Jets and 49ers: Two Levels of (Possible) Tampering

Michael LombardiContributor ISeptember 24, 2009

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 01:  Michael Crabtree #15 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on at practice during the 49ers Minicamp at their training facilities on May 1, 2009 in Santa Clara, California. Crabtree was the 49ers first round draft pick.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

National Football Post

QUOTE: “If you have accomplished all that you have planned for yourself, you have not planned enough.”—Edward Everett Hale

Wednesday night on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL,” I was talking about 49ers first-round pick Michael Crabtree, who is still holding out and remains the lone unsigned rookie from the 2009 draft. Crabtree’s agent, Eugene Parker, indicated to me on the phone the other day that he’s willing to compromise and sit down and work out a deal, but the 49ers have to be willing to do the same.

These situations don’t arise because one party is completely at fault—it takes two to make a mess and it takes two to make a deal. As my NFP colleagues Andrew Brandt and Robert Boland wrote, no one should take things personally or draw lines in the sand. That won’t help get a deal done.

AP: Michael Crabtree remains the lone unsigned rookie from the 2009 draft.

As for the Jets-tampered-with-Crabtree.html" target="_blank">alleged tampering charge regarding the Jets, I’ve mentioned that this is very hard to prove. But since the 49ers have previously been fined for tampering, they know what it takes to prove the charge. And they’d better, because if the league finds they filed a frivolous claim, it can fine them, according to a memo issued last May.

As I’ve written before, tampering is commonplace throughout the league, but there are two forms of it. The first, which I admit I have done, is to find out information about a particular player and get as much information on the situation as possible. If anyone in the NFL doesn’t admit this exists, they’re just not being honest. It happens all the time.

The second is taking action—making promises or doing deals before the time frame allows such talks to occur. And that’s where the gray area starts.

Let’s examine how this situation might relate to the Jets. We all know that this summer, and even now, the Jets feel they’re a legitimate big-time wide receiver away from being a complete offense. We heard all summer the rumors of their interest in Brandon Marshall when he was having his problems with the Broncos.

But does interest mean they tampered? Scrutinizing the first level, these are the questions to consider:

Did the Jets ask questions or inquire about Michael Crabtree, either with him or anyone close to him, before the Aug. 14 trading deadline for rookies?

Did the Jets talk to Eugene Parker, who also represents the Jets’ Dustin Keller, at any point this summer about Crabtree and not Keller?

The second level would include these questions:

AP: Did the Jets really get involved in the Crabtree negotiations?

Did the Jets promise Crabtree they would pay him what he wants?

Did they tell Crabtree that they would pick him in the 2010 draft and pay him like a top-five pick?

Did they assure Crabtree or Parker of their interest?

I’m not here to judge or make claims about what did or didn’t happen. The 49ers have their views and the Jets have theirs. But on the surface, it’s plausible that the Jets did their due diligence with regard to Crabtree.

Does that mean they may have tampered? Maybe. Did they make any promises? Hardly.

The Aug. 14 date was the last day the 49ers could have traded Crabtree’s rights. However—and this is the most critical point—the 49ers could never trade their rookie pool allocation to sign Crabtree. So the trading team would’ve had to have room left over from its rookie pool to enter a deal for Crabtree, or else he would’ve had to take the rookie minimum—which he never would have done after being the 10th pick overall.

Every team uses its rookie pool money down to maybe a thousand dollars. So how could a trade have happened before Aug. 14? The answer is it couldn’t under the guidelines of the draft pool. (FYI: Only on trades that happen on draft day does the rookie pool money transfer with the player.)

So will the 49ers be able to prove the Jets tampered? Not sure they can, but they must be very protective of their player, even overly protective, because at the end of the day he’s their player and they need to get him signed.

They need to make sure everyone in the NFL knows they’re watching every move made by his agent and his friendly advisers. They need to send a message, and this claim clearly accomplishes that goal.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

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