On Wednesday, the Green Bay Packers filed tampering charges against the Minnesota Vikings with the NFL's league offices. The charges claim that the Vikings, through offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, had unauthorized discussions with Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre.
Green Bay's tampering charges are both revealing and intriguing on several levels, beginning with Minnesota's response to the charges. In a reply to the league, Vikings' team officials stated that, although Favre might well have had discussions with Bevell in recent weeks, those discussions were between friends rather than between player and coordinator of an opposing team.
The NFL is likely to take a dim view of the Vikings' response to the tampering charges if for no other reason than that the Vikings' defense is no defense. The Vikings' reply also comes off as a bit amateurish given that at least some of challenged conversations between Bevell and Favre appear to have taken place after Favre made known his desire to return to the NFL this season and after he revealed that he had requested his release from Green Bay.
For their part, the Vikings essentially have conceded that they do, indeed, have an interest in Favre, if he is available. For the past week, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress has bent over backwards to make clear that Tarvaris Jackson is his choice to start the 2008 season and that Jackson is his choice as quarterback of the future. That, of course, is what every coach in Childress' position would and should say. If Favre should become available, however, it now seems abundantly evident that Childress' willingness to forestall Jackson's maturation process for two or three years might substantially increase.
Not everything necessarily will be left to the Vikings, however. With their filing of tampering charges, the Packers have sent many clear signals. First and foremost, Green Bay is acknowledging that Favre's future is only remotely in the hands of the Packers' organization (for some background on this issue see here). Tampering charges are filed not only to obtain punishment against the offending team but to procure a concession for the aggrieved team. In this case, Green Bay likely would be seeking a draft pick for Minnesota's alleged tampering and/or a league-brokered deal that would resolve the entire Favre mess while making clear that Green Bay had its hands tied.
The NFL has a recent history of stepping into such matters. Earlier this year, the league stripped the San Francisco 49ers of a fifth-round pick and forced the 49ers to swap third-round selection positions with the Chicago Bears for making contacting with Bears' linebacker Lance Briggs prior to the opening of the NFL's free-agency period.
In March of this year, at the NFL owners' meetings, the league placed special emphasize on investigating tampering charges and punishing offenders. Though the league's emphasis was on team tampering with soon-to-be free agents, with teams attempting to get a jump on other teams in the race to sign valued free agents, the Vikings' alleged contact with Favre would seem to be no less of a concern.
It is thus clear that the NFL has both an interest and a mandate to address tampering, where once the league looked the other way. And if the Vikings did tamper with Favre--as it appears the Vikings essentially are admitting--the league will be left to fashion an appropriate punishment. In the case of 49ers' tampering with Briggs, the league used draft picks as punishment. That was before the league agreed to a new mandate, however. As such, if found guilty of tampering, the Vikings might well receive a stiffer penalty than did the 49ers.
The bigger question for the league, however, might be how to resolve the Favre issue--the one that Green Bay essentially is begging the league to resolve for it. For a number of reasons, including salary cap issues, player resentment, and team chemistry, the Packers appear to have no interest in Favre returning next season. All statements to the contrary appear little more than a canard at this point.
What Green Bay would love to have happen is for the league to penalize the Vikings by taking away draft picks and awarding them to Green Bay and for the league to prohibit Favre from playing with the Vikings in 2008. That would allow the Packers to trade Favre without fear that the team to whom they traded Favre would trade Favre to Minnesota.
For Minnesota, there are two saving arguments. One is that Bevell's conversations with Favre had nothing to do with Favre's desire to sign with Minnesota. That might be a tough sell in the league offices, but it is an argument that the Vikings must make--true or not. If Bevell can produce evidence of calls between Favre and him that at least pre-date Favre's announcement of his desire to return to the NFL or, more convincingly, calls that pre-date Favre's retirement, the Vikings might prevail.
The second argument that the Vikings need to make is that the Favre situation is unique and that, while a team coach may have discussed issues that carelessly seeped into the arena of tampering, the discussions were with a player in a unique situation--under contract with an organization that does not want him to return.
Given what Favre has meant to the league's coffers, what any penalty against the Vikings might mean for Favre's future, and Favre's stated interest in playing for Minnesota, the league very well could fashion a penalty for Minnesota limited to the loss of a draft pick--perhaps a fifth-round pick--thus giving Green Bay some compensation and allowing Green Bay and Favre to move on with no greater harm done to either than already has been done. At least until the season begins and one proves better than the other without the other.
Up Next: Would Favre Meet the Vikings' Needs?