Though Falcons president Rich McKay still might interview with the Browns for their General Manager position, we’ve learned that the Browns can’t request permission to interview him until the Falcons’ playoff run ends.
Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer originally reported on Tuesday that McKay would be interviewed this week.  Grossi explained that the Browns are “able to interview McKay while the Falcons are still involved in the playoffs because club executives are not subjected to the same league restrictions as coaches.”
The reality, however, is that front office employees are off limits until their current teams’ seasons end.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello quoted the rule for us on Tuesday, and he reiterated its general application to all front-office employees in an e-mail exchange today.  (We had promised Greg that we wouldn’t bother him on New Year’s Day.  So much for the New Year’s resolution that, moving forward, we will always keep all promises.)
As Aiello told us on Tuesday:  “There is a general prohibition on contacting a club about one of its employees during the season.  It states: ‘Unless otherwise provided for in this Policy, no club may request permission to discuss employment with a non-player, non-coach employee of another club, whether or not that employee is under contract, during the employer club’s playing season, defined as the period from the opening of preseason training camp through the club’s final game of the season, including postseason if applicable.’”
Though Aiello declined to comment on the application of the rule to specific employees and/or teams, the rule is clear.  Even if the Falcons are anxious for McKay to leave, the interview cannot happen until after the Falcons’ season ends, because the Browns cannot request permission to speak to him.
In this case, it appears that the Browns did request permission prematurely, in violation of the rule.  However, the league typically imposes a penalty in situations of this nature only if the team victimized by the violation pushes the issue.  Thus, our guess is that someone at the league office politely reminded the Browns and the Falcons that the interview could not proceed until after the Falcons are out of the playoffs.
As a practical matter, the rule could remove McKay from consideration.  If, in a wide-open NFC playoff field, the Falcons string a few wins together, the Browns might not be inclined to wait for McKay to become available for an interview.