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Patriots Replay Thu Jul 18 | 12:00 AM - 12:00 PM

View from Above: Making sense out of pure nonsense

AP Photos by Matt Patterson and Al Tielemans.
AP Photos by Matt Patterson and Al Tielemans.

Who’s up for a little nonsense? Maybe some skull-duggery, a few hi-jinks, or perhaps a touch of underhandedness?

Or, how about a good dose of stupid?

That’s the impression I get as the NFL enters its’ “legal tampering” period this week, prior to the start of free agency. 

The word “tampering” indicates something untoward – illegal, even. The term refers to “interfering with someone or something in order to cause damage or make unauthorized alterations.” In other words, it sounds like something you shouldn’t be doing, amiright?

But the NFL now looks the other way and turns a blind eye to this period of legal interference, or window of opportunity. So why is it called tampering? It’s negotiation, that’s all it is. Here’s the skinny on what is allowable:

  • Two days, March 11 to March 13 at 4:00 pm ET, teams can negotiate “all aspects” of an NFL contract with a player, but not directly with a player. Agents only.
  • If a player acts as his own agent, he cannot talk to other teams.
  • Players cannot visit teams during this time, other than their own.
  • Violations of these rules can result in fines or a loss of draft picks.
  • Unrestricted free agents only. Restricted players cannot negotiate anything during this period.

Because of the lack of league oversight when it came time to sign free agents in the past, once-upon-a-time free agent players were already negotiated and signed (in secret) well in advance of the free agent period beginning. In an effort to curb this, um, enthusiasm, the league applied these restrictions above – ostensibly to create a level negotiating field for any interested team, beginning in 2013.

Negotiate, talk to, work it all out on paper. But no official offer can be made until the actual free agent period begins – after 4:00 pm ET on March 13th this year. Make sense to you?

What really happens is word of potential negotiations leaks to the media and the public – regardless of the ‘legal tampering’ window – and the pro football world gets several days’ worth of headlines on players’ negotiations, contract signings and possible deals. Interest builds. Tickets and more merchandise get sold, and well, the NFL ultimately wins.

Leave it to pro football to make chicken salad out of chicken (bleep), because that’s exactly what this is. Oh sure, they might catch a violator or two, and fine some team somewhere for some tampering violation. Then the league will tweak the rules again to keep it from happening, which then will actually happen again. 

Sheesh.

It’s a real simple solution. Make a rule. Enforce the rule. Crackdown on those who don’t follow the rule. Penalize players, teams, coaches and agents for not following the rule. Be definitive, not wishy-washy. 

Got leadership? Wait, don’t answer that one. You don’t need to.

The NFL has a hard time getting out of the way of their own nonsensical rules and ends up cashing in on the popularity and publicity that comes their way due to the dumb rules in the first place. They know precisely what they’re doing.

That’s part of the magic of pro football. It has cast a ‘stupid’ spell on all of us.

Just sit back and enjoy the nonsense. Undoubtedly, there’s more on the way.

Priorities, priorities, priorities

Knowing what these rules are, the Patriots undoubtedly have their own plan-of-attack in place for the free agent period. We know, these guys are never caught short.

Chances are, however, that the team “wish list” is a bit different from what you may wish for in free agency, or what I may wish for, or what the media may speculatively wish for. But that won’t stop us from dreaming, will it? Of course not.

Here are three semi-humble thoughts on Patriot priorities for This Week in Free Agency:

Pay close attention to the Defensive Line

  • This is surely an idea shared by many, repeated often on wish-lists from Patriot fans and media members across the country. I’ll share that sentiment now, especially with the trade (wink, wink) bringing in Michael Bennett from Philadelphia. Giving up a 5th round pick and receiving a 7th in return for Bennett shows why New England plays chess, while the rest of the NFL is enamored with checkers. Bennett is 33 but does he now need to be an every-down guy with Trey Flowers’ apparent departure? His cap hit is roughly similar to what Adrian Clayborn has. But without Flowers, the Patriots have need at end – and still have need at tackle. There’s work to do here.

Keep shopping for the groceries

  • In other words, do what Bill Parcells once lamented the Patriots wouldn’t let him do. Consider bringing back guys like Malcom Brown, Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen and Phillip Dorsett – provided you can manage to keep some cap space available. I would also give serious consideration to retaining role players like John Simon, LaAdrian Waddle and Albert McClellan, provided they don’t strike money deals elsewhere. Jason McCourty? If he’s agreeable to a cap-friendly wage. McCourty’s importance to the secondary as a whole late in the season cannot be overstated. He was huge. Oh, and would Martellus Bennett really want to come out of retirement to play with his brother? It’s worth exploring.

Find a receiver

  • Danny Amendola’s return was a thought here, until his deal (wink, wink) with Detroit. You might consider re-signing Chris Hogan, and if Josh Gordon can gain reinstatement from the NFL you also control his rights for another year. Through free agency, Golden Tate has already publicly stated how he’d love to play for a team like the Patriots (wink, wink) – and he could give the team a deep threat they’ve lacked previously. Are there others willing to play ball with what New England could offer? The goal here, should be to find at least one.

Some advice for the Raiders

Just win, baby.

That’s not original, of course. But Al Davis’ famous saying certainly seems appropriate as the Raiders embark on Year Two of the Jon Gruden era. The team has one more year in Oakland. They’d love to go out in a blaze of glory, no doubt.

They’ve got the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas to sell, too. Tickets to sell, crowds and sponsors to attract. Shouldn’t have too much of a problem attracting fans, even the ones they leave behind in California.

So keep doing what you’re doing. They’ve traded for Antonio Brown. They’re looking hard at Le’Veon Bell. Hey, let ‘em become Steelers West. No issues here if they decimate Steelers East.

They may decide to get into the Kyler Murray-for-QB Derby. They already have Khalil Mack. Oh wait, they messed that one up. Amari Cooper? Oh yeah, he’s gone too.

It’s ok, Raiders. You keep being you. Trent Brown? Earl Thomas? Why not. There’s a ton of cap space in Oakland, er, Vegas…whatever. A sideshow is just what we need, right next to Penn & Teller on the Vegas strip.

Comedy and mystery, all rolled into one. Perfect. What goes on in Vegas, needs to stay in Vegas.

John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is entering his 27th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio & Television Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.

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