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League, NFLPA need clear standards, fair procedures for OTA violations

DeMarco Murray, Bruce Carter

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) is chased by linebacker Bruce Carter (54) during NFL football practice at Cowboys Stadium, Wednesday, May 30, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)


As teams are now expected to honor the rules regarding offseason practice as written, there’s plenty of confusion regarding what the rules as written mean, and regarding the process for determining whether the written rules have been violated.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll alluded to these concerns earlier this week, explaining that the NFL never told his team how it precisely lost two days of Organized Team Activities for having “live contact” at practice. Carroll also expressed concern that the league and the union aren’t reviewing the tape of every teams’ practices.

They should be. Requiring teams to record and maintain practice footage provides a deterrent to breaking the rules intentionally, but failure to check the tapes does nothing to educate the teams on whether they are accidentally allowing players to go too far.

Instead, the enforcement process seems to be driven by the media. If a report emerges of a fight at a non-contact practice, the league and the union look into whether the fight was preceded by the kind of on-field jostling that could cause tempers to flare.

Carroll has said that’s exactly what happened in Seattle, with the practices coming under scrutiny after word emerged of fights between the receivers and the defensive backs. In New Orleans, a fight on Wednesday resulted in scrutiny on Thursday.

Even without fights, media reports can get the attention of the NFL and/or the NFLPA. An ankle injury suffered by Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry while trying to accomplish a “bull rush” suggests “live contact.” And in a recent item regarding the efforts undertaken by the Cowboys to comply with the offseason rules, Todd Archer of pointed out that a “bigger-than-normal” collision occurred during practice, when running back DeMarco Murray and linebacker Sean Lee crossed paths.

“It’s the NFL,” Murray said. “Sean Lee didn’t try to hit me. We were both going pretty fast. We both tried to stop. I tried to make a cut underneath him. He was going so fast. He played it really, really well and we just kind of ran into each other.”

Is that enough to trigger a violation? No one seems to know, because the NFL apparently hasn’t told the teams where the “live contact” line resides.

So why not tell the teams what the rules specifically prohibit? And then why not review the tapes of every practice to determine who is and isn’t following the rules, in lieu of creating potential friction between teams and the media when accounts of possible contact at practice emerge, causing the teams to land in a steaming vat of trouble soup?

That would make too much sense. Which likely means it will never happen.