) requires all clubs submit in writing an organizational reporting structure for the coaching staff with job descriptions for any coach who is a coordinator or co-coordinator within that structure.

The most important changes from the previous hiring system are the first two points mentioned: teams are now no longer allowed to block assistant coaches and lower-level executives from being interviewed for what the league classified as “bona fide” job openings such as coordinator or assistant GM positions. The adopted resolutions could have a major impact on how vacant positions will be filled moving forward, considering that the number of candidates could increase substantially.

“The development of young coaches and young executives is a key to our future,” said Pittsburgh Steelers owner and chairman of the NFL’s Workplace Diversity Committee Art Rooney II. “These steps will assure coaching and football personnel are afforded a fair and equitable opportunity to advance throughout our football operations. We also have taken important steps to ensure that our front offices, which represent our clubs in so many different ways, come to reflect the true diversity of our fans and our country.”

From the New England Patriots’ perspective the resolution means that the team could, in theory, no longer block its lower-level staff members from interviewing for jobs elsewhere.

Two names in particular stand out among them: Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo, who jointly led the defense in 2019 after the team did not officially name a coordinator for the second straight season. Given that there are no indications that the team will implement any changes to this system in 2020, both young coaches would have the opportunity to interview elsewhere next year with the Patriots now unable to block them from speaking to other teams unless their titles or standings within the organization change.

Other up-and-coming assistant coaches who could at least be given the chance to interview for open coordinator spots elsewhere include outside linebackers coach DeMarcus Covington and offensive line assistants Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo.

The same rules that would allow them to interview without any obstacles now also extend to the team’s football operations. Higher-ranking officials from this department could now also take interviews with the team unable to block them, depending on their job descriptions and roles within the Patriots’ organizational structure. Director of pro personnel Dave Ziegler, college scouting coordinator Brian Smith, and national scouts Matt Groh and Brian Yeargan are all names to watch in this regard.