The NFL has canceled the Scouting Combine, which doubles as Tampering Central in advance of every free-agency period. Teams brazenly meet in Indianapolis with agents representing players who are due to become free agents.
No one even tries to be discreet about it. While in Indianapolis, agents openly say they’re meeting with this team or that team about the impending free agents they represent. Team officials openly acknowledge the meetings, too.
Without the benefit of gathering everyone in Indianapolis at the same time, the tampering communications are still happening.
As one agent explained it to PFT, the calls started last week, they’re continuing this week, and by next week it likely will be rampant. For many agents, it’s easy to cover tracks; if an agent represents one of more players on a given team, the agent easily can talk to that team about an impending free agent with another team. If/when questions get asked about the purpose of the call that shows up on a log somewhere, the team and agent need only say that they were talking about one or more clients currently on the roster.
In 2009, Washington avoided a tampering finding regarding defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth because his agent, Chad Speck, represented then-Washington receiver Malcolm Kelly. Washington persuaded the powers-that-be that Speck had dinner with Washington owner Daniel Snyder at the Combine not to discuss signing Haynesworth but to discuss the possibility that Kelly will become the next Andre Johnson. (Spoiler: He didn’t.)
For agents who don’t represent a player on a given team’s roster, there are other ways to skin the cat. Coaches and executives routinely contact agents to get information or advice. That can be the stated reason for the call. In fact, some teams already are opening the discussions with a topic unrelated to the free agent who is currently under contract with another team. Then, the conversation pivots to that player.
Of course, any team that will be tampering with a free agent by talking to his agent on the phone will need to trust that agents to not intentionally or accidentally screw the pooch. Some agents may be inclined to use those communications against a given team at some point down the line. Teams try to figure out which agents will or won’t potentially use the willingness to engage in tampering calls against them.
Some agents think it’s foolish for teams to even worry. Although phone logs will show the calls made and received to agents, the chances of it ever getting to that point are slim. Still, the league’s random and arbitrary enforcement of the tampering rules justify concerns that, even though every team is tampering, any one team can be the wrong-place-wrong-time franchise that gets whacked.