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What Is Tampering?

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What is tampering? It's something we've been arguing a lot, but there seems to be a disconnect between what it is and what we think it is, along with the actual quotes from the two owners of the New York Jets and New England Patriots. First, here's what Woody Johnson said:

"Darrelle is a great player. If I thought I could have gotten Darrelle, for that [amount], I probably would have taken him. It was our best judgment to do what we did. But Darrelle’s a great player. I’d love Darrelle to come back."

Johnson then released a statement clarifying his remarks and called Bob Kraft personally to apologize. Soon after, the Patriots filed official charges for tampering. Which brings us to the present. Kraft:

"The fan in me wishes he was still with us. We made a very competitive offer... We wanted to keep him and we wanted him in our system. I think he feels a great commitment [with the Jets]. So we understand him going back."

Tampering or not, it was a poor choice by Kraft to push the line of something he's accusing his rival of doing. Obviously, the Jets are trolling and poking their rivals with a stick. Filing charges hardly hurts them, and some of us are taking this way, way too seriously.

The actual rules on tampering state, in part:

Any public or private statement of interest, qualified or unqualified, in another club’s player to that player’s agent or representative, or to a member of the news media, is a violation of this Anti Tampering Policy. (Example of a prohibited comment: "He’s an excellent player, and we’d very much like to have him if he were available, but another club holds his rights.")

Note that there is no distinction of timing (before free agency or after) or tense. I'll bold the relevant parts. Any public statement of interest in another club's player to a member of the news media is a violation of this Anti Tampering Policy. I don't know that anyone will disagree that Johnson's remarks were "worse," but by the letter of the law, I believe (unsurprisingly) that both are violations. Of the spirit of the law? Perhaps Kraft's isn't, but Kraft also did this after Johnson personally apologized, so clearly all's fair in war. My guess is that the league will most likely say that the two cancel each other out so they aren't forced to "favor" one team.