Were They Fined or Not?

Were they or weren’t they?

There are stories abounding that 5 teams were fined by the NFL since the CBA expired on March 4th.   Their infraction was violating a rule that has been broken by every team for years.  Yet because the NFL and the players Union are negotiating a new deal and it’s landed in court, the league has decided to invoke a rule that really isn’t in place since there is no agreement.

That rule is meeting with players after the season has ended.  A clause in the old CBA protected the players’ down time and specifically prohibited organized meetings before the off-season program began, which was usually around March 15.  According to widely spread internet reports the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns were all fined for breaking the rule.  The fifth team has not been identified yet, and the league isn’t speaking about it.

Speculation abounds the Browns infraction was giving the playbook to Colt McCoy.  In this situation it’s understandable.  Cleveland has a new coach in Pat Shurmur.  Shurmur is implementing the West Coast offense and has a second year quarterback to teach.   Can he do it in just a few months?  No.  But handing out a playbook and actually coaching are two different things.

Forget the fact the NFL has always turned a blind eye to this rule.  Forget they are in the middle of contract negotiations.  Even though the teams will never appeal, this rule and the fines would never pass the court test.  Two reasons exist.

First, there is no agreement.  Thus no rules to follow or obey for the time being.  The owners don’t want coaches or GM’s talking with players during this work stoppage.  It’s bad for the league.  So they fine teams that do according to a rule in the old CBA.  But since there is no CBA, there cannot be a rule.

Secondly, it was the league that opted out of the CBA two years ago.  Now the league wants to fine over a rule in the expired deal.  It makes sense the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell want to hush this incident up.  If the players can prove the league is doing this, it might hurt the owners in their upcoming court case.

In a March 14th press conference Browns President Mike Holmgren also addressed the situation before anything came out.

“We had our quarterback (Colt McCoy) come in and we did give him a playbook, but that was about it.”  Holmgren went on to explain, “I didn’t think that was bad and I think it was necessary. That’s all we did.”

What the other teams did is unknown.   San Francisco has a new coach, Miami has a new Offensive Coordinator and Dallas has a new Defensive Coordinator.  If all the teams did was give out a playbook then the league is way out of bounds.  There is also no evidence any practice time was involved, or players meeting with any coaches.

Were they or weren’t they?  Only the NFL knows for sure.  What the league is trying to prove is anyone’s guess.

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