As the NFL lockout drags on, anyone who didn't see the prospect of "illegal fraternization" between coaches and the players they're not allowed to talk to wasn't paying attention — and may not understand the competitive temperament required to play or coach the game of professional football. No matter how much you're supposed to be on one side or another in the labor fight, everyone knows that the lockout will be over soon, and any competitive advantage that is seen on the field will be taken.
Little surprise, then, that Mike Freeman of CBS Sports recently uncovered several instances of lockout rules violations: Players talking with coaches after player-led workouts in which coaches are supposed to have no participation. Coaches sending plays via Skype that players then use in workouts. Position coaches (head coaches seem to be keeping their distance, Freeman reports) watching game film with players at the homes of the players. Coaches getting updates on player injuries and surgeries. Direct messages back and forth between coaches and players via Twitter.
And Pro Football Weekly recently reported that the undrafted free agents represented by six different agents have been illegally contacted by NFL teams.
The NFL has released no statement regarding Freeman's article, though we're pretty sure we'll eventually hear the basic lip service about such contact being illegal per the current labor dispute, and that these points will be looked into. Teams have released the basic statements regarding tampering that you'd imagine after the UDFA findings were revealed.
But just as the players balance the fact that they're weakening the stance of their own governing body (note: We didn't say "union!") in the NFLPA to gain that competitive advantage, the NFL will also be treading a very fine line should it choose to come down on anyone involved in such shenanigans. The NFL and the commissioner operate at the pleasure and behest of the owners, and if the owners sense that a little bit of underground fraternization will be good for the game (and thus their bottom line) when football is actually happening again, they'll be very reluctant to go after a quarterback coach for making sure that the franchise signal-caller is up to speed on a new playbook. Such initiative could result in a win or two over a less-prepared team; perhaps even a playoff or Super Bowl berth.
And that's the real skin in this game. While the lawyers for both sides espouse the grand elements of the larger labor battles, coaches and players are trying to win games -- and keep their jobs — by any means necessary. In the end, the old sports maxim, "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'" seems to be the order of the day.
Whether the NFL says so or not.