NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell repeatedly has explained that the league must constantly try to find ways to improve.
Here’s something for the suggestion box: Get rid of rules that are regularly broken but rarely enforced.
There are several rules like this. The paperwork says one thing, the teams routinely do something else, and the league office never does anything about it.
When it comes to negotiating with potentially undrafted players before the draft has ended, the rule is clear: Teams can’t do it. But they regularly do, and the NFL does nothing about it.
The Chargers did it last year, according to quarterback Chandler Harnish, whose verbal deal with San Diego was interrupted by the Colts making Harnish the last pick in the draft.
This year, receiver Russell Shepard has boasted that he “took [himself] off the draft board during the draft” after striking a deal with the Eagles in round six.
Shepard has since reiterated that the Eagles negotiated with him before the draft ended by pointing out via an unverified (but apparently legitimate) Twitter account that “[i]t was just a agreement calm down people didn’t become official till the next day actually.”
Under the rules, it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t “official” during the draft. The land rush for free agents can’t begin until the draft ends. In Shepard’s case, a verbal deal was in place with Philly during the sixth round. At some point (and that point could already be now), teams will have agreements with undrafted players in place before the draft even begins.
While any team could have disrupted the agreement between the Eagles and Shepard by drafting the player, the violation comes from the fact that the Eagles got a head start on the process. The reality is that most teams do.
It will continue until the NFL enforces the rule. And if the NFL isn’t going to enforce the rule, then the NFL should just get rid of it.