On the same weekend during which tampering was rampant via the decision of teams to exceed the permitted limits of the three-day pre-free agency negotiating window, the NFL sent an investigator to the Jets facility to explore whether tampering had occurred with cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that the visit occurred on Sunday, March 8 — the same day that a slew of tentative free-agent deals throughout the league were reported, even though teams were strictly prohibited from striking deals with free agents.
The investigator interviewed G.M. Mike Maccagnan and other front office personnel regarding the pursuit of Revis. Owner Woody Johnson was not interviewed. (If the visit was timed to get the Jets to abandon their pursuit of Revis, it obviously didn’t work.)
The problem arose when Johnson said publicly on December 29 that the Johnson would “love for Darrelle to come back,” a textbook violation of the tampering rules. (Johnson later said he “misspoke,” a term which suggests Johnson actually meant to say he would “not love for Darrelle to come back.”)
Mehta, a friend of PFT and frequent guest on PFT Live, makes no secret of his belief that the Patriots are being “petty” and “whining,” and that Patriots fans are acting “[l]ike a jilted lover” over the decision of Revis to leave. Mehta also points to SpyGate and #DeflateGate in suggesting with sarcasm that the Patriots “had every right to be concerned about the integrity of the situation.”
Regardless of the lingering Jets-Patriots homage to the Hatfields and the McCoys, Johnson committed a clear and blatant violation of the tampering rules by telling the media that his team would “love” to bring back a guy who at the time was the exclusive property of another team. While Johnson (as Mehta notes) was simply answering a direct question, the answer to that direct question should have been, “I can’t comment on players under contract with other teams.”
The anti-tampering policy makes it obvious that Johnson crossed the line. Although tampering happens all the time in the NFL, the league tends only to punish those who are caught with one hand pressed to the bottom of cookie jar — and with the other hand firing off a middle finger to 345 Park Avenue.
In this specific case, the full body of evidence includes a March 3 report from Mehta that Johnson was leaning heavily on his front-office staff to bring Revis back. Mehta’s source, undoubtedly a member of the team’s front office, committed a separate violation of the tampering rules by leaking the information to the media, since it had the clear impact of making it known to the football-following world that the Jets were indeed in play for Revis at a time when only the Patriots should have been talking to Revis. While the NFL has no jurisdiction over Mehta, the questioning that occurred at team headquarters on March 8 surely extended to Mehta’s story from March 3.
Meanwhile, the fact that the Jets gave Revis $39 million fully guaranteed over three years could give the NFL separate motivation to punish the Jets. There’s a belief that the NFL doesn’t want teams to fully guarantee contracts beyond the first year or two, a belief reinforced by the outdated, blanket requirement that all contract with full guarantees in future years be fully funded at signing.
The Jets willingly put the money aside for Revis, which could make the NFL even more willing to impose some sort of a sanction on the Jets for tampering with Revis.