By Glenn Naughton
Say what you will about New York Jets owner Woody Johnson during his tenure at the top of the Jets food chain, but there is no denying that this offseason has been one of his best. Reports of the Jets filing tampering charges against the rival New England Patriots, while petty on the surface, is actually a very wise play by the owner.
As many know by now, this all started at an end-of-season press conference in which Johnson was peppered with questions regarding the Jets’ handling of then-former Jet Darrelle Revis and the decision to trade him away two years earlier. Following some remarks surrounding the circumstances under which Revis was dealt, Johnson committed a big no-no as far as the NFL is concerned when he wrapped things up by saying he’d “love for Darrelle to come back”.
Expressing the desire to secure the services of a player who is currently under contract with another NFL team is strictly forbidden, which is why Johnson chose to call Patriots owner Robert Kraft to offer an apology within hours of the faux pas. With Revis still under contract in New England at the time of the comments, the Patriots had exclusive negotiating rights which could have allowed Kraft to speak privately with Johnson on the matter and quietly move on. Instead, Kraft chose an alternate route.
Almost immediately, the Patriots publicly accused the Jets owner of tampering as head coach Bill Belichick went on the offensive, telling radio station WEEI that he expected the league to “look in to those comments”. Tampering charges were officially filed in the days that followed.
As we know by now, Darrelle Revis did what Darrelle Revis was always going to do. He tested free agency and signed with the highest bidder. Much to the chagrin of Kraft and the Patriots, that turned out to be the Jets.
Given their ample salary cap space (over $50 million at the time) and dire need to upgrade one of the league’s worst secondaries, nobody needed to hear Woody Johnson pay Darrelle Revis a compliment to understand that the Jets planned to pursue the player they selected with the 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft.
With tampering charges against gang green filed at the league office, an investigation took place at the Jets facilities just days before Revis signed on the dotted line and the outcome is still pending.
In all reality the Jets were likely at risk of losing what would be no more than a late round draft pick. While many Patriots fans, known for their refusal to tolerate any rules violations by any NFL player, coach, team or owner hoped to see the league award the Pats an early round selection from the Jets, that fallacy would break new ground regarding tampering penalties.
For example, we saw the Detroit Lions lose a seventh-round selection as well as a swap of fourth round picks with the Kansas City Chiefs after contacting a Chiefs player who was under contract in hopes of convincing him to leave Kansas City for Detroit. With that being the case, taking anything more than a seventh round selection from the Jets would be absurd as Johnson’s comments don’t amount to anything close to what was a calculated effort to actively pursue a player via direct contact with said player or his agent while under contract. A double standard of that magnitude would be difficult to pass off, even for somebody as well versed on the subject as Goodell.
Even still, being stripped of a draft pick, no matter what round it may fall in, would be a stain on the organization as a “guilty” verdict that would imply some degree of cheating or circumventing of the rules.
With that being the case, Johnson has seized an opportunity with which he’s been presented. Following some inappropriate remarks of his own in which Kraft made it known that he wished that Revis, who is now under contract with the Jets, was still a New England Patriot, the Jets chose to act. Even as Kraft’s remarks were just as harmless as the ones Johnson made just few months ago, Johnson and the Jets had reason to hit back with the same charges for multiple reasons.
Some fans may recall the long-forgotten “deflategate” controversy during super bowl week in which the Patriots were accused of illegally under-inflating footballs. In the midst what became a national headline-grabbing story, the relationship between Roger Goodell and Robert Kraft was put under the microscope as players and fans alike were put off by the league’s failure to quickly investigate the matter, and Kraft’s demands of an apology from the league for questioning the integrity of his squeaky-clean organization.
Now, thanks to Johnson and the Jets, the Goodell/Kraft relationship will once again be put in the spotlight and tested unlike any time before. Faced simultaneously with identical rules violations, the commissioner will be forced to hold both teams accountable for the same infractions.
Had Johnson remained mum following Kraft’s comments, he would have run the risk of appearing complacent while putting his team in a position to be penalized for a few words that in the grand scheme of things, amounted to nothing.
Instead, the charges filed by the Jets will almost certainly mean Goodell throwing a pair of flags for offsetting penalties and what should amount to a small fine. The charges could also save the Jets a draft pick, but more importantly it exposes the absurdity of the charges that were filed to begin with.