Cris Collinsworth tried. He tried to keep Raiders coach Jon Gruden from potentially committing a tampering violation. Gruden didn’t seem to care.
Collinsworth, who hosts a podcast featuring 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, had Gruden on as a guest. Collinsworth mentioned the fact that former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has arrived in Las Vegas as the defensive coordinator, before pointing out the elephant that enters the room when a player under contract with one team is speaking directly to a coach from another team.
“I know there’s tampering rules out there and I don’t want to bring up anything that might create a problem for you, because I know that you’ve been fined a few shekels over the years,” Collinsworth said.
“Yes I have,” Gruden said. “I’ve been fined, I’ve been punished very, very harshly. Richard Sherman, if you are a free agent, which there is a rumor you are, we are looking for an alpha presence in our secondary. Somebody that could play this Hawk 3-press technique with the read step. If you’re available and interested, maybe you and I can get together at some point off air.”
Said Sherman in response: “There’s a conversation to be had, for sure. I am free and available these days.”
As one General Manager said, unsolicited and unprompted, in response to Gruden’s comments, “This is blatant tampering.”
And it is. Here’s the relevant language, from page 5 of the NFL’s Anti-Tampering Policy: “Any public or private statement of interest, qualified or unqualified, in another club’s player to that player’s agent or representative, or to a member of the news media, is a violation of this Anti-Tampering Policy. (Example of a prohibited comment: ‘He’s an excellent player, and we’d very much like to have him if he were available, but another club holds his rights.’)”
Gruden went farther than that. His comments presume Sherman already is a free agent. He isn’t. He remains under contract with the 49ers until March 17, when the new league year begins and he becomes a free agent.
Via email, the NFL has declined comment on the situation.
Whether the league actually does anything about it remains to be seen. Sometimes they don’t, sometimes they do. In this case, how can’t they? It’s as open and obvious as it gets; even if the 49ers don’t currently plan to keep Sherman, they have his rights through March 17. He’s not free. He’s not available.
And Gruden, who has been in and around the NFL for decades, should know that. If he doesn’t, there’s a good chance he eventually soon will.