Raiders HC Jon Gruden’s overtures to CB Richard Sherman seem harmless but will the NFL see it that way?

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Levi Damien
·3 min read
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For those of us who cover Jon Gruden on a day-to-day basis, we understand how he talks. For that matter, he was on TV for nine years before that, so most people should have a pretty good feel for his personality. He says a lot of tongue-in-cheek things mixed in with serious things. Enough to keep you on your toes and wondering which is to be taken seriously and which is just Gruden being Gruden.

Ok, so here’s what happened. Gruden appeard on Cris Collinsworth’s podcast this week, which happened to feature veteran cornerback Richard Sherman whose defensive coordinator his first two seasons in the NFL was Raiders’ new DC Gus Bradley. This fact prompted Sherman to say he loved playing for Bradley, which led to Collinsworth asking about Gruden’s potential interest in signing Sherman, whose contract is up with the 49ers and could become a free agent in March.

Gruden’s response was in a familiar tone. A tone he used a lot in his QB camp series in which he seemingly never had anything negative to say about one of the prospects he featured. Only this time, he’s a head coach.

“Richard Sherman, if you are a free agent, which there is a rumor you are, we are looking for an alpha presence in our secondary,” Gruden said. “Somebody that could play this Hawk 3-press technique with the read step. If you’re available and interested, maybe you and I can get together at some point off air.”

You could practically hear the twinkle in Gruden’s eye when he was speaking. We hadn’t even paid it any mind, and I haven’t seen many who saw it as anything groundbreaking. It was that Gruden TV personality speaking. But the question has arisen as to whether the league will dismiss this as Gruden being Gruden or if they will see it as tampering.

The possibility of the latter was raised by Pro Football Talk, who said a quote an unnamed GM who they said, unprompted that it was “blatant tampering” on Gruden’s part.

The report went on to quote the NFL’s Anti-Tampering Policy which reads: “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,” and cited Gruden’s specific words for Sherman; “He’s an excellent player, and we’d very much like to have him if he were available, but another club holds his rights.”

Again, this is the kind of thing most people could hear Gruden saying about someone we all know he has no interest in signing. Honestly, I could envision him saying the same thing about Cris Collinsworth whose last NFL game as a player was in 1988.

The problem is, the 32-year-old Sherman is still an active NFL player and one many could absolutely see Gruden being interested in adding to a struggling Raiders secondary. As several other teams probably will too and they are bound by the league’s anti-tampering rules.

If other GMs make a stink about it — which is sounds like at least one could — the NFL may be forced to go by the letter of the law without regard for the perceived tone of the overtures.

Free agency opens on March 17. The league has set aside the three days leading up to that date for teams to tamper legally. It’s called the free-agent negotiating period, and we’re still nearly six weeks away from that.