Josh Cribbs & tampering in the NFL: An example to be made

Jason Miller

This week, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs may have unknowingly revealed a blatant violation the league's tampering policy.

There seems to be a lot of interest in wide receiver Josh Cribbs, who explained on ESPN radio in Cleveland how he and his agent have already been taking meetings and have gone as far as exchanging figures. Unfortunately for the Cleveland Browns soon-to-be free agent, he is not a free agent yet.

This week, Cribbs and his representation crossed a fine line if the following is true:

My agent has been meeting with several different teams. There is a lot of interest. There are already numbers brought to the table. Things are happening. Wheels are turning behind closed doors.

The new league year does not officially begin until March 12, so any talks before then would be considered a blatant violation of league policy.

And while tampering is commonly practiced -- just not spoken about -- it is still subject to punishment when openly disregarded. There is an extensive league policy dedicated to just such an issue.

Free-Agency System. It is not a violation of the Anti-Tampering Policy for a club to discuss and sign a contract with a player who is free to do so under terms of an operative collective bargaining agreement, provided such discussion or signing takes place within the period during which the player is allowed to negotiate with other clubs. Such players may also try out with other clubs during the negotiating period. Once such players have completed the negotiating period, no club is permitted to have any dealings with them unless and until their rights are relinquished by their respective clubs.

It clearly states that there is a designated time and place for talks to begin. The Cleveland Browns still own Cribbs' rights for another couple weeks, which subjects any team that allegedly spoke with his representation to league punishment.

The discipline is described as such:

Any violation of this Anti-Tampering Policy will subject the involved club and/or person to severe disciplinary action by the Commissioner. The League office will promulgate to all clubs the details of any penalties imposed for tampering.

It is open-ended and left to the league office to determine a proper punishment. If the teams that supposedly expressed interest in Cribbs are revealed, they could potentially lose draft picks. For NFL organizations, draft picks are valued commodities for teams, and they are also subject to revocation.

While most players may be clueless to the league rules, the agents and front office executives are fully aware of league policy. The "behind closed doors" talks that Cribbs referenced were closed for a reason. And that is because it was totally unofficial and completely off the books.

But this is not the first time this has happened, and it certainly won't be the last.

There is just not enough time in the offseason, and teams are going to try to get an edge on another, even if that means bending the rules. And the NFL is well aware this goes on, which is why teams are rarely punished. But given Cribbs' public comments, Roger Goodell and the league will probably investigate.

And if they discover any foul play, expect a disciplinary action in some shape or form. And while they're at it, they may want to look into Vontae Davis' tweet about Sean Smith and Kansas City Chiefs. Oh, the things that go on behind closed doors.

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