NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged the obvious on Wednesday when he said at the league meeting that multiple teams had dealings before the start of free agency that may have violated the letter of the law.
“We want to make sure no teams are gaining an advantage as it relates to free agency and the opportunity to get free agents,” Goodell said. “There are several teams and several issues that we’re looking at.”
The most-discussed case has been the Jets’ signing of Darrelle Revis after owner Woody Johnson publicly talked about Revis while he was still under contract to the Patriots. But some of the biggest deals signed in free agency — including Ndamukong Suh to Miami and Julius Thomas to Jacksonville — were widely believed to be done deals even before it was legal for NFL teams to get deals done with free agents from other teams.
And that points to why it’s going to be so difficult for the NFL to police tampering: It has become widely acknowledged around the league that it’s commonplace, and although “everyone else is doing it too” might not be an air-tight legal defense, it does raise the question of whether it’s really fair for the NFL to punish some teams for doing things that other teams were surely doing as well.
Maybe Goodell will decide to send a message, make an example of one team, and impose harsh discipline for tampering. Or maybe Goodell will decide that in the grand scheme of things, tampering really isn’t that big a problem, and the league would be better off letting it go.