The Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns got zapped Monday by the NFL. Now we wait to find out what the league has in store for the New York Jets, who committed an apparent tampering violation last December when owner Woody Johnson publicly expressed interest in reuniting with Darrelle Revis even though the star cornerback still was under contract to the New England Patriots.
The Atlanta and Cleveland penalties, while not severe, send a message that the league won't let men in suits -- front-office execs -- get away unscathed when they break the rules. Therefore, it's hard to imagine the Goodell Police letting the Jets walk away without some sort of punishment. Even though Johnson claims he misspoke in his end-of-the-season news conference, he broke the tampering rule based on the letter of the law.
The Falcons were fined $350,000 and will lose a fifth-round pick in 2016 for piping crowd noise into the Georgia Dome the last two seasons. In addition, team president Rich McKay was suspended at least three months from the competition committee, which is no big deal. Even though their home record was only 3-4 last season (one home game was played in London), the fake noise was an unsavory ploy that, in theory, gave them a competitive advantage.
It's highly doubtful the Browns gained any advantage from their general manager, Ray Farmer, sending strategy-related texts to staffers on the sideline, but it still was a violation of league rules. He was suspended four games and the team was fined $250,000, but the Browns weren't stripped of any draft choices. They got off easy, unless you factor in the embarrassment caused by their stupidity.
The Browns admitted they screwed up. So did the Falcons.
The Jets haven't admitted anything. Truth be told, they think the Patriots' tampering charge is so frivolous that they tried to mock it by filing a ridiculous counter charge against owner Robert Kraft based on innocuous comments at last week's league meetings.
Unlike the Atlanta and Cleveland officials, Johnson didn't repeatedly break the rules. It was a one-time blunder, and that should be taken into consideration when the penalty is handed down -- unless the league digs up more dirt, of course.
If it uncovers a smoking gun -- i.e. phone records indicating contact with Revis and/or his reps before he became a free agent -- the Jets should be stripped of their fourth-round pick. A precedent: In 2008, the San Francisco 49ers were docked a fifth-round pick for contacting the agent of Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs during the season. (The Jets don't have fifth- or sixth-round choices in the coming draft.) If this is how it shakes out, the NFL would be making an example out of the Jets because, let's face it, covert tampering is rampant across the league.
If all we're talking about is Johnson's off-the-cuff remark, the forfeiture of a late-round pick in 2016 would be a just punishment.