One of the more obnoxious things the NFL likes to do is change rules on the fly, and their recent attempts to squash any news that gets leaked regarding free agent signings during this four-day window between March 9th and 12th - when teams can negotiate with unrestricted free agents - is a classic example of said obnoxiousness.
Per new league rules, from March 9th-12th, teams and players who will become free agents when the new league year begins can negotiate deals. This is playfully called "legalized tampering" because everyone and their mother knows that these negotiations were going on during the 2012 league year, specifically during the NFL Scouting Combine last month. From March 9th-12th, teams and players can agree to contracts "in principle." The language, the money, and the years are all worked out, and the only thing left to do is sign. That signing cannot happen until March 12th.
Fine. Cool. Makes sense. No biggie.
However, nothing should stop the flow of news to us, the fans, that such deals have been agreed to "in principle." Personally, I'd kind of like to know if the Colts have agreed to a deal in principle with, say, free agent outside linebacker Paul Kruger. Kruger, Kruger's agent, and the team they both negotiated with also have an interest in letting that news out.
Alas, the NFL league office is not for this, using Friday morning to send a scary memo to all NFL teams warning them that "prior to the beginning of the new League Year it is impermissible for a club to enter into an agreement of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent or understandings of any kind concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to, or to be offered to, any prospective Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year."
As Mike Florio correctly notes, all this babble from the league directly contradicts the revised rules of free agency, which state that teams actually can make agreements in principle with players between March 9th-March12th. If teams violate the contradictory policy outlined in the Friday memo, they are threatened with... I am not making this up... a tampering probe.
Seriously? The league just allowed "tampering" from March 9th-March 12th, per the new rules. Now, as a result of the Friday memo, if the news gets out that a player has agreed in principle to sign with a team, the league will investigate said team for tampering?
WTF is that?
It's the kind of stupidity that makes you throw your hands in the air and curse the skies in frustration... kind of how I feel when I watch NBA refs call a basketball game.
However, it all comes into focus when you read this:
It’s a joke, but it all points to something former Chiefs G.M. Scott Pioli first mentioned last month on Pro Football Talk: The league is building toward a contrived "signing day," on which players will announce that which previously was unknown to anyone except the player and his family.
Still, it’s impractical in this context, and we can’t imagine that a sudden wave of huffing and puffing from a league office that has little capacity to blow anything down if the teams are discreet will keep teams from striking informal deals and then getting the word out in order to scare other teams away from the player.
So, at the heart of this is money. The league wants to create some B.S. NFL signing day, which they can make a big deal out of on some like, say, NFL Network.
HUGE, swooping camera shots of Scott Hansen!
Remember when the free agent signing period was kind of fun? So do I.