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Bengals shouldn’t worry about violating a widely-ignored rule

The Cincinnati Bengals are reportedly worried about violating a rules violation and they shouldn’t be.

NFL: International Series-NFL UK Live Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This is one of those postings that may only interest me — AKA, I’m thinking about something and I answer it via a Chop Block post. There’s very little insight, story structure, or analysis here; just answering random musings from the couch during a stormy Cincinnati afternoon. There might not even be a conclusion; I’ll just stop when I’m finished.

According to reports from league insiders, the Cincinnati Bengals clearly favor Los Angeles Rams quarterback Zac Taylor as their next head coach. Those same reports suggest Cincinnati will offer Taylor a deal once the Rams postseason concludes, and that Taylor will accept due to his “strong feelings about the city.”

So, it’s a done deal, but it’s technically not a deal at all.

This would violate a league rule.

And the Bengals are worried.

As our own John Sheeran wrote earlier this week, citing Pro Football Talk, Cincinnati is worried that the league will open an investigation into this violation. PFT writes:

Per a league source, the Bengals currently are “terrified” that the league will investigate whether they violated the constantly-violated rules regarding the making of offers to head-coaching candidates before offers can be made.

The thinking is that other candidates were informed that Taylor is the choice, and that Taylor has informed colleagues that he is the choice. If that’s true, the line may have been crossed, and the electronic paper trial would easily prove it.

It should be noted that no one else has substantiated or confirmed Pro Football Talk’s report. In addition, there are no reports (at this point) that the league is looking into any violation by the Bengals.

The “league source” referenced in the report is a bit questionable. It should be noted “league source” is an extraordinarily bland phrase and could reference anyone involved with the league in any capacity (coaches, executives, league officials, water boy, disgruntled quarterbacks).

Front office leaks in Cincinnati are rare (and when they happen, we’re fairly certain it’s on purpose to control the narrative). People working under the family are typically loyal and the circle of folks taking part in the head coaching search would be small to begin with. Say what you will about their football acumen, but ownership has genuine human beings who care about their people and community (just struggle on the whole football front sometimes). That earns loyalty.

If the league source is someone from the coaching staff, you have to question credibility. Most of the coaching staff is departing and those remaining seem like an unlikely source to instigate a report drawing attention to a possible rules violation. However, coaches leaking information isn’t unheard of, especially over the years in Cincinnati. It’s possible.

That leaves one possibility.

Carson Palmer.

Just kidding.

It’s doubtful anything comes from this report, even if the Bengals called candidates to inform them that they’ve decided on their guy. The NFL ignores many of their own rules, from tampering to the Rooney Rule (see, Raiders, Oakland). We’re not sure what purpose the NFL would have in making an example out of the Bengals.

In addition, the league has been flirting with the idea of abandoning this rule entirely. From 2017:

Rebuilding NFL franchises in search of a new head coach will still have to wait until a rising assistant’s team has bowed out of the postseason before contacting him. A proposed rule change was tabled at the NFL Spring League Meeting that would have allowed needy clubs to negotiate with coaches whose teams are still alive in the playoffs rather than forcing them to wait until their season ends — and potentially missing out on other hires.

The NFL considered it again in 2018:

NFL Competition Committee Chair Rich McKay said he’d like to see assistant coaches allowed to sign their contracts to become head coaches with new teams, and then turn their attention back to their current teams in the playoffs, rather than being constantly distracted by questions about their new teams.

“Every year it’s become harder as the media pays more focus to those coaches and who may be going where,” McKay said. “For too many years we’ve tried to hold that line on you can’t sign a contract but you can have an understanding. We just felt like we need to get over that hurdle and say you can sign a contract. It doesn’t mean you can work, but you can sign the contract.”

The most popular candidates are typically coordinators on teams that go deep into the playoffs. Why would the league enforce a rule punishing a team — who fired a head coach because they’re not good to begin with — trying to ink an active candidate currently in the playoffs? Granted... a coordinator on a playoff team doesn’t necessarily translate to head coaching success (look at the coaches fired over the last few years and recall how popular they were prior to being hired). But it shouldn’t be a roadblock either.

Since the league has turned a blind eye to the rule, with various discussions to abandon it, we’re not seeing the league taking a role in punishing Cincinnati.