Roger Goodell’s Next Blunder? The NFL Docks the Chiefs Two Draft Picks for Tampering

Kansas City Chiefs

Over the weekend, the NFL announced that the Kansas City Chiefs have been penalized violating the NFL’s Anti-Tampering Policy. In 2015, the Chiefs allegedly had improper “direct communication” with unrestricted free agent WR Jeremy Maclin during the “Negotiation Period.” During this period, teams are only allowed contact with agents and not players; hence it was technically a violation of the Policy (although it is widely speculated that this type of contact happens all of the time during the NFL’s “legal tampering” period).

Pending appeal, Kansas City will be forced to forfeit its third round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and its sixth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and pay a fine of $250,000. Head Coach Andy Reid was also fined $75,000 and General Manager John Dorsey $25,000.

Did Goodell and the NFL overstep its bound in this case? The Chiefs seem to think so. Owner Clark Hunt released the following statement:

“While we respect Commissioner Goodell and the process, we believe that the penalties proposed in this case are inconsistent with discipline enforced in similar matters — particularly given the league’s inconsistent communication of its policies on contact with potential free agents. As an organization, we take great care to conduct ourselves with integrity and operate within the guidelines of the NFL. We have been fully cooperative and transparent with the league in this matter, and we are disappointed with the league’s decision. I want to make it clear that I fully support the leadership of both Coach Reid and John Dorsey. We will continue to explore our options under the appeal process.”

Notably, Hunt does not seem to deny that wrongdoing occurred; rather, he argues that the punishment does not fit the crime.

The question of whether the Chiefs will be able to successfully appeal the penalty revolves around the language of the underlying policy and past case precedent. Like many other League polices, the Anti-Tampering Policy gives Roger Goodell wide discretion to levy penalties. Here is all is says about “Discipline”:

Any violation of this Anti-Tampering Policy will subject the involved club and/or person to severe discipline action by the Commissioner.

Since the Policy itself does not delineate specific penalties for specific infractions, past applications of the policy will guide the inquiry into whether the penalty fit the crime. Here are the three instances that the NFL investigated alleged tampering of free agents:

  • In 2015, the New York Jets were fined $100,000 for owner Woody Johnson’s public comments that he would “love to have Darrelle [Revis] back” while Revis was under contract with the New England Patriots. After Revis eventually signed with the Jets, they turned the tables and filed a grievance against the Patriots after Pats owner Robert Kraft said that he wished Revis “was still with us,” but New England was not punished.

Here is what stands out from the past precedent: (1) The highest draft pick a team has ever been penalized is a fifth-pick and (2) no team has ever been forced to forfeit multiple draft picks.

Applying this to the Chiefs penalty, the forfeiture of the 2016 third-round pick is the highest draft pick penalty by two rounds. Also, this is the first time that a team has been forced to give up multiple picks. While we do not know the full extent of the details in this case, it seems that the Briggs case – reaching out to an agent during the season – is more egregious than this case – contacting the player directly during the negotiation period rather than speaking with the agent.

Given that this is an unprecedented penalty and that the conduct does not appear to be as severe as past cases resulting in a lesser penalty, the Chiefs will have a very strong argument on appeal for a reduced penalty (remember, they are not denying wrongdoing). Expect the appeal to be wrapped up quickly and in advance of the April 28-30 2016 Draft.

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  1. Rick McBride says

    I agree. Though the Chiefs may be guilty of tampering, they were hosed by the commissioner. He seems to prefer dishonesty to honesty and cooperation. The Jets who were totally dishonest and uncooperative got off with merely a fine. Yet the Chiefs were slapped with an unprecedented loss of a 3rd round pick and to add insult to injury a 6th round pick the following draft. When other teams equally or less cooperative lose no higher than a 5th round choice and a swap of a 3rd round pick. (I recently read an old article where penalty levied against San Francisco was considered particularly harsh).

    Meanwhile, the commissioner’s office is espousing very deceptive and somewhat misleading if not dishonest rhetoric that the office took into account the honesty and cooperation provided by the Chiefs. If this is how the commissioner shows his appreciation, I know that he is encouraging the League to be dishonest and uncooperative.

    I have a 12 year old son who is a Chiefs fan who I want to see grow up as honest and to have integrity, but even he sees the total injustice that is being doled out to his favorite team and the commissioner’s actions teaches that honest doesn’t pay in the NFL, dishonesty has little or no consequences. Furthermore, the punishment needs to fit the crime. Some of the Chiefs best players have been selected in the third round such as Travis Kelcy, J. Charles, Will Shields, Albert Lewis and many more. The commissioner needs to realize that this punishment also effects/punishes the fans of the Chiefs as well–fans who have not seen their team in a Super Bowl (a moniker coined by the Chiefs’ founder Lamar Hunt} since 1970.

  2. Andrew says

    It’s pretty pathetic that the Chiefs have A) blatantly flouted the rules and B) not even tried to deny it, and yet they’re STILL on the right side here. Really a testament to how terrible Goodell is at discipline and why he should’ve been stripped of his power long ago.

    I don’t see the Chiefs winning. Not if Goodell’s going to be hearing his own appeal. If he overturns this, A) it makes him look stupid and compromised re discipline, thus weakning the NFL’s leverage in negotiations w/ the union to strip Goodell of his power, and B) the comparisons to Deflategate will never end XD

  3. Junkfish Jordan says

    At the root of all of these contentious issues seems to be the fact that neither the players nor the teams (and, by proxy, the fans) have a right to appeal any punishment to a neutral party. Am I nuts, or wouldn’t the threat of being overturned by an independent arbiter be enough to force Goodell to do things like, you know, consider precedent, the law of the shop, whether notice was given, whether a fair hearing was conducted, etc.? The recent string of escalating, arbitrary punishments doled out by Goodell (Bountygate, Rice, Peterson, Deflategate, Chiefs) would seem to set the NFL on an irrevocable path towards ever-increasing, unprecedented suspensions, fines, and other forms of draconian punishments. Will there come a point where both the teams – like the Saints, Chiefs, and Patriots, recently – and the NFLPA see their interests align around having ALL appeals heard by independent 3rd parties?

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