• The Rooney Rule is back in the spotlight after the Browns’ GM hire, the Cowboys owner will be as well when the league meets on his home turf this week, and sexual harassment accusations rock NFL Network. Those and other storylines to watch during NFL Week 15
By Conor Orr
December 12, 2017

Each NFL week is a steeplechase—a long slog filled with different barriers and traps that consume us in unexpected ways. That’s why we’re here to break down the days ahead, looking at the stories that will affect the NFL community at large. Here is what will inevitably dominate your favorite NFL sites, podcasts and talk radio stations at large, and what we know about it:

1. The Browns’ hiring of general manager John Dorsey: Pro Football Talk was on this story initially, wondering how the team could have possibly complied with the Rooney Rule when reports of Sashi Browns’ firing first surfaced around 10:20 a.m. on Dec. 7 and Dorsey was installed later that same day. NFL.com reported that former Bills general manager Doug Whaley was interviewed by the club, which would technically satisfy the requirement.

However, a conference call with NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart on Monday seemed to raise more questions than answers. A snippet below:

JL: There is nothing in the rule that talks about having to publicly discuss or disclose who has been talked to. Just a little dose of common sense can tell you why. If there are people applying for jobs that already have other jobs, you don’t necessarily want that broadcast. In this particular case, the Rooney Rule was properly applied. That’s all we’ve got on that.

You’re saying it is possible that compliance of the Rooney Rule could constitute someone being interviewed while someone else is holding the position?

JL: No, I didn’t. I said that if there’s someone on team A who is interviewing for a position for team B, that person won’t want to have team B broadcasting it to the world that the interviews are going on. That is not part of the process. The question is if there was compliance here with the rule, and we believe that the answer is yes.

On when the interview that complied with the Rooney Rule took place:

JL: I am not going to comment on that. I am only going to comment on the broader question of whether or not the rule was complied with. Any other questions should be put to the club.

On the league saying that the Browns complied with the Rooney Rule simply because a minority candidate was interviewed, and you’re not saying compliance happened relative to the timeline of when the actual candidate was interviewed:

JL: I’m not going to comment on the timeline; you can talk to club about that. On whether we believe that there was compliance, the answer remains yes.

Can a substantive interview happen the same day that that the previous person is fired and the replacement is hired?

JL: Answering that question would get me in the timeline, and I’m just not going to do it.

Why does the NFL have the Rooney Rule?

JL: This is a rule that is being modeled far and wide beyond the NFL, including a recent approach by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and coming to their office to talk about applying the rule throughout Congress. It comes from the Rooney family and the NFL’s large commitment to making sure that real opportunities are provided for minorities. I think it is one of the most successful initiatives that the league has undertaken in its history. That is why the rule is being modeled far beyond sports and into the business community.

At the least, the question of whether the Browns embodied the spirit of the rule is in doubt. It makes me think back to what Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said about his 2016 round of interviews (he had four in total). After the fact, Austin told reporters that he deemed only a portion of these interviews “legitimate.” The rule was installed to prevent the sort of hire that Cleveland made last week—or at least the speed at which it was made. Hiring season forces owners across the board to become more aggressive when history shows that pragmatism often yields the most success.

2. Jerry Jones takes center stage: Although, when did he really leave it? The NFL will have league meetings in on Jerry’s home turf, Dallas, this week at the beautiful Four Seasons, and the compensation committee will talk about the incentive-laden deal they just locked in with commissioner Roger Goodell. The one Jones reportedly made one more last-ditch effort to derail, according to ESPN.

Jones was not in typical form this past Sunday. After the Cowboys beat the rival Giants to remain in the playoff hunt, a horde of cameras waiting for Jones’s gloating were left disappointed. An owner who talks after nearly every game did not. Maybe he’s saving some choice words for this week?

3. What can we do about a smarter enforcement of concussion protocol? The Texans’ quarterback made it back out onto the field after what looked to be a minor seizure. A few weeks before that, Russell Wilson simply decided he didn’t want to get checked out. There was always going to be a tug of war between NFL policymakers who want to ensure that players are safe and the tough-guy nature of the NFL. But now it’s become part of the broadcast story and narrative.

This week Lockhart said that we could see something “announced in the next day or so” based on an investigation into the Wilson incident. As for Savage, a joint investigation looping in the NFL Players’ Association is underway.

4. Calls for the Eagles to sign Colin Kaepernick… following the Eagles’ confirmation that Carson Wentz is out for the season will dominate the elementary format debate shows because it’s easy content. Those who feel he should be in the league will argue that he’s much better than 2016 sixth-round pick Nate Sudfeld, now Nick Foles’ backup. Those who think he has no place in the league will have another opportunity to spin their wheels and rev their engines. Let’s all scream at each other on the internet without listening. Let’s do it again tomorrow!

5. The NFL Network sexual harassment accusations. Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, former Patriots and Saints fullback Heath Evans and longtime Steeler Ike Taylor were among those suspended by NFL Network after claims of sexual harassment from Jodi Cantor, a stylist for the company. But the lawsuit goes deeper: Big NFL names not currently employed by the network such as Donovan McNabb, Warren Sapp and Eric Davis were also mentioned. It was only a matter of time before this movement, which has swept its way through Hollywood, politics and the television news business, began to dig into the sports world. Cantor’s accusations are vivid and specific, certainly casting an unfavorable light on the sometimes clandestine world of sports television. Deadspin has the text of the document here . While it’s unfair and inappropriate to predict further fallout in this case, Cantor may have opened the door to some significant revelations down the road.


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