ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Moving forward, the Broncos’ journey back to playoff contention should include hiring with an eye on bonus third-round draft picks.
Three teams gained multiple, third-round draft picks during the NFL’s near-completed hiring cycle of head coaches and general managers as a reward for developing minorities for the top jobs. The San Francisco 49ers picked up three, third-round picks after their minority defensive coordinator Robert Saleh became head coach of the New York Jets and vice president of player personnel Martin Mayhew was hired as Washington’s new general manager.
49ers GM John "Branch Rickey" Lynch gets one extra third-round pick each of the next three years.
The New Orleans Saints gained two third-round picks for developing personnel executive Terry Fontenot, who became GM of the Atlanta Falcons, as did the Los Angeles Rams with Brad Holmes, who is the new GM of the Lions.
The loser of today’s AFC Championship Game may become a fourth team to gain two, third-round draft picks as Buffalo defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy are up for the head coaching job with the Houston Texans.
Look again at those teams getting extra third-round picks and it seems the rich get richer.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are among the 28 or 29 teams that did not get extra third-round picks. Make no mistake, multiple third-round draft picks are a significant reward. Even if the third round hasn’t always been historically money for the Broncos, players the team has picked up in the last of the so-called "starter" rounds: Lloyd Cushenberry III, Dre’Mont Jones, Justin Simmons, Jeff Heuerman, Michael Schofield, Ronnie Hillman, J.D. Walton, Eric Decker and Ryan Harris. We’ll stop there.
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Some background: The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell became increasingly frustrated that even with the Rooney Rule that mandates a team interview minority candidates for head coach and GM positions, they weren’t getting hired anyway. Or at least not enough. So Goodell added another incentive that gives teams a competitive advantage of adding better players.
In mid-November, owners approved a new rule that compensates teams with third-round draft picks for losing minority staff members to head coaching and GM jobs. A team that loses one minority assistant coach who becomes a head coach, or loses a personnel executive who becomes a GM, receives third-round draft picks in each of the next two drafts. Lose two minority staffers to head coach and GM positions, as the 49ers did, and the team receives three, third-round picks.
It would be best, of course, if no such incentive was needed. The best man should get the job regardless of race. But with minorities across the nation standing up in protest this year to inequalities in treatment and jobs, Goodell made an adjustment.
At the very least, if there’s not much difference between a white or black candidate, the tiebreaker should be the candidate who can eventually bring back a third-round draft pick. Fair? All’s fair in love, war and third-round draft picks.
While the Broncos meet or exceed baseline diversity standards within the NFL and the Denver market, their football department is another matter. In particular, they are lacking in diversity on the top levels of their coaching staff and personnel department – the areas where future head coaches and GMs are usually hired from.
The Broncos don’t have one minority coordinator on Vic Fangio’s coaching staff and only three at the secondary coaching level – running backs coach Curtis Modkins, secondary coach Renaldo Hill (who was hired away by the Chargers to become their defensive coordinator) and defensive quality control coach Nathaniel Willingham. On the personnel side, the Broncos’ cap guy Rich Hurtado is Hispanic, and the team has a dynamic player development duo in Ray Jackson and Dr. Nicole Linen.
But there were no minorities in four of the top personnel positions of GM and directors of player personnel, pro and college scouting.
"We’re getting better at diversity as an organization, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be," chief executive officer Joe Ellis said earlier this month. "This is a chance to interview and learn, and who knows, maybe arrive at a candidate with great diversity. I think it’s important. Whoever is chosen, it has to go beyond that as well. I think that’s a key point and a lot of us here— Nancy Svoboda our chief HR person and Brittany [Bowlen] has been a driving force in getting an initiative ready on diversity. It’s just critical to our organization because the thing about it is it makes us better in so many different ways, and we’ve got to recognize that, and we’ve got to improve in that area for sure."
The Broncos did not hire a minority for their GM position vacated when John Elway decided to step aside and take a consultant-type role as president of football operations. But George Paton still has to hire his top assistant. And as he tries to rebuild a Broncos’ franchise that has averaged less than 6 wins a season the past four years, Paton figures to be ever mindful that only a minority hire can bring back future third-round bonus draft picks.
"There will be a big emphasis on diversity within our scouting departments, within this organization, and it starts from the top," Paton said last week. "It starts from me and Joe, and so there’ll be a big emphasis on that. We will have a developmental program in place for diversity, and I think it’s huge. Diverse thought [helps] you make better decisions, and we’re going to have a diverse staff."
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