On Thursday, Lions defensive end Cliff Avril strongly hinted during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview that tampering is happening as he prepares to hit the free-agency market.
“I kind of think the Lions will try to do the right thing, I guess,” Avril said. “A lot of teams don’t think the Lions will let me hit free agency. But a few teams have called.”
On Friday, Avril tried to put the toothpaste back in the tampering tube.
“No other teams, per se, like general managers or anybody has called me or anything like that,” Avril told the Detroit Free Press. “But I know a lot of guys that I’ve played with or guys that have seen me play have told me that their coaches have brought me up in a sense of, ‘Dang, that guy can play; wouldn’t mind having him-type thing.’ Never official-type things or anything like that.”
Look, if that’s what he meant, that’s what he should have said. When he says “a few teams have called,” the message is that, well, a few teams have called. As in they’ve called his agent to find out things like whether Avril would be interested in that team and, more importantly, how much money he wants.
It’s easy to be skeptical of Avril’s clarification because anyone who follows the NFL even remotely closely knows that teams are calling agents of players who will be free agents on March 13. It happens every year.
How else do guys get onto planes to visit new teams at five minutes after the moment free agency opens? How else do multi-multi-multi-million-dollar deals get negotiated — from scratch — in a matter of a few hours? The agent know where to focus once the green flag is waved because the race begins long before the green flag even shows up at the track.
But Avril’s “clarification” apparently is good enough for the league office. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the Free Press that the comments are “hearsay” and do not constitute tampering.
Fine, but the first comments constitute clear evidence of tampering. But the league office is reluctant to investigate matters of these nature because: (1) everyone tampers; and (2) nailing someone for tampering requires the league to admit that one or more of its teams is cheating.
That’s why the NFL only enforces the tampering rules when a team essentially is caught with one hand in the cookie jar and with the other is giving the league office the finger. (Yeah, I’ve used that one before. But only because I continue to be as cool as the other side of the pillow.) Nearly nine years ago, former NFL safety Lawyer Milloy inadvertently blew the whistle on the Redskins for making an offer before the Patriots cut him, in an interview with Peter King of SI.com. Once Milloy “clarified” his comments, the league looked the other way.
And so it continues to make sense for the league to change the rules to create a window in which teams can call before a player can sign. Without that change, cheating technically is happening on a rampant basis, and the league office comes off as toothless, incompetent, and/or apathetic. I babbled a bit about the dynamic during Friday’s PFT Live, and this is as good a place as any to drop in the code for the video.