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NFL should change rules of legal tampering period, rescind punishment of Chiefs


Last year, after the NFL targeted the Patriots for aggressive investigation and discipline over #Deflategate, Patriots fans mobilized, digging up (and passing along) every instance of actual or potential cheating that was either punished less harshly or never even addressed.

This year, with the Chiefs absorbing extreme consequences for having direct contact not only with receiver Jeremy Maclin’s agent (which is allowed) but with Maclin directly (which isn’t) during the 2015 legal tampering window, their fans have not responded with the same zeal and volume over a technical violation that most if not all teams surely have committed in the several years since the NFL first adopted a pre-free agency window for talking to the agents of impending free agents.

Because the NFL didn’t announce the sanctions against the Chiefs until after this year’s legal tampering period closed, it’s possible (if not likely) that other teams did the same thing last Monday, Tuesday, and/or Wednesday before the market opened at 4:00 p.m. ET. Consider, for example, the following exchange during Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler’s introductory press conference on Thursday.

Question: “There were reports that you hadn’t talked to anyone in Denver, you weren’t answering people’s phone calls for a couple of weeks, is that not true?”

Answer: “It wasn’t a couple weeks, there was an offer on the table for a small period of time. With this being my first time going through free agency, you follow your agency’s advice. So I was just following their lead, however when it did come time to make decisions, I did talk with Denver as well as Houston and we were able to get this deal done.”

The last line is the most important one. Based on the various reports that emerged within an hour or so before the market officially opened, Osweiler made his decision before 4:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Which means that Osweiler spoke to “Denver as well as Houston” before making a decision that was made before 4:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Which means that the Texans apparently violated the same rule the Chiefs violated a year ago.

The goal here isn’t to get the Texans in trouble. The goal is to expose the inconsistency in the application of the rules, along with the hypertechnical folly of allowing agents to talk to teams during the legal tampering period but not allowing players to talk to teams.

Some believe that the NFL is trying to push the process toward a college football-style signing day, with players throughout the country announcing their decisions in an organized and orchestrated way. Whatever the purpose and however it evolves, why not allow the players to get on the phone with the coach or the G.M. or the owner or anyone during the negotiating window?

The idea of players making long-term commitments without ever setting foot in his new place of employment or even meeting his new employer and future supervisors is odd enough. Preventing any communication at all is even more bizarre, especially since the league now allows the talks during the legal tampering period to result in an agreement that, while not legally binding, is treated as certain by the teams and agents involved.

So instead of investigating the Texans or anyone else, the league should rescind the punishment of the Chiefs and revise the rules to allow players to talk to teams during the period that their agents are talking to teams, too.