We know what many of you think. With the Panthers making it clear that they don’t want defensive end Julius Peppers, there’s no harm in letting the Bears meet with agent Carl Carey to discuss Peppers a week or so before Peppers hits the market. (The version of the story that has made its way to ESPN is even more sinister, with the early-morning pre-SportsCenter update desk anchor characterizing the Chicago Tribune — incorrectly — as reporting that Peppers himself met with the Bears.)
That’s one of the reasons why the NFL has been considering a change in the rules that would allow conversations between the agents for looming free agents and potentially interested teams before the clock strikes 12 on the first day of the new league year. The league knows that tampering is rampant. It’s so bad that, as we’ve said in the past, some teams that previously followed the rules realized that they were putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage by doing so. And so they started tampering, too.
Thus, even though the tampering rules speak only in terms of the team that holds the player’s rights, the other victims of this dynamic are the other potentially interested teams. If the Bears are able to reach a consensus now on key terms like guaranteed money and average annual pay and then the Bears push hard as of midnight Friday to get the deal done quickly, other teams that had not yet spoken to Carey will be scrambling to catch up.
The message, then, to any other team that hopes to pick a peck of pickled Peppers (man, I’ve been waiting eight years to use that one) is that the time for action has come.
Even now, it might be too late.
Meanwhile, if the Bears have indeed talked about Peppers with Carey, the 49ers have every reason to be even more pissed off about the fact that they were the most recent scapegoat for the rampant tampering problem. It was, after all, the Bears who cried to 280 Park Avenue about the fact that the 49ers had spoken to the agent for linebacker Lance Briggs about a possible contract extension at a time when the 49ers and the Bears were engaged in serious talks regarding a trade for Briggs, who at the time was playing under a one-year franchise-tag deal. (The irony is that the contract, by rule, couldn’t have been extended by the Bears or the 49ers until after the season had ended.)
Last year, the Redskins faced a tampering inquiry regarding the acquisition of former Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth due in part to a Scouting Combine meeting between owner Daniel Snyder and Haynesworth’s agent. But since Chad Speck also represents Redskins receiver Malcolm Kelly, the two sides were able to claim that they were talking only about Kelly.
This time around, it could be harder for the Bears to explain themselves, since Carey has no other client on the Bears. And no other client at all.
But nothing will happen unless the Panthers pitch a fit. With the owners determined to remain united for the purposes of the ongoing labor dispute, we’d be shocked if Panthers owner Jerry Richardson pushes the issue. Instead, the Panthers will likely turn the tables on the Bears at some point, and if the Bears cry again to the league office the Panthers will make it known privately (and, if necessary, publicly) that the Bears got away with tampering in 2010.