Detroit Lions Tampering Case Settled in the Most Unsettling of Ways

Brenda SummersCorrespondent IIApril 3, 2011

Roger Goodell
Roger GoodellSean Gardner/Getty Images

It has been big news in the Detroit Lions world that the front office was accused of tampering by the Kansas City Chiefs in December 2010. By February, the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, ruled that the Lions were guilty of this accusation. 

The Lions were told they could appeal the decision on or before February 28th.  The deadline came and went, and no word was uttered about if the Lions had chosen to file an appeal or not. 

The charge was reportedly geared toward Gunther Cunningham, the defensive coordinator for the Lions.  Cunningham knows many of the players on the Kansas City Chiefs team because he was their defensive coordinator prior to coming to Detroit. 

The whole tampering issue came out of "Gunner" (Gunther) making a general comment to the Detroit Free Press about the Chiefs' propensity to drop many of their players and how he would gladly have some of these players sign with the Lions.  No one was specifically named.

Greg Aiello, NFL senior vice president of public relations, provides the definition of tampering.

"Out of our anti-tampering policy, the term tampering as used within the NFL refers to any interference by a member club with the employer/employee relationship of another club or any attempt by a club to impermissibly induce the person to seek employment with that club or with the NFL."

The NFL Commissioner charged the Lions with tampering apparently because Gunther "interfered with the employer/employee relationship" by referencing unspecified players who were under contract at the time.  

This ruling meant the Lions had to switch their fifth-round pick with the Chiefs and forfeit their seventh-round pick.

The Chiefs ended up with a pretty sweet deal.  They went from a 23rd to a ninth pick in the fifth round. 

The Lions have a more complicated situation this year.

Fast forward to today.  Roger Goodell revealed that the Lions did make an appeal to the charge against them and, after further review, he reinstated their seventh-round pick.

Having an additional pick in the draft is good news for the Lions, but Goodell did not completely reverse his decision.  If he had reversed it, the Lions would have received their original fifth-round pick, which he did not give them.  He also took away their seventh-round pick in 2012.

Here is how the Lions draft picks in 2011 look now, as explained by ESPN's Mike Sando.  I have highlighted what the results of the tamping charges were and how the Lions stand now after Roger Goodell's partial overturning of his initial ruling.

  • Round 1, pick No. 13, overall pick No. 13
  • Round 2, pick No. 12, overall pick No. 44
  • Round 3, pick No. 11, overall pick No. 75
  • Round 4, pick No. 10, overall pick No. 107
  • Round 5, pick No. 23, overall pick No. 154 (originally had pick No. 9 in the fifth round—the 140th overall pick—but that now belongs to Kansas City because the the tampering charge.)
  • Round 6, pick No. 8, overall pick No. 173 (traded to Seattle as part of Lawrence Jackson deal)
  • Round 6, pick No. 21, overall pick No. 186 (traded to Denver as part of the Alphonso Smith deal; originally acquired from Philadelphia during last year's draft)
  • Round 7, would have been pick No. 2, overall pick No. 205 (forfeited as part of punishment for tampering with Kansas City, originally acquired from Denver as part of Alphonso Smith deal) Now, back to No. 2 pick in 2011 but forfeiting their seventh-round pick in 2012, per Roger Goodell.
  • Round 7, pick No. 7, overall pick No. 209 (traded to Atlanta as part of Chris Houston deal)
  • Round 7, pick No. 30, overall pick No. 230 (traded to San Francisco as part of Shaun Hill deal; originally acquired from NY Jets as part of Kevin O'Connell deal)

The Lions would have had six picks this year, prior to the outcome of the "tampering" case.  They went down to five picks after Goodell's original ruling and then back up to six picks when the ruling was challenged.

What makes Goodell's recent answer to the Lions appeal so interesting is that it doesn't make any sense.  It still doesn't answer the ultimate question of were they guilty of tampering or not? 

By giving the Lions their seventh-round pick back but taking it away in 2012 and then not giving them their original fifth-round pick is more than just curious.  It is unheard of. 

It was bad enough to get slapped with a tampering charge to begin with when the NFL has rarely ever used this charge against any team, even when the "tampering" has been much more obvious (Albert Haynesworth).

Now, it is just looking like the NFL doesn't have its head on straight.

The decision to partially reverse the original charge makes it appear as if they are trying to be "creative" in their punishment.  Why be creative if the tampering charge was accurate?  This "creativity" begs the question of how clear the accusation or the rules were to begin with.

If the accusation by Kansas City toward Detroit produced a muddy or unclear situation what is the default answer?   In MLB it might be considered a tie which would be answered by giving it to the runner (in this case, Detroit). 

In this situation, I would like to see some precedence that could explain the decision.  For instance, why give the Lions their seventh-round pick only to take it away in 2012?  Why not give them their fifth-round pick back?  How has this been handled before?

To make things even more complicated and unsettling, the Commissioner added a caveat to the new deal. According to Pro Football Talk, if the Lions make the playoffs this year, they will lose a sixth-round pick in 2012 instead of a seventh round.  So, they will get a stiffer penalty if they have a successful season this year.

If someone could help me understand this, that would be great.  But I must warn you, it won't be easy.

This is another "Calvin Johnson" type of rule that is supposed to be reviewed this year as part of the CBA.  We know the NFL chose to not change the "process" rule which is a ridiculous one to begin with (in my humble opinion).  So, how will they fare on reviewing the tampering charge?

If Goodell's decision to partially address the appeal by reinstating one seventh-round pick but then taking it back a year later is any indication of how this rule will be used in the future, all teams could be asking the same questions Lions fans are asking this year.

Since it doesn't appear that the NFL follows any guidelines based on factual precedence, I am left to believe that future decisions would be relegated to, "it depends". 

Right now, I can't help but wonder if "depends" is based solely on which teams the NFL chooses to punish for "tampering" and which teams they choose to ignore.  That is the only precedence I have seen thus far. 

In other words, we can all look forward to a future where NFL rules are applied differently for different teams.  This makes the rules worthless.

Is it any wonder why so many of us are feeling that the NFL is losing credibility?  Or maybe it's just me.



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