League sends revised memo that permits negotiations, prohibits offers and agreements

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Yes, it’s happened again.  And this time it’s even more bizarre.

The same conflicting signals sent by the NFL in 2013 have been sent again regarding the legal tampering period.  This time, however, the NFL has tried to reconcile that which is inherently irreconcilable.

The rules say that negotiations with the agents of free agents may occur starting at 12:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, but that no contract may be executed (i.e., signed) before 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday.  The NFL has supplemented the rules with a memo, a copy of which PFT has obtained, articulating a warped interpretation of the standard in a way that makes it pointless to try to negotiate anything.

The rules say negotiations may occur.  Last year’s memo says no agreement of any kind may be reached.  This year’s memo tries to bridge an unbridgeable gap of logic.

The memo permits a team to “[s]ubmit a written summary of the club’s negotiating position,” to “[e]xpress its position as to signing bonus, length of contract, amounts of signing bonus and yearly compensation, and other items,” to “[a]djust its negotiating position in response to a certified agent’s position,” and “[e]ngage in an oral exchange of positions.”

However, the team must say that it’s only articulating a “negotiating position,” not “making an offer.”  Under the memo, no offers can be made, and no express or implied agreements can be reached.

Last year, the memo scared teams away from striking agreements in principle — or at least from letting it be known via media leaks that agreements in princinple had been reached.  As the NFL tries to create a letter-of-intent-style signing day for free agency, maybe that’s the real purpose of this now-annual memo, which in its effort to become more clear has made everything only more vague.

The league, which surely realizes negotiations have been occurring discreetly (or otherwise) for weeks, doesn’t want the next three days to entail scattered reports that a player will sign as of Tuesday with a specific team.  This approach allows the NFL’s in-house media conglomerate to engineer a maximum TV and online audience when the light officially goes from red to green.

The NFL knows there’s no way at this point to apply the brakes to negotiations that already have started.  But by issuing a strict, nonsensical memo that prevents negotiations from leading to their natural outcome, the league ensures that Tuesday will be yet another appointment date on the ever-growing league calendar.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain about that. . . .

Still, the memo isn’t about stopping negotiations from happening and agreements in principle from being reached.  It’s about ensuring that news of deals that already have been reached on a wink-nod basis won’t be released until the curtain is raised on Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, when millions of NFL fans flock to their televisions, computers, tablets, and phones to find out who their favorite teams are signing, and who their favorite teams are losing.

Yeah, I definitely shouldn’t complain about that. . . .

Until then, the flurry of behind-the-scenes activity that will culminate in those announcements will remain (ideally for the NFL) as silent and discreet as the weeks of tampering that already has been occurring.

And that’s what bugs me the most about this.  The NFL isn’t trying to keep negotiations from resulting in tentative agreements.  The NFL is trying to keep the fans from finding out what’s really happening until the NFL is ready for the fans to know.