The Washington Redskins are in line to take a slap on the wrist for possibly jumping the gun in signing free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. According to a Yahoo! Sports report, the NFL is investigating the Tennessee Titans' complaint that the Redskins tampered with Haynesworth prior to the start of the free-agency period.
From what we know, the evidence that negotiations started prior to the permitted hour is mostly circumstantial. Dan Snyder had dinner with Chad Speck, Haynesworth's agent, at the combine and some players made some comments indicating that they had knowledge of early contact that could constitute tampering.
The fact that Haynesworth signed about six hours after the start of the signing period, by the way, is meaningless. It's possible to get it done that quickly if both sides are motivated to do so. The team has the numbers loaded into a spread sheet and, as negotiations commence, all of the "what if" scenarios can be run immediately.
The Redskins came up with numbers that Haynesworth liked and, rather than risk the Redskins taking their money elsewhere, Haynesworth and Speck agreed to the deal. The actual paper contract gets drawn up as the player travels to Ashburn and he signs on the line in the afternoon.
Although the actual evidence may seem to be somewhat flimsy, there doesn't have to be a smoking gun for the Redskins to get nailed here. This isn't a trial where a jury has to find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Roger Goddell can do whatever he wants. He can decide that there was enough smoke to deduce that there was a fire.
Goodell's discretionary power can work in the Redskins' favor, too. He could reasonably conclude that the Titans were not going to sign Haynesworth under any circumstances. Their final offer just wasn't close.
But if Goodell thinks there was tampering it's not likely that his call will be, "no harm, no foul". If the wide receiver lines up too close to the line and covers the tight end, they throw a flag and walk off five yards even though the infraction has no material impact on the result of the play. A fifth-round pick is about the equivalent of a five-yard penalty.
The guess here is that it's 50-50 that Goodell sees enough to bust the Redskins for tampering and if he does the Redskins will get hit for their fifth-round pick and Snyder will have to write out a check for about $100,000.