A Tampering Primer
With the NFL investigating whether the Redskins violated anti-tampering rules during their courtship of free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, it makes sense to provide a little primer on the process, I suppose.
Tampering charges usually are alleged by one team against another, and while the Tennessee Titans, Haynesworth's former employer, went to some lengths a few weeks back to state they had not formally filed tampering charges against the Skins, the reality was that when they turned over what they believed to be evidence of tampering to the NFL offices, they got the ball rolling.
They had in essence asked the NFL to investigate the incident, and that is what is occurring now. The standard of proof is high -- it's hard to prove what was said between a team and an agent about a specific client before the start of free agency -- but not impossible to meet. A year ago the San Francisco 49ers were stripped of a fifth-round pick for tampering with Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs .... and Briggs never signed with San Fran, staying with the Bears.
(A team need not, however, file a charge of tampering. In the aftermath of the Spygate cheating scandal, the NFL reduced the standard of proof needed for Commissioner Roger Goodell to discipline any team and that includes tampering matters. In addition, the NFL reserves the right to investigate any case in which it suspects wrongdoing without a team having to make a charge.)
Much will be made about the dinner between Redskins team officials and Chad Speck, Haynesworth's agent, at the NFL combine, well before the official start of free agency. But it's not like there are transcripts of that meeting floating around. Haynesworth is likely to talk to the NFL this week, as Jason Reid reported over the weekend, but I would imagine everyone will choose his words very carefully.
In this case the league will surely interview Haynesworth, Speck, owner Daniel Snyder, vice president Vinny Cerrato, and perhaps other Skins coaches and front-office personnel. They will also go back to the evidence the Titans provided, much of which would seem to be have somewhat circumstantial, and perhaps interview team officials there as well.
Many factors -- such as the speed with which the Redskins and Speck completed a record-breaking, $100-million deal mere hours into the official start of free agency -- will be weighed, but, again, if that is the only criteria, then you could consider most of the big deals ever signed on the first night of free agency to be cases of tampering. And in most cases that's probably the case. Tampering is the worst-kept secret in the league. There's usually something of a gentleman's agreement in place to look the other way, but Titans Coach Jeff Fisher is the head of the competition committee, and obviously Haynesworth's departure did not sit well with his organization. With so many stories linking Haynesworth to the Redskins hitting newspapers and the Internet in the weeks leading up to free agency, and some suggesting a deal was already in place, this thing became very high profile.
The league will conduct a discreet investigation; there will be no comments and no updates. Teams can be fined in addition to the loss of a draft pick, but there is no timetable for a decision.
What happens when the NFL reaches a decision on a tampering case? If the NFL decides the evidence is insufficient, it may never even acknowledge an investigation took place, if history is a guide. If discipline is taken, Commissioner Roger Goodell will release a statement. In the end it will be his call and, it may well be one of the last on tampering.
NFL owners are considering a proposal that would alter the landscape around free agency. As Mark Maske reported from the recent owners' meetings, they may vote in the fall on a proposal that would create a two-day window during which players eligible for free agency could negotiate with all teams.
Jason La Canfora
May 26, 2009; 10:13 AM ET
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