Agents: Teams have tampered with undrafted players

Posted May 06, 2011 @ 1:25 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

UPDATED: Thursday, May 5, 6:04 p.m. EST

Six NFL agents, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told PFW that teams were contacting them in regard to their undrafted free-agent clients after the draft, a violation of NFL lockout rules.

With the league in the midst of a work stoppage, NFL teams are not allowed to have any contact with any undrafted players. In a typical season, teams will contact undrafted players and their agents in a mad dash at the conclusion of the draft in order to sign them during a free-for-all period.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed to PFW that any contact between teams and agents or players currently would constitute tampering.

Of the six agents that PFW spoke to, three said that representatives of NFL clubs even used personal cell phones to contact the agents following the conclusion of last weekend's draft, as opposed to calling from team-issued lines where evidence of tampering might be easier to trace via phone records in any official NFL audit. Two more agents said that teams called players directly in a few cases.

"It was almost like a normal year in terms of contact, a little less (phone contact) than normal maybe, only without the signed contracts at the end," one of the agents said.

A story on Wednesday in the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune appeared to confirm what PFW has heard on this front. Undrafted free agent Tim Barnes, a center prospect from the University of Missouri, told the Tribune that three teams contacted him after the draft: the Ravens, Bengals and Dolphins.

Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan said the team is "puzzled by the report" and is unaware of any coach or scout calling Barnes after the draft. A team source thought it would be unlikely that the Bengals would contact Barnes to sign as a free agent because they did not have a high enough draft grade on him to warrant it.

Dolphins senior vice president-media relations Harvey Greene told PFW he was unaware of the report on the team contacting Barnes. "We're certainly aware of the rules, but I don't have any information on that (report)."

Ravens director of media relations Chad Steele told PFW that his team was aware of the no-contact rules and that he is unaware of any violations by his club during or after the draft.

"We would look into (potential tampering) if we had specific information," Aiello said.

The NFL has issued fines and docked teams draft picks for previous tampering charges regarding free agency. After an appeal, the Lions were ordered to swap places with the Chiefs and give up their sixth- or seventh-round pick next year [if they make the playoffs, they'll surrender a sixth-rounder, if they don't, it'll be a seventh-rounder] for illegally contacting S Jarrad Page, who still was Kansas City's property prior to his becoming a free agent. Page later was traded to the Patriots.

But the Barnes case is rare because it involves an undrafted college player prior to entering the NFL, which never before has been considered tampering. It's just yet another procedural oddity of the lockout-altered NFL this offseason.