With Tom Brady officially on board, Bucs throw dirt on tampering trail

Mike Florio
ProFootball Talk on NBC Sports

The article purports to take the reader behind the scenes of the Buccaneers’ pursuit of Tom Brady. Its true purpose seems to be avoiding any potential accusation that the Buccaneers tampered with Brady.

The item from Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times opens with this line: “It was last Wednesday evening, the first day of the new league year, when the Bucs called Tom Brady.” The next few paragraphs delve into the details of the call, creating the impression that this was the first time G.M. Jason Licht or coach Bruce Arians spoke to Brady about playing for the Buccaneers.

There’s a very good reason for this approach. Even though the rules permitted teams to speak to agents as of Monday at 12:00 p.m. ET, the rules prohibited a team from speaking directly to the player until 4:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday. By recounting a conversation that happened, per Stroud, on “Wednesday evening,” the Buccaneers weren’t even close to the line. But consider this: Wouldn’t Licht and Arians have gotten Brady on the phone at 4:01 p.m. ET on Wednesday, if they had never spoken to him about playing in Tampa?

The facts and circumstances suggest that the story told to Stroud about the Wednesday evening phone call was less about providing insight into how the deal actually went down and more about throwing dirt on a trail that easily could lead to a tampering investigation.

By Wednesday evening, Brady already had picked the Bucs. Brady picked Tampa Bay on Tuesday. On Tuesday evening, we explained why he picked the Bucs over the Chargers.

By Wednesday evening, the question wasn’t whether Brady would pick the Bucs but why hadn’t the transaction been announced? As of 9:46 p.m. ET on Wednesday evening, for example, Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted that the two sides “were still trying to finalize contract language.” Which would make no sense if Brady didn’t even make his decision until Wednesday evening.

So the notion that Licht and Arians spoke to Brady for the first time on Wednesday evening seems off, to say the least. The deal was as a practical matter done well before then, during the window when the team were allowed to talk only to Brady’s agent and not to Brady directly.

Which makes the story feel like an effort to keep anyone from now suggesting that the Buccaneers spoke to Brady before 4:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Common sense suggests that those commutations occurred.

At the Scouting Combine, for example, Arians didn’t hesitate to tell reporters that he’d be calling Brady, weeks before the rules permitted Arians to make any public remarks regarding his interest in Brady. If Arians was willing to dance on the wrong side of the line then, it’s fair to wonder whether he danced on the wrong side of the line later.

Then there’s the reality that the Patriots did nothing to suggest that they were taking notes regarding potential words and actions that cross the line. Instead, the Patriots seemed to be willing to let Brady do whatever he had to do to explore his options, even if those things happened before they were technically allowed to happen. As a practical matter, New England’s nonchalance created an atmosphere in which teams would have been even less worried about committing a tampering violation as to Brady.

Throw in the real-word COVID-19 confusion of the past couple of weeks, the vague sense that Brady’s GOAT status creates a de facto tampering dispensation, the reality that no one was going to tell the GOAT “no” if he wanted to talk prematurely, and the league’s general lack of interest in enforcing a policy that routinely is violated in one way or another by every team (primarily through Combine-week meetings with agents of impending free agents), and it becomes very easy to envision Arians adapting his on-field “no risk-it, no biscuit” mantra to the effort to land Brady, throwing caution to the wind and ignoring rules that rarely are enforced in order to secure the services of a quarterback who could let Arians walk off into the sunset with a silver trophy in one hand and a glass of something brown and potent in the other.

Now that they’ve landed Brady, it’s important to ensure that the league won’t decide to start poking around regarding potential irregularities, from communications with agent Don Yee before Monday at noon ET to communications with Brady before Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. ET. And the NFL’s anti-tampering policy allows the league to pursue a tampering case even if the Patriots don’t file tampering charges.

When, for example, the NFL stripped the Chiefs of a third-round pick in 2016 and a sixth-round pick in 2017 (and imposed $285,000 in fines) for speaking directly to former Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin during the 2015 negotiating window, the league initiated the investigation on its own.

The Buccaneers have even more reason to be concerned about what the league may do as to the pursuit of Brady. Consider this portion of the policy, regarding willful violations: “In any case in which a preponderance of the evidence establishes that it is more likely than not that a club deliberately set out to violate the Anti-Tampering Policy, or made a calculated decision to risk the possible penalties for such violation as an acceptable cost of acquiring a player or non-player club employee (i.e., as a ‘cost of doing business’), or attempted to conceal evidence of the offense whether before, during, or after its commission, the club and any involved person will be subject to appropriate discipline under such aggravating circumstances.”

No risk-it. No biscuit. The Bucs got their biscuit, and the effort to craft a narrative that they didn’t speak directly to Brady until more than a day after he decided to sign a contract to become a Buccaneer seems to reflect their best effort to engage in after-the-fact risk-it management.

With Tom Brady officially on board, Bucs throw dirt on tampering trail originally appeared on Pro Football Talk

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