By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Last month, the Seahawks found themselves under the watchful eye of the NFL office for failure to report a Richard Sherman knee injury throughout the season. The punishment was going to be severe, with ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reporting that the Seahawks were at risk of having a second-round pick taken away.
But now, never mind.
The Seahawks are just getting a warning.
According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the Seahawks were only issued a warning and were spared from further punishment, with the league determining that the team had simply misinterpreted the rules and had not intentionally violated them.
This seems … odd.
For one, the rule is simple. All injuries must be reported, even if they don’t prevent a player from missing practice. Plus, as Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith noted, Sherman was the only Seahawks player to have missed practices due to “non-injury reasons.”
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll went on the record and admitted that he withheld the information from the public, saying, “I’m feeling like I screwed that up with not telling you that. He was OK, so I don’t know. He never missed anything, I guess, is probably why.”
Again, the hammer was ready to fall. Mortensen reported that a second-round pick would likely be stripped.
Carroll pleaded ignorance on the specifics.
“I didn’t realize that we hadn’t even revealed [the injury]. I don’t even remember what game, it was somewhere in the middle, he was fine about it, he didn’t miss anything,” Carroll said. “Same with Russell [Wilson], he was fine about it. I don’t know how they do that, but they did.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, when punishing Saints head coach Sean Payton, once famously said, “Ignorance is not an excuse.” Apparently, though, this time it worked just fine.
There’s also this: A week after the Sherman news broke, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell revealed that he had also been playing injured for some time.
Immediately, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio speculated that the NFL’s hesitance to issue any sort of punishment to the Steelers and the beloved Rooney family helped spare the Seahawks from any sort of punishment in this instance.
“It sounds cynical, I know. But justice is often meted out at 345 Park Avenue by picking the preferred conclusion and working backward,” Florio wrote. “In this case, it’s entirely possible that the preferred conclusion for the Seahawks was to issue only a warning because the preferred conclusion for the Steelers will be the same thing.”
The Seahawks, mind you, have been warned and punished numerous times during the Carroll era regarding practice violations. Last September, they were fined $400,000 and stripped of a fifth-round pick for holding a practice with contact during OTAs, when they weren’t supposed to. It was their third practice violation under Carroll, who was also fined $200,000.
What’s interesting is the specificity of Mortensen’s report. He said that the docking of the second-round pick would be an “elevation” of the fifth-round pick, meaning the previously stripped fifth-rounder would just become a stripped second-rounder. That means the Seahawks would only be docked one draft pick, but it would be a higher draft pick. Presumably, such a detail would not be available to a reporter unless the NFL had considered the situation rather thoroughly. To go from that to a warning is … suspicious. Very suspicious.
The Seahawks are, by definition, a repeat offender of skirting the league’s rules. And yet, in this case, they were allowed to skate free, based on a “misinterpretation” of the rules.
In New England, of course, one cannot look at such a situation without comparing it to the Patriots. The mess known as “Spygate” could have been considered a “misinterpretation” of league rules, as the Patriots were free to film whatever they wanted, just not from specific locations. In fact, Bill Belichick said exactly that; he said he misinterpreted the rules.
“The way the rule is written I interpreted that you couldn’t use [the tape] during that current game, which was never done,” Belichick said in 2008. “I’ve never done that, never used any information from the game in that current game. What I should have done was I should have called the league and asked for a clarification of it, but when I re-read that rule I still interpreted incorrectly. We paid a price for that mistake. It was my mistake.”
Instead of a warning from the league office, the Patriots became the first team to ever be docked a first-round pick.
Fast-forward seven or so years later, and the reason that the Patriots and Tom Brady were slammed so hard on drummed-up “DeflateGate” charges was because they were “repeat offenders.” Even though Brady had absolutely nothing to do with the team’s videotaping practices on a September Sunday in New Jersey, he was forced to pay the price by facing an unprecedented level of punishment.
That’s forever the story with the Patriots. But out in the Pacific Northwest, warnings can get the job done.
And the league office wonders why few fans have trust in the decisions made by those running the NFL.