Years of shoddy hiring practices justify NFL's imperfect effort to clean up its own mess

The Falcons' decision to hire Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris means that the Rams will get a pair of third-round compensatory draft picks.

That reality became a talking point in league circles last Friday, after Rams G.M. Les Snead heaped over-the-top praise on Morris. On the surface, it was selfless. At a deeper level, Snead's promotion of Morris came with a potential reward.

It's a direct byproduct of the league’s four-year-old rule that activates whenever one NFL team hires a minority candidate from another team to be the head coach or General Manager. When this happens, the candidate's former team receives a pair of third-round compensatory draft picks.

The cynicism for some flows from the value of extra draft picks. When it comes to potential punishment of teams, it's generally accepted that the best way to change behavior is to threaten to remove draft picks. Giving teams extra draft picks therefore become a very obvious incentive to do whatever is needed to get those extra picks.

Setting aside for now the question of whether the current legal climate, as set by the U.S. Supreme Court, will eventually invalidate such measures and the question of whether the rule should apply to minority candidates like Morris, who has previously been a head coach, the broader point is that, for decades, the league utilized grossly substandard hiring practices. In the aftermath of the filing of the Brian Flores lawsuit on February 1, 2022, NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent flat-out admitted it.

When someone has created a mess and has allowed the mess to linger for decades, it's hard to fault the efforts to commence cleaning it up — even if those efforts have some flaws. Even if some teams are focused only on doing whatever they have to do to get two extra third-round draft picks, if the end result is progress in an area where progress has been woefully lacking for nearly as long as the league has existed, so be it.

Decades of obvious, systemic bias sparked this effort by the league to get recalcitrant owners to change their ways. It's difficult to object to any measures aimed at persuading the older-to-elderly white men who have run the league to be more open and inclusive, and less predetermined, in their searches.

At some point, after the ranks of coaches and General Managers more closely reflect the demographics of the league's players, it will be time to remove the incentive. (It's possible that, before then, the Supreme Court will issue a decision that forces the NFL to change the rule.) Regardless, systemic bias festered for decades when it came to giving coaching and/or G.M. jobs to minority candidates.

Change was long overdue. A perfect solution remains elusive. For now, an imperfect approach that is producing real results should not be rejected simply because some teams think other teams are just trying to get extra draft picks.