You're up, Kansas City. It's time for you to wonder if your NFL franchise is the latest to absorb a disproportionate and/or misapplied punishment from the league office.
In case you missed it -- and given the timing, some of you did -- the NFL issued a total of $350,000 in fines this week and docked the Kansas City Chiefs two draft choices after determining the franchise had violated its anti-tampering policy. According to a statement released 90 minutes into the free-agent market frenzy Wednesday, the Chiefs were found to have made direct contact with receiver Jeremy Maclin prior to his contract agreement in March 2015.
Chiefs owner Clark Hunt responded forcefully, saying the penalties were "inconsistent with discipline enforced in similar matters" and suggested the NFL hadn't properly communicated its policy. Clark vowed to "explore our options" to reverse or diminish the punishment. (As it stands now, the Chiefs will lose their third-round pick in this year's draft and a sixth-round pick in 2017. The franchise was fined $250,000, coach Andy Reid must pay $75,000 and general manager John Dorsey owes $25,000.)
In so doing, Hunt took his place next to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and others who have grown increasingly comfortable fighting a public battle over what has historically been behind-the-scenes NFL business.
So does Hunt have a point? Did the NFL hit the Chiefs too hard?
Based on a review Thursday by ESPN research specialist Vince Masi, no NFL team since at least 1980 has been punished so severely for tampering. Masi found two recent instances in which a tampering penalty included a forfeiture of draft choices:
In 2011, the Detroit Lions lost a seventh-round pick and were forced to swap fifth-round choices with the Chiefs. The NFL ruled a Lions employee had impermissible contact with a Chiefs player. On appeal, the NFL returned the seventh-round pick to the Lions.
In 2008, the San Francisco 49ers gave up a fifth-round pick after the NFL determined they had spoken with the agent of Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs during the 2007 season. Briggs was a pending free agent but still under contract at the time. The 49ers said they disagreed with the ruling but accepted it.
A full listing of publicly known instances of draft choice forfeiture since 1980 is in the accompanying chart. The Chiefs' $250,000 team fine, meanwhile, qualifies as the highest tampering-related fine and the seventh-highest known team fine for any offense since 1980.
Each case has a different set of facts, and the NFL's anti-tampering policy -- designed in part to prevent teams from recruiting players when they're under contract with another team -- does not set forth specific discipline for particular infractions.
In fact, the full wording of the policy under the subhead "discipline" is the following: "Any violation of this anti-tampering policy will subject the involved club and/or person to severe disciplinary action by the commissioner. The league office will promulgate to all clubs the details of any penalties imposed for tampering."
"Severe" seems to describe the Chiefs' punishment, even if it was not reflected in recent precedent. In announcing the Chiefs' punishment, NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent implied it would have been worse had the Chiefs not fully cooperated or if this hadn't been their first offense.
On the other hand, it's not clear what Hunt was referring to when he referenced the league's "inconsistent communication of its policies on contact with potential free agents." The policy states that during the pre-market negotiation period, "a prospective unrestricted free agent cannot visit a club [other than his current club] at its permanent facility or any other location, and no direct contact is permitted between the player and any employee or representative of a club [other than his current club]."
Although there shouldn't have been any confusion about the policy, the Chiefs have an argument that their punishment is inconsistent with precedent. Their predicament doesn't rise to the level of, say, Deflategate or Bountygate, because the Chiefs aren't denying the impermissible contact. They deserve some level of discipline, and they'll have a chance to argue levels of severity if they choose to appeal.