Recently, Saints coach Sean Payton played beach football with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, and Lions linebacker Bobby Carpenter. The event came during the lockout, at a time when management is supposed to be having no contact with the rank-and-file.
With not a whole lot else going on, we decided to ask the league office whether the situation runs afoul of the lockout rules.
“We are aware of it,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT by e-mail this morning. “No further comment.”
(At least he didn’t say, “Next question.”)
We’ve believed for weeks that violations of the supposedly bright-line prohibition on contact have been occurring. The temporary lifting of the lockout in late April operated like the stretching of a rubber band, and with the NFL by all appearances not inclined to investigate and enforce possible violations, more and more teams likely have been skirting the rules, if for no reason other than to keep up with the other teams who are violating the rules.
In the case of beach football, the violation (if there was one) was minimal. But the fact that Payton had no qualms about admitting that he had direct contact with three players underscores the lack of sensitivity that has emerged and expanded, especially as a potential resolution to the lockout approaches.
It also highlights the differences between the NFL and NBA lockouts. Basketball has stripped player images from websites, arenas, and team headquarters. A $1 million fine has been threatened against any NBA team that has contact with a player.
For football, idle, unconfirmed threats of termination without pay have been floated — as if the Patriots would fire coach Bill Belichick for calling Tom Brady and asking about, say, his congenital right shoulder injury.
Soon, it could all be moot. Thus, look for any violations occurring before then to be swept under the rug. Just like any that have previously occurred.