If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be funny.
After years of looking the other way despite blatant tampering in the days and weeks prior to the official launch of free agency, which often featured the negotiation of multi-million-dollar contracts in a matter of minutes and/or the instantaneous making and execution of travel plans to visit teams, the league has created a three-day window during which negotiations may occur between teams and agents representing free agents.
The “2013 free agency questions and answers” published by the NFL on Thursday plainly state: “Beginning at 12:00 midnight ET on Saturday, March 9 (i.e., after 11:59:59 p.m. ET, on Friday, March 8) and ending at 3:59:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2012 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.”
This language does not prohibit the finalization of an agreement in principle, with the formal contract execution coming the moment the close strikes 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12. Thus language implies that everything can be prepared by Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. for the prompt execution of the formal contract.
But even at a time when tampering has been rampant and blatant (as anyone who attended the Scouting Combine and/or stayed at one of the hotels swarming with team employees and player agents knows), the NFL has reportedly warned teams not to strike agreements in principle with agents before 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12.
The memo sent Friday to all teams, a copy of which PFT has obtained reiterates that “no contract can be executed until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 12.”
In the next breath, the memo explains that “prior to the beginning of the new League Year it is impermissible for a club to enter into an agreement of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent or understandings of any kind concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to, or to be offered to, any prospective Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year.”
So what the hell are the teams and agents supposed to be negotiating?
The limitation in the document dubbed PP-28-13 contradicts the plain language of the rule articulated in PP-26-13. If the original limitation was that no contract may be executed before 4:00 p.m. ET on March 12, the notion that no verbal understandings may be reached by then guts the rule. And turns common sense on its head.
The most amazing aspect of PP-28-13 is the threat of a “tampering investigation.” When it comes to tampering investigations, the league has been impotent for years, pursuing only the most blatant, defiant, and/or idiotic instances of tampering and turning a blind but knowing eye to countless instances of it.
The NFL doesn’t pursue tampering cases in part because everyone does it. So now, out of the blue, the NFL threatens a tampering investigation against any team that reaches a tentative agreement during a period expressly allowing everything short of a signed contract? Really?
It’s a joke, but it all points to something former Chiefs G.M. Scott Pioli first mentioned last month on Pro Football Talk: The league is building toward a contrived “signing day,” on which players will announce that which previously was unknown to anyone except the player and his family.
Still, it’s impractical in this context, and we can’t imagine that a sudden wave of huffing and puffing from a league office that has little capacity to blow anything down if the teams are discreet will keep teams from striking informal deals and then getting the word out in order to scare other teams away from the player.
Obviously, we encourage discreet defiance. In part because I just slept three hours so that I could stay up all night and write about the agreements in principle that, prior to Friday’s memo, the new rules clearly allowed.