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NFL answers specific questions about Falcons investigation, in lieu of making someone available for interview

We have plenty of questions about the NFL’s decision in the Falcons tampering investigation, given that the outcome doesn’t seem to mesh with the comments made by quarterback Kirk Cousins during his introductory press conference.

A request was made to interview someone from the league about the situation. The NFL declined to make anyone available.

As an alternative (and despite strongly preferring the ability to talk to someone), we submitted five questions. The NFL responded.

Here they are, as asked and as answered.

1. “The Eagles statement specifies the investigative steps. The Falcons statement does not. What was done to prove the Falcons’ violation?”

A: “The NFL reviewed phone logs, text messages and other documents including transcripts of press conferences, and also conducted interviews with relevant personnel.”

2. “On March 13, Kirk Cousins said he talked to the head athletic trainer during the negotiating window. Was that investigated?”

3. “On March 13, Cousins said he spoke to director of player personnel Ryan Pace. Cousins didn’t specify a day or time, but it likely was before 4:00 p.m. ET on March 13. Was that investigated?”

A: “And yes to your questions 2-3. The evidence found that no Falcons’ employee had direct contact with any of the players before their agents had agreed to terms. The impermissible contact came after that and was done with respect to discuss administrative logistical matters.”

4. “On March 13, Cousins said he became personally involved in the recruitment of Darnell Mooney during the negotiating window. Was that investigated?”

5. “On March 13, Cousins said Kyle Pitts had been recruiting Cousins for roughly two weeks. Was the question of whether Pitts did that at the behest of or with knowledge of the Falcons investigated?”

A: “For 4-5, yes, we looked into it but there was no evidence that the club played a role in those conversations.”

The league also added a comment on our comparison to the Chiefs’ punishment for speaking to receiver Jeremy Maclin during the negotiating window in 2015 and the Dolphins’ 2022 punishment for tampering with Tom Brady and Sean Payton.

“Your Chiefs or Dolphins comps aren’t fair,” the league said, “in both cases, there was direct contact from club executives to the individual player prior to the negotiation period in an attempt to get the player to sign with the club while still under contract to other clubs. [Jeremy] Maclin with the Eagles, with Coach Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey fined for their involvement along with picks. Tom Brady (when he was with the Patriots 2019-20 and then Bucs during and after the 2021 season with ownership fined/suspended).”

The extra statement suggests that the league views tampering during the negotiating window differently. The league seems to be saying that tampering that happens during the negotiating window will be viewed as something less than tampering prior to the negotiating window.

There are two problems with that. First, the Anti-Tampering Policy contains no language supporting that view. Second, the league’s current comments as to Jeremy Maclin case conflict with the league’s statement at the time the punishment was announced. The league’s own release states that the Chiefs’ impermissible contact with Maclin happened “during the 2015 ‘Negotiation Window’" — not before.

That’s what happened here, with three different players: Cousins, Darnell Mooney, and Charlie Woerner.

Some would say the league has lowered the bar for tampering on a league-wide basis. The more accurate view could be that the league will raise and lower the bar on a case-by-case basis, to justify whatever its preferred outcome might be in every given situation.

Some teams get hit harder than others. Some teams get investigated more aggressively than others. The inherent lack of consistency is one of the biggest problems for a league that bristles when accused of making the rules up as it goes — while also reserving the right at all times to make the rules up as it goes.