Sunday slant: Cowboys toeing tampering line

The Cowboys are playing a dangerous game by “shooting the breeze” publicly on Adrian Peterson. What does the NFL’s policy on tampering say about it?

Jerry Jones and his cadre of corporals have never been one to shy away from controversy.

They have spoken out against the NFL’s revenue-sharing model – in 2011, Jones said the rest of the owners were helping subsidize the new Vikings stadium – but Jones and his staff with the Dallas Cowboys aren’t backing away from a public stance on Adrian Peterson. The same Adrian Peterson that was reinstated into the league on Friday. The same one that is under contract with the Minnesota Vikings for another three years. The same one that was involved in a phone conversation with Jones last summer that created a look – how serious a look remains up for speculation – into tampering by Jones and the Cowboys.

But, despite Jones’ phone conversation with Peterson last summer when both apparently agreed that Peterson playing for his home-state Cowboys at some point would be a good thing, the Cowboys have interjected themselves back into the Peterson conversation, despite “disclaimers,” with an article on the Cowboys’ official site entitled “Reinstated Peterson would make Cowboys serious contenders.”

First, the background.

Last June, Peterson was talking on the phone to a money manager at Morgan Stanley who was in a suite at AT&T Stadium with Jones following a George Strait concert. ESPN “Outside the Lines” reporter Don Van Natta was working on a profile on Jones and overheard the conversation.

As the story goes, Peterson told Jones he would like to play for the Cowboys.

“Well, I understand, Adrian,” Jones told Peterson, according to Van Natta’s report. “I’d like that, too ... Well, I love your story. I love your daddy’s story. I’ve always respected what you’ve been about. I’ve always been a fan of yours.

“… Well, we’ll see what we can do, if we can make that happen. Hmm hmm … I’d like that, too … Well, we’re talking pig Latin here, but let’s see if we can do that … We’re talking pig Latin here, but let’s see what we can do about that. OK, Adrian, thanks.”

The league looked into the conversation and determined that it wasn’t tampering. The Vikings were apparently satisfied with that ruling.

“We are focused on the 2014 season,” the Vikings said in a statement, “and as we have consistently communicated, Adrian is an integral part of the Vikings organization.”

Even Peterson issued a statement on the matter.

“This was a casual conversation between NFL colleagues in which I never indicated I wanted to leave the Vikings,” Peterson said. “I have always said I understand the NFL is a business but that I would love to retire as a Viking.”

Of course, much has changed since then.

Before that conversation, Peterson disciplined his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch, which eventually resulted in a plea of no contest to reckless assault in November and a six-game suspension that, in part, caused Peterson to play in only one game during the 2014 season. Since then, several teams have surfaced in the rumor-mongering mill as having a potential interest in trading for Peterson, who said earlier this year he was “uneasy” about a return to the Vikings because of the way they handed him after child abuse charges were leveled against him – by the State of Texas. The Vikings agreed to have Peterson placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, which effectively ended his season in conjunction with the NFL’s suspension.

So you would think the Cowboys, who have been one of the teams rumored to have an interest in trading for Peterson, would steer clear of public comments on Peterson.

No so.

The article on the Cowboys’ official site, offered a disclaimer that “the Cowboys have not expressed a desire to acquire Peterson” and that “what you’re about to read is essentially transcribed bar talk.”

Except that, umm, it’s published on the team’s official web site.

Author Rob Phillips proceeds to explain that, “If made available for trade, Peterson is the type of A-plus player who perfectly defines the Cowboys’ philosophy for the next 1-2 years: All in.”

Phillips explains that “now is the time” to surround quarterback Tony Romo with talent to help the Cowboys take the next step to contend for a Super Bowl and that “Peterson can be even better” than DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher last year who was allowed to leave Dallas via free agency because the Cowboys weren’t interested in paying him more than roughly $6 million per year, according plugged-in Cowboys reporter Mike Fisher of

“It isn’t the same without Murray. But the best back of this generation wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize,” Phillips wrote in his article on Peterson for the Cowboys. “It’s worth shooting the breeze about, at least.”

It would be, if not for being published on the Cowboys’ official site.

Despite the league not commenting to an inquiry from Viking Update about the possibility of the Cowboys article being tampering, the league defines tampering as such: “The term tampering, as used within the National Football League, 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 a person to seek employment with that club or with the NFL.”

The NFL’s anti-tampering policy further explains:

“Any public or private statement of interest, qualified or unqualified, in another club’s player to that player’s agent or representative, or to a member of the news media, is a violation of this Anti-Tampering Policy. (Example of a prohibited comment: “He’s an excellent player, and we’d very much like to have him if he were available, but another club holds his rights.”) In addition, speculation by a club owner, executive, or employee on whether a player under contract to a second club may play for a third club in the future may negatively impact the relationship between the player and the club currently holding his rights. If comments are found to have adversely affected that relationship, a finding of tampering can result. All clubs should be aware that improper disclosure of confidential trade discussions with another club may be a violation of this section on prohibited public statements.”

It would seem the article is a violation of the anti-tampering policy, except that the Cowboys might have carefully toed the line. You see, there is another paragraph in the policy that states:

“Articles that appear on the website of a club that identify prospective free agents that the team might be interested in, or that rate prospective free agents, shall not be considered violations of the Anti-Tampering Policy unless they include a direct quote or expression of interest by an employee of the club (other than the author of the article) about a specific player.”

So the Cowboys could claim that Phllips was just “shooting the breeze” about the possibility of Peterson because there is no direct quote from by an employee of the Cowboys (other than the author of the article). But Peterson isn’t even a free agent. He’s under contract with the Vikings through the 2017 season, and they say have been steadfast in their public comments, saying they want him to remain part of the team.

But Jones’ documented conversation last year – and him not following up with the Vikings to alert them of the conversation, as he was supposed to do, according to the policy – should place additional scrutiny on the Cowboys’ actions with Peterson.

In a time of apparent tension between Peterson and the Vikings, the Cowboys appear to be placing additional pressure on the situation.

Will the league, which has already been harsh in its discipline of Peterson, be willing to stand up to one of its owners?

“Any violation of this Anti-Tampering Policy will subject the involved club and/or person to severe disciplinary action by the Commissioner,” the policy states. “The League office will promulgate to all clubs the details of any penalties imposed for tampering.”

For now, the NFL isn’t saying anything on the situation, but the Cowboys are playing a dangerous and repetitive game. The latest one is very public and appears to be every bit as calculating.

The league hasn’t explained its stance or even if it is looking into the possibility of tampering, but it will interesting to see how it deals with Jones and the Cowboys after enhancing the mess with Peterson and the Vikings.


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