Saints or Rams could snag draft picks from Falcons’ GM hire

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons owner Arthur Blank discusses the team after the 4-12 season and how it is ready to move on to the coach and general manager searches.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Under NFL rules adopted in November, the Saints and the Rams are in line to receive compensatory third-round draft picks if the Falcons hire Terry Fontenot or Brad Holmes as their general manager. The benefit to the Saints and Rams, picks awarded by the league and not coming from the Falcons, come as a result of developing minority candidates to become “primary football executives.”

If Fontenot or Holmes is hired, the Saints or Rams would receive two compensatory third-round selections, one in 2021 and one in 2022.

“Primary football executive” isn’t necessarily the same as general manager. For example, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has that role.

Fontenot is the Saints’ vice president/assistant general manager–pro personnel and Holmes is the Rams’ director of college scouting. Along with former Houston general manager Rick Smith, Fontenot and Holmes are finalists to fill the Falcons’ vacant general manager position, as previously reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The resolution calls for the league to compensate teams with draft picks for losing minority staff members to head coaching and other premium positions – including general manager – throughout the league.

• A team that loses a minority assistant coach who becomes a head coach or loses a personnel executive who becomes a general manager will receive third-round compensatory picks in each of the next two drafts.

• A team that loses two minority staffers to head coach and general manager positions would receive three third-round picks.

The rules were adopted to help the NFL improve its diversity in its hiring practices.

“I think that’s how we’ve made progress over the past several years,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters during conference call on Tuesday that followed the virtual NFL owners meeting. “It’s continually keeping a focus on this, adapting, looking to see what areas we can improve on, and that constant evolution of improvement, to try to make sure we’re doing everything appropriate to give minorities an opportunity to advance in the head coaching ranks or the coaching ranks in general, in personnel and other football areas, to well beyond that. To the people at the league office here, to club levels, this is an important initiative of the NFL.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank promised to have a diverse and inclusive search for both the general manager and head coach vacancies.

“You have to do the research,” Blank said. “I do think, this is a credit to the league, to the candidates and I would say the NFL in general, the extent of the qualified diverse candidates in my opinion for both positions is deeper this year than I’ve seen in the past.”

The Falcons can’t hire Holmes or Fontenot until after their seasons are completed. The Rams play the Packers in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs at 4:35 p.m. Saturday. The Saints host the Buccaneers at 6:40 p.m. Sunday. There is no such restriction on the hiring of Smith.

The Falcons also interviewed director of scouting Anthony Robinson and Colts director of college scouting Morocco Brown for the GM position. Representatives for Brown believe that Smith and Fontenot are the main targets.

“You’ve got that rising breed of executive who are well-deserving who have done a tremendous job,” said Rod Graves, the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which has been at the forefront of monitoring the NFL’s hiring practices. “People like Terry Fontenot at New Orleans. Brad Holmes with the Rams and Malik Boyd at Buffalo. I could go down a long list of guys that are ready.”

While the Falcons are waiting for Holmes and Fontenot to finish their season, suggests that Smith may not be the hire. They could hire him at any time, but likely want to be fair and let Fontenot have a second interview.

They have three distinct choices in Smith, Fontenot and Holmes.

With an older team that needs some retooling while up against the salary cap, they may feel that Fontenot is the better fit. His background is in pro personnel, evaluating and monitoring players in the NFL. Holmes’s focus has been on colleges, which could be what the Falcons want to help improve their recent lapses in the NFL draft. Smith is the veteran of the group, who helped turn the Texans around from an expansion team to AFC South champions.

“I think Atlanta is in great shape,” Graves said. “They have spent this time really diligently going through all of the candidates and trying to decide which ones fits the best leadership structure that I think Rich McKay has in mind.”

The compensation plan differs from the one owners previously considered last spring that provided incentives for teams hiring minority candidates. The one approved in November was considered an alternative to that original plan, led by the league’s diversity committee chairman Steelers owner Art Rooney II. Blank also is on the diversity committee.

The NFL is made up of roughly 75% Black players. There are only three minority head coaches in the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, the Dolphins’ Brian Flores and Washington’s Ron Rivera. The Chargers fired Anthony Lynn after the season.

Currently, there are seven head coaching openings -- Falcons, Texans, Chargers, Jaguars, Jets, Lions and Eagles. The Falcons have interviewed seven candidates, including minority candidates Raheem Morris, Eric Bieniemy, Robert Saleh and Todd Bowles.

A similar pattern exists at general manager, with the Browns’ Andrew Berry and the Dolphins’ Chris Grier the only Black men to hold the position.

Falcons’ 2021 draft position

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2. New York Jets

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston)

4. Falcons

5. Cincinnati Bengals

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