What is NFL Legal Tampering and how does it impact the Buffalo Bills?

Feb 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA; A NFL shield logo at midield of Super Bowl 57 at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, USA; A NFL shield logo at midield of Super Bowl 57 at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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Buffalo Bills
Darrelle Revis (Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com via USA TODAY NETWORK) /

History of Legal Tampering in the NFL

In 2013, the NFL attempted to address illegal contact and negotiations with players by teams prior to the start of the new league year by allowing a 52-hour window of time for preliminary negotiations between teams and agents. The language from the beginning was cloudy at best, seeming to indicate that deals could not be agreed upon during this time, as the NFL memo stated:

"“Prior to the beginning of the new League Year it is impermissible for a club to enter into an agreement of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances, intent or understandings of any kind concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to, or to be offered to, any prospective Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year.”"

So, by the letter of the law, discussions with agents are allowed, but agreements of any kind are not. Obviously, this has led to some issues.

Issues with Legal Tampering

It really should not shock anyone that a period of time called “legal tampering” meant to decrease tampering with other teams’ players who know they will soon not be those teams’ players would cause issues with compliance.

Overall, the specific guidelines seem to have no impact on clubs negotiating during this time. Contract details are leaked by insiders, and deals are agreed to within minutes of the start of the new league year (far too little time to actually negotiate terms of multi-million dollar deals with unique clauses, prohibitions, and perks). While teams can theoretically be fined or lost draft picks for tampering, instances of this are rare.

Given the vagueness of the language, the unclear intent, the lack of enforcement, and the competition for free agents it is understandable that teams would push the limits. In 2015, likely fueled by the increase of social media, the league became frustrated by leaks and sent another memo expressing its displeasure with teams’ adherence to the league guidelines.

The Chiefs at the time were at the center of the controversy due to their deal with soon-to-be free agent WR Jeremy Maclin, and were hit with the following penalty:

  •  Loss of 2016 3rd round draft pick
  •  Loss of 2017 6th round draft pick
  •  A $250,000 fine for the team
  • Head coach Andy Reid was fined $75,000
  • GM John Dorsey was fined $25,000

The Jets too were punished based on their agreement with soon-to-be free agent CB Darrelle Revis, incurring just a $100,000 fine with no loss of draft picks or fines to any coach or front office personnel.

Consequences for violating the league’s terms for legal tampering have overall been light and infrequent. So, what is the actual impact of this period?