Proposal would help tampering issue
BOSTON -- For now, the NFL won't be creating an offseason window when teams can negotiate with free agents even before the players actually become available.
Team owners on Wednesday tabled discussions until the winter meetings next March, but the issue is not dead. Indeed, there is support for establishing a short period just before free agency begins, usually in early March, when teams can talk to, but not physically meet with or sign, players whose contracts have expired.
Such a window could ease concerns about teams making early contact with those players, which constitutes tampering -- something the Tennessee Titans intimated the Washington Redskins might have done with Albert Haynesworth last winter.
"We've been discussing this for two to three years and haven't vetted it enough to make sure we've got the right system," said Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee and president of the Atlanta Falcons. "We'll continue to look at it and bring it up again."
McKay said the owners prefer stricter enforcement of current tampering rules.
"The anti-tampering rules have served us well," he said. "We hold onto the idea of let's enforce these rules."
McKay made it clear he believes the 32 clubs are not at fault if improper contact is made, saying with a smile: "There's another group not necessarily under our control."
He was referring to agents, many of whom consider stretching the rules part of the free-agent game.
Last March, the Titans sent information to the league that the Redskins might have contacted Haynesworth and his agent, Chad Speck, before free agency began Feb. 27. No charges were brought, however.
Haynesworth signed a seven-year, $100 million contract with Washington that included $41 million in guaranteed money.
Recently, the NFL began investigating whether the New York Jets tampered with San Francisco's first-round draft choice, Michael Crabtree, during his lengthy holdout. The wide receiver signed with the 49ers earlier this month.
"They are difficult to enforce because you want to be certain you have a violation before you take any action," commissioner Roger Goodell said.
"I think there could be a change in the future, but at the end of the day the clubs focused on ... we have rules in place and don't make any modification to it. There's no consensus on what modifications we should make and what the impact might be."
Goodell said another negotiating session with the NFL Players Association is scheduled for next week. The sides have met several times, but no major economic negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement have occurred.
Goodell noted that if 2010 winds up being an uncapped season, as the current CBA calls for before expiring after the Super Bowl following that season, there will be some uncertainty for players.
"With the restrictions in place, the game will be really at the same level it has been in the past several years," he said. "Quality is what we focus on and I don't see it being impacted.
"But I think there will be changes that affect players. There won't be team [salary] minimums, [unrestricted] free agency will go from four years to six. There are lot of factors that will affect the dynamics."
The owners also met with George Martin, who has been hired by NFL Alumni, a group that plans to be the lone voice for retired players. Those players have had their representation fragmented by many groups, and Goodell believes working with one organization will be a positive development.
"We are encouraged this will give us an organization we can work with to address the issues of the men who built the game," Goodell said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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