Part of the Bay Area News Group

Tampering _ yawn

By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Tuesday, February 26th, 2008 at 5:17 pm in Oakland Raiders.

The 49ers apparently stand accused of tampering with prospective free agents Lance Briggs and Justin Smith and the agent for cornerback Asante Samuel is talking openly of the interest in his client _ which of course can only be gauged by illegal contact with prospective employers.

No word on the Raiders, but if they’re not getting a head start, they’re behind the curve.

In the NFL, if you’re not tampering, you’re not trying.

Getting tampering out of the league will happen roughly around the time the NFL eliminates gambling among fans outside of Nevada.

It is virtually impossible to enforce, buried under an avalanche of nods, winks and coded communications.

The NFL scouting combine may as well be a tampering convention. Agents hold a meeting there every year, so most of them attend. Each team sends front office personnel.

They exchange messages on their Blackberrys and cell phones, setting up meetings in restaurants, hotel lobbies and hallways of the Indiana Convention Center, legitimately discussing the re-signing of players who are scheduled to become free agents this Friday.

It doesn’t stop there. How could it?

You’re there, you’re just talking, conjuring up “hypothetical” scenarios of what it would take to get Free Agent A to sign with Team B when the phones start ringing at 12:01 a.m.

Ever seen an NFL contract? I’ve gotten a look at a few, and there is no way free agency opens one minute and several hours later a star player signs on the dotted line.

The player signs because the contract has been talked about in advance _ with more than one team. The agent advises him to sign because he has already gauged the market.

It is a workshop for coaches as well. Being an assistant coach in the NFL means always looking out for your next gig. Given their tenuous existence, it’s the common sense move. John Czarnecki of Foxsports.com, besides advancing the popular theory that James Lofton could soon be the head coach of the Raiders, also noted, “It’s also no secret that current Oakland assistants Greg Knapp and Tom Rathman will be on Jim Mora’s 2009 Seattle coaching staff.”

Czarnecki neglected to mention the third man in that rumor _ offensive line coach Tom Cable.

It’s not a reach, by any means. Knapp and Cable were assistants with Jim Mora on Atlanta’s coaching staff, and Mora is in place to succeed Mike Holmgren as coach of the Seahawks next year. Rathman worked with Mora in San Francisco.

All three assistants have two-year contracts with Oakland and are in Lane Kiffin’s dwindling inner circle, with very real concerns about their future considering the embattled nature of the man who talked them in to coming to Oakland.

Coaches are forever assembling coaching staffs in their minds for the day they get a head coaching job. It isn’t difficult to envision Mora telling all three of these men after being deposed in Atlanta, “Next time I get a head coaching job, expect a call.”

Then sending smoke signals when it actually happens.

And that’s the thing about tampering. There may be smoke, but never enough of a fire to prove it ever happened.

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