NFL will play judge, jury in Lawyer case

Monday, September 8, 2003 at 10:00pm

The NFL seems sure to investigate the possibility that other teams, most notably the Washington Redskins, tampered with safety Lawyer Milloy before he refused to accept a pay cut by last Tuesday's team-imposed deadline.

The Patriots and Milloy had been negotiating since April in an effort to have the player reduce his salary from $4.5 million to about $3 million. The Tuesday deadline occurred because players on a team's roster each week on Wednesday are paid for that week even if they are subsequently cut.

A firestorm erupted in New England when the Patriots released Milloy, and especially after he quickly signed with the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots' opponent on opening day. The Bills then blasted the Pats, 31-0.

However, it was Milloy's words that could prompt the tampering charges. Milloy told Peter King of SI.com that his agent, Carl Poston, had talked to other teams prior to his release and that a contract offer was put on the table by the Redskins. It was an offer allegedly used by Poston as a base to discuss deals with other teams.

The Patriots believe the Redskins' offer gave Milloy the confidence to refuse the pay cut, knowing he would benefit financially. In fact, including signing bonus and salary, he will be paid $2.5 million more this year than what he was scheduled to make in New England.

Milloy had also said finding out the interest of other teams is what agents are supposed to do. Perhaps. But teams are prohibited from discussing anything substantive about the player. In fact, a team contacted by the agent of a player under contract is required to notify the team that has the rights to the player.

Here is the applicable portion of the NFL's Anti-Tampering policy: "Contact by Player. If a club is contacted by a player (or his representative) who is under contract to or whose negotiating rights are held by another club, and such player had not been given permission to deal with other clubs, or such player is not in a permissible negotiating period under the terms of an operative collective bargaining agreement, then the contacted club is prohibited from talking or otherwise dealing with the player or his representative, and the contacted club must immediately report such contact to the owner or operating head of the club which holds the player's rights."

Thus, if Poston even mentioned Milloy to the Redskins or any other team, those teams were supposed to notify the Patriots.

Naturally, as the tampering charges began to escalate, Milloy denied having said it, and King stood by his story. The Redskins also denied making an offer while Milloy was under contract.

Tampering is difficult to prove, but Milloy's initial words just might be the smoking gun the league needs to come down hard on the Redskins.

Meanwhile, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a task ahead of him, getting the team back on track after last week's events.

One veteran, after being asked if the release of Milloy had affected some players, said, "Hell, yes. Let me ask you, what does it mean to be a captain around here? What does it mean to get one of those parking spots (for being among the team leaders in off-season workouts)? I see that 'Iron-man' T-shirt hanging in his locker (given to those players who participated in every training camp practice)

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