Horse Tracks featured an interesting ProFootballTalk article about the nature of "cheating" during a work stoppage. In the event that a CBA is not completed before March 4th, the league will have a complete work stoppage. Players and coaches cannot meet or discuss anything after that date. If they do, the league will drop the hammer of fury. The NFL has urged that any violations will be punished "very severely".
The article also described specific instances where teams (such as the Joe Gibbs led Redskins) used to practice during work stoppages. By having practices organized by players, not coaches, the teams can practice without violating any rules. Despite this freedom, Mike Florio urges that players and coaches will still communicate.
But let’s be realistic. Violations will occur. Surely, coaches and key players already have begun securing secret cell phones for the sole purpose of talking to each other about offseason workouts that can’t directly be supervised by the coaches.
From a Broncos fan perspective, I find this article to be extremely unnerving. On one hand, I have the utmost confidence in John Fox and John Elway. They have, to this point, shown nothing but dignity, class, and openness. The fear of having my favorite team be found guilty of cheating has not once crossed my mind. On the other hand, the Broncos are already on very thin ice with the NFL.
In the event of a work stoppage, the Broncos would be smart to avoid even suspicion of cheating, due to their recent struggles with the NFL rulebook.
I want to begin by stating that McSpyGate II in London is a thing of the past. We have moved on. The head coach during that time is gone, as well as the people responsible for the video taping of the 49ers practices. As far as we know, action has been taken against all parties involved and there is no remnant of cheaters in the Broncos organization.
However, just because we have put it in the past doesn't mean that it will stay in the past. Like it or not, the NFL is still going to monitor the Denver Broncos very closely. Will the NFL turn a blind eye towards the Broncos after the recent shakeup over the past few months? No way. If they say otherwise, they're lying.
For an example of how cheating can continue to mar an organization, look no further than the New England Patriots. The Patriots cheated in 2007. Even though it happened 4 years ago, there is always going to be an aura of distrust while Bill Belichick is in charge. Is that the right state of mind for fans, players, coaches and the NFL to have towards the Patriots? Maybe not, but it is what it is. People will make connections to cheating whether the facts line up or not. If it's a part of an organization's past, it could be a part of their present... hence the phrase "once a cheater, always a cheater".
So, what can the Broncos do to establish their credibility in the NFL?
Stay clean. With every cheating scandal, gun charge, and sexual assault, the league's (and fan's) view of the team go down. Right now, despite the Tim Tebow Effect, the Broncos are viewed as one of the most classless teams in the NFL. Despite the fact that many of the charges against Broncos players were dropped, the opinion held by someone outside the situation can often remain unchanged.
The Broncos don't need any more arrests. They don't need any sexual assaults. More than anything, they don't need any more cheating.
I think it's fine that the Broncos players practice during a work stoppage. I have no doubt that they will already be working out on their own like good little foot-soldiers (maybe I'll attract Rex Ryan to this post?), but there is no substitute for practicing as a team. Back when I was a high school athlete, my team practiced all the time. The dead period would come up, where coaches and players aren't allowed to communicate, and the players would practice at a recreational field without supervision. Sometimes we would even goof off with a water balloon fight or a team outing. No big deal. We weren't breaking rules by communicating with coaches and, at the same time, we grew as teammates.
But communication between players and coaches is hard to avoid. In the age of twitter, facebook, text messages, and video conferencing, it's going to be even tougher. Players and coaches can text each other, send messages privately over facebook, and even direct message each other on twitter without being spotted by anyone on the outside. Despite the strong urges and relative security with private communication, that's an extremely dangerous game to play. The Broncos can't afford to risk it.
Even if you aren't communicating about football, contact should still be limited. Sometimes even suspicion of crooked dealings are as bad as legitimate crooked dealings. If you are an NFL player, see your coach at the supermarket on March 5th, and tell him that he could save $1.50 if he buys juice from concentrate instead of freshly squeezed, you may raise suspicion of communicating during a work stoppage. All it takes is a saavy shopper to pull out their phone, send a twitpic of the player and coach talking and, all of a sudden, you've got a media circus.
Even though an investigation will take place in the coming weeks and, ultimately, lack enough detail to determine that you were discussing football, the damage will have been done. The twittersphere will be alive, instantaneously, with a barrage of finger pointing. The media outlets will be spouting speculation faster than information can come available.
By the time the true details of the interaction are revealed, the story has already run its course. Even though the player and coach may not be guilty of anything, the twittersphere and media outlets will have talked up the story so much that it will take on a life of its own... much like the "Jay Cutler is a weak little girl" story that took place on Sunday night before an MRI of his knee was even taken.
If any Bronco is reading this, despite your strong urges to save Coach Fox some money, just let him buy the freshly squeezed juice.