The NFL’s ridiculous “legal tampering” window is a construct deeply rooted in naivety. Theoretically, it exists so that free agents can begin negotiations with clubs around the league to suss out their market value prior to the beginning of free agency. In reality, players and agents have been back-channeling with teams for months and already have a good idea of A) their market value and B) who they’d like to sign with well before the window to negotiate opens two days before the start of the new league year. That’s why fully negotiated complex deals are reported within minutes of the opening of “legal tampering”.
Besides this being a ridiculous system that teams don’t really follow, but have to give the appearance of following, it can also open the door for some tricky situations. The contracts that were reported on Monday and Tuesday across the league this are nothing more than non-binding verbal agreements until the player is permitted to sign on the proverbial dotted line starting at 3:00 PM CT on Wednesday. As the Jets found out with Anthony Barr, changes of heart can happen and there is just nothing teams can do about it.
Plot twist! LB Anthony Barr has decided to agree to terms to remain with the #Vikings, sources say. He will not be a member of the #Jets after all.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 12, 2019
Therein lies the problem of the legal tampering window. Because these deals all get leaked to the media almost immediately and generally include very specific contract details, suddenly every team that was previously chasing that player knows exactly what the final price was. Previously, the team that lost out was relying on the word of the player’s agent to know what the other offers were — and there is no doubt some bluffing that goes on in these negotiations — but now they know the numbers with certainty and there is nothing stopping them from jumping back in and beating that deal after the fact up until the “official” start of free agency.
That’s exactly what happened with Adam Humphries and the Patriots over the last couple days according to reports. The first rumblings of this came from Patriots beat reporter Evan Lazar who described Humphries as “having second thoughts” on his commitment to sign with Tennessee.
Discussed the latest with Adam Humphries here. As of this afternoon he was having second thoughts about going to the #Titans, per source. But it sounds like he will sign with Tennessee. #Patriots were finalists for Humphries.— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 13, 2019
Also addressed the AJ Green rumors. https://t.co/5sjVuKY9Rp
Shortly after that tweet made the rounds, Paul Kuharsky clarified the Titans view of the situation.
#Titans have zero concerns about Adam Humphries backing out as one report from New England suggests he contemplated today. Zero.— Paul Kuharsky (@PaulKuharskyNFL) March 14, 2019
Finally, Doug Kyed, who covers the Patriots for NESN.com followed up with some additional information.
On Adam Humphries, I'm told the Patriots raised their offer Tuesday afternoon with higher APY and guarantees than the Titans. Humphries never wavered, however, and remained committed to the Titans. He’s signing with Tennessee.— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) March 14, 2019
I will emphasize here that Humphries has not yet officially signed his deal — the Titans will announce that as soon as it happens — but all reports are now indicating that he will be playing football in Tennessee in 2019.
So reading between the lines a little bit here, it sounds like the Titans and Humphries agreed to his four-year, $36M contract on Monday after winning a bidding war against the Patriots. Then on Tuesday the Patriots came back and beat the Titans offer, putting both a higher average salary and more guaranteed money on the table to try to entice him to back out of his agreement with Jon Robinson. Humphries turned them down and chose to honor his commitment to the Titans.
This is obviously a very interesting situation and I have some thoughts. First, dirty move by the Patriots. I’m not sure how much of this goes on around the league, but trying to backdoor a deal that’s already been negotiated and agreed to is a snake move where I come from. I’m certainly not surprised that the Pats would be the team to pull something like this though. It reeks of the Josh McDaniels situation after the Super Bowl last year except with a different end result this time.
Second, there has never been a better evaluator of slot receiver talent in the history of football than Bill Belichick. Since he arrived in New England in 2000, there have been a constant stream of highly productive slot receivers that have come through that system. It started with Troy Brown and then continued with Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, and finally, reigning Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman. The fact that Belichick was so desperate to get Humphries on board to be Edelman’s counterpart in the short term and heir apparent in the long term should make Titans fans feel pretty good about the player they’re about to add. It also spoils Bill Barnwell’s little narrative about why the Humphries addition was just a “C-” for the Titans:
“Humphries is an undrafted free agent, which is the case for many slot receivers, but the Titans are paying him like he’s a precious asset instead of trusting that they’ll be able to find the next Humphries on a rookie deal, which is what the big brother Patriots would generally do in the same situation.
Finally, this tells us that when the Titans — knocks on wood — do get Humphries signature in the very near future, they’ll be getting the signature of a person who honors his word. Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel frequently talk about football character and the team treating players how they treat the team. I would guess that the team and Titans fans are going to treat Humphries pretty well after this.