According to CBS’ Mike Freeman, many NFL coaches and players simply don’t care what the lockout means or what the rules are, they’re keeping in touch all the same. In fact, according to Freeman 25% of all NFL personnel are in violation of communication embargo set in place because of the lockout.
Over a two-week period, I spoke with a half-dozen players and handful of assistant coaches from both conferences. The picture that emerges is one where coaches and players, despite rules against it, stay in almost weekly contact with one another using a variety of technologies.
While lockout rules are supposed to prevent contact between players and coaches, when it comes to the team workouts, both sides are utilizing Skype, e-mail, text-messaging and good, old-fashioned phone calls to update coaches on the progress of group workouts, what players are doing to stay in shape and even personal issues.
In many ways, despite the fact this does undermine the solidarity the players would like to claim to have, it’s not at all surprising. Aside from the fact that most around the NFL do feel there will be football next year and that they must be ready for it, these players and coaches have close relationships with each other. They work in close proximity almost every day, they succeed and fail together, any team with reasonable camaraderie is going to be pretty tight even off the field.
What I found extremely interesting though, was that no player stated he had any contact with any head coach outside of the small window in which the lockout subsided during the draft.
Several players estimated 25 percent of the league’s players are in regular contact with assistant coaches. However not one player said he had spoken to a head coach. It seems the head coaches, while aware of the contact, are keeping their distance and allowing subordinates to speak with players on their behalf, several sources stated. Plausible deniability, said one assistant. Any team caught communicating with players is subject to punishment from the league office. Superficially, the league is inactive but underneath there are a great many things happening. After I first reported teams were illicitly contacting undrafted free agents, for example. Pro Football Weekly later stated that six NFL agents had been contacted by clubs about those players, a violation of lockout rules. The Columbia (Mo.) Tribune reported that undrafted center Tim Barnes was contacted by Baltimore, Miami and Cincinnati. An NFL spokesman said such contact would amount to tampering.
The head coaches seem to know that when the ax falls, it will be on their necks. Still, this may be the least shocking bit of news you read all day. In the NFL it’s only cheating if you get caught. And every time a team, player or coach gets caught doing something illegal, you can rest assured somewhere around the league at least 15 others were doing the exact same thing.
What is surprising is how cavalier the assistant coaches seem to be about their communication, with some going as far as to fax plays and show up at players’ houses to watch film. I’m just waiting for the Freedom of Information Act to be used to police the NFL. You think I’m kidding, Arkansas used it to try and get Houston Nutt fired for recruiting violations (they found none, but they did find evidence of an affair which was enough to get him to resign anyways). It’s not that out of the question.
Truth be told though, I’ll bet the NFL ignore this completely.