By targeting the well-respected head coach of a bedrock NFL organization, the NFL’s recent decision to smack the Chiefs and coach Andy Reid for violating the rules of the legal tampering period in 2015 can be seen as an effort to scare everyone else straight. But targeting one team for punishment when most if not all teams are doing the same thing continues to be the wrong way to address a widespread problem.
As former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue explained in the ruling that struck down suspensions imposed on players by Commissioner Roger Goodell in the Saints bounty scandal, changing culture requires something more nuanced and less sudden than finding one culprit and imposing harsh punishment. In making the case for more subtle change, Tagliabue explained the manner in which former Commissioner Pete Rozelle implemented steroids polices in the 1980s, with education first and punishment later.
Here, the NFL singled out one culprit, imposed strenuous punishment (stripping a third-round pick in 2016 and a sixth-round pick in 2017), and apparently hoped that it would get others to behave moving forward.
While that may work come 2017, the fact that the league didn’t disclose the punishment until after the 2016 tampering period ended at a minimum compels the league to investigate not just one team that has provided probable cause to suspect a violation but every team. As Peter King of TheMMQB.com recently wrote, one agent admitted that two of his free-agent clients had contact with coaches on teams that hoped to sign the players before the free-agency period opened.
Setting aside whether it even makes sense to prohibit direct contact between teams and impending free agents during the tampering period (King suggests that the league believes the Chiefs had contact with Jeremy Maclin even before the 2015 legal tampering period began, although the NFL’s announcement doesn’t say that), picking out a team that doesn’t have a track record of sketchy behavior with a head coach who would be likely to contact a former player the coach drafted and proving that a violation occurred ignores the strong possibility that every other team is doing the same thing. If the league is serious about solving the problem, the league should investigate all 32 teams immediately.
Which quite possibly could end up in the third round of the 2016 draft and the sixth round of the 2017 draft disappearing entirely.