Last year, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones arguably violated tampering rules via a “pig Latin” phone conversation with Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, during which Peterson expressed an interest in playing for the Cowboys and immediately after which Jones didn’t alert the Vikings to the comments from Peterson. The NFL did not punish the Cowboys in any way.
With Peterson reinstated on Thursday following a suspension under the personal conduct policy, the website operated by the team Jones owns posted an article regarding the impact Peterson would have on the roster. It looks and feels like tampering. Based, however, on the plain language of the NFL Anti-Tampering Policy, the article doesn’t constitute tampering.
“Articles that appear on the website of a club that identify prospective free agents that the team might be interested in, or that rate prospective free agents, shall not be considered violations of the Anti-Tampering Policy unless they include a direct quote or expression of interest by an employee of the club (other than the author of the article) about a specific player,” the policy states.
The article, written by Rob Phillips, argues that the Cowboys should be interested in Peterson, but it contains no direct quote or expression of interest by any employee of the club, other than the author. So it doesn’t appear to be tampering, as tampering is defined by a policy that is rarely enforced even when tampering obviously has happened.
That said, Peterson isn’t a “prospective free agent”; he’s under contract for three years. Given that the NFL rarely whacks a team for tampering even when the evidence is clear, the NFL may find a way to wedge Peterson within the language of the rule that allows articles on team websites. We’ve asked the NFL to clarify the policy as applied to this situation.