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Lions’ ability to hire John Schneider won’t be quite so simple

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are still in play for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but the already-eliminated 49ers look to play spoiler against their division rivals.

One of the Week 17 Sunday Splash! reports is a cannonball. But it may have landed in the shallow end of the pool.

The NFL Media report that the Lions will try to hire Seahawks G.M. John Schneider paints a picture that it would be easy and automatic for the Lions (or any other team) to snatch Schneider away from Seattle.

Here’s the key passage from the article appearing on the league’s official website: “Schneider doesn’t have primary authority over all personnel decisions in Seattle -- [coach Pete] Carroll does. That hasn’t really mattered, since Carroll and Schneider are in lockstep, but under the NFL’s anti-tampering policy, the Lions or another team could try to interview Schneider if it offered him full control.”

It’s not nearly that simple, and the characterization quite possibly is inaccurate.

The 2020-21 NFL Anti-Tampering Policy defines at pages 19 and 20 the term “High-Level Club Employees,” who cannot be hired away by other teams while under contract absent compensation. A “High-Level Club Employee” is: (1) a person with primary authority and responsibility for the organization, direction, and management of the day-to-day operations of the club and reports directly to the controlling owner; (2) a person who is the primary football executive for the club, with primary authority over all personnel decisions related to signing free agency, drafting players, trades, and related decisions, along with primary responsibility for coordinating other football activities with the head coach.

Here’s the key phrase from the definition: “Final authority regarding the composition of the 53-player roster is not a requirement.”

The article uses the phrase “primary authority,” but quite possibly confuses that term with “final authority.” Schneider is the General Manager; even if Pete Carroll can overrule Schneider via “final authority,” Schneider most likely possesses the “primary authority.” (The fact that the Anti-Tampering Policy uses both “final authority” and “primary authority” means that there’s a tangible difference between the terms.)

At the absolute bare minimum, the situation isn’t nearly as simple and clean as the article suggests. Indeed, the Packers sought permission to interview Schneider in 2018 for the G.M. job, and the Seahawks declined. If it was simple enough to offer Schneider final authority over personnel to get him away from the Seahawks, Schneider possibly would be the Packers G.M. right now.

Indeed, Schneider’s contract at one point included a clause allowing him to become the G.M. of the Packers. If it was as easy to pilfer him from the Seahawks as the article implies it is, Schneider (a Packers shareholder) never would have needed that type of a clause.

The Lions could still get Schneider, but they’d have to first negotiate compensation with the Seahawks before negotiating a contract with Schneider. And Schneider’s contract may be at the root of this one.

As one league source explained it to PFT, Schneider isn’t paid at the top of the G.M. market. He’s believed to be prepared to become a free agent in 2022, if he doesn’t get a market-value deal from the Seahawks.

The Lions may have caught wind of that, and they may be thinking about pushing the issue. Schneider, for his part, may not object to having his name thrust into the conversation, at a time when he’s trying to get top dollar from the Seahawks -- and, if not, positioning himself to get top dollar elsewhere next year.

Regardless, unless the Seahawks are willing to let Schneider walk away now, they can decline permission and force the Lions either to fight the issue via the “administrative review” provision of the Anti-Tampering Policy or to essentially trade for Schneider.

To summarize, the notion that it’s open season for Schneider is not accurate. But truth sometimes takes a back seat to filling the quota of Sunday Splash! reports.