Curran: Patriots’ odd GM search may set off ‘alarm bells’ around NFL

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Did the New England Patriots deftly exploit an NFL rules loophole, or unnecessarily open themselves up to skepticism at best and punishment at worst?

After parting ways with head coach/de facto general manager Bill Belichick in January, the Patriots navigated free agency and the NFL Draft without an official GM. Director of scouting Eliot Wolf served as the front office leader in practice but not in title, meaning New England could avoid conducting an official GM search in January and February while letting Wolf run the show.

NFL rules required the Patriots to conduct an official search at some point, however, at the very least to comply with the Rooney Rule, which states that teams must interview at least two minority candidates for head coach, general manager, and executive openings. So, New England is conducting that “search” now despite the open secret that Wolf is widely expected to be named lead football executive.

As you might expect, several potential candidates have turned down offers to interview for a job that already appears taken. And as our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran pointed out Thursday on Boston Sports Tonight, the Patriots’ handling of this whole situation is likely to raise eyebrows across the NFL.

🔊 Patriots Talk: Have the Patriots run afoul of the league with GM search? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

“That’s going to set off alarm bells around the league, I think,” Curran said, “with every other organization who’s looking at this and going, ‘They don’t have to do it the way we all do it? They don’t have to jump through the same hoops because they don’t feel like it? … That doesn’t make sense.'”

It appears the Patriots technically have complied with the Rooney Rule after reportedly interviewing Philadelphia Eagles director of scouting Brandon Hunt and former Carolina Panthers director of player negotiations and salary cap manager Samir Suleiman. But Curran didn’t rule out the NFL potentially punishing New England if it believes the team went through the process in bad faith.

“They could certainly do that,” Curran said. “I mean, I would have to understand what (the Patriots’) defense is. It’s still ambiguous as to what exactly they’re trying to accomplish.”

Perhaps the Patriots were confident enough in Wolf to hand him the front-office reins right away, rather than conduct an official GM search in January while also interviewing head coach candidates for the job that ultimately went to Jerod Mayo. But that decision seems short-sighted now, especially if it brings unwanted attention (or worse, discipline) on the franchise.

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