- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

After a terrific start on disciplinary issues during his first year as NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell suddenly has become an advocate of the see no evil, hear no evil school of management.

Goodell basically looked the other way in Spygate even when New England coach Bill Belichick admitted he had been caught. Goodell accepted Belichick’s plea and ordered the evidence of the Patriots’ spying destroyed. Imagine that happening in a court of law.

“[Belichick] admitted a lot of the things that had been alleged,” NFL executive vice president Ray Anderson said. “We were very comfortable that we dealt with that completely. There was no further purpose in keeping [the evidence]. This wasn’t anything disputed. It was consistent with the admission, and we felt it was prudent to leave it there, destroy it. We don’t regret that at all.”

No regrets. That’s what Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens said in 2004 when he was asked about calling quarterback Jeff Garcia gay, stomping on the Dallas Cowboys’ logo and showing up Shawn Springs with the Sharpie in the sock touchdown.

“I don’t believe there’s a [leaguewide] problem, but because of the situation that occurred, we owe it to our fans to try to make sure that people are comfortable that this was an isolated incident,” Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay said.

Anderson, a former player agent, wasn’t quite so confident.

“It would be naive to think that our house has been pure forever,” Anderson said. “We’re not going to pretend that we’re perfect, but we’re certainly going to try to get there. Certainly the incidences of this year probably accelerated the urgency with regard to doing everything [possible] to maintain and enhance the confidence of our fans that we’re having a pure game and that we aren’t tainted.”

But after Goodell shoved the bad deeds of the most dominant team of the millennium under the FieldTurf, McKay and the competition committee — surely with the commissioner’s blessing — proposed to stop punishing tampering by legalizing it. Instead of agents having to wait until the start of the signing period (wink, wink) to start talking to teams, the NFL wants to allow the parties to negotiate but not sign (wink, wink) contracts with new teams five to seven days before the official start of free agency every winter.

“We feel like this would be in everybody’s best interest to try to eliminate [tampering],” McKay said. “We feel like there’s too much contact coming from all different directions, a lot of it from the agents. If you create this period, you’re creating a much more level playing field. This helps the [player’s current] team because it … has a real clear picture of what the player’s market is going to be and can make a decision accordingly as opposed to now when you kind of operate in the dark as to what that market may be until free agency opens.”

Maybe, but what will stop agents from beginning secret talks ahead of the earlier deadline? Not the suits on Park Avenue, who only want to get tough these days on players’ bad behavior — not on cheating by coaches or agents.

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