Arthur Blank’s ability to be in denial knows know bounds

It doesn't matter if the Atlanta Falcons are caught red-handed, Arthur Blank will never confess to tampering.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

The NFL is investigating whether the Atlanta Falcons violated the league's anti-tampering policy in their pursuit of quarterback Kirk Cousins. The former Minnesota Vikings quarterback signed a four-year, $180 million deal with Atlanta at the start of free agency.

Contrary to popular belief, the league office governs with a lackadaisical attitude. Skirting the rules is common practice, and the league turns a blind eye to competitive cheating as long as it can. Whether it's substance abuse or tampering, the only rule is an unwritten one: "Just don't be dumb enough to get caught." In this case, the Falcons were plenty dumb enough.

Although Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell hinted at Atlanta tampering with Cousins at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, the league's investigation wasn't prompted by a complaint. Instead, it began with an accidental confession by Cousins himself.

Arthur Blank denies tampering accusations

Team owner Arthur Blank won't confess, however, no matter how many others already have.

"The tampering deal, we obviously don't believe we tampered, and we shared all the information with the league," Blank said at the annual league meeting. "And they'll review the process and the facts and they are in the middle of doing that, and whatever the result is, we'll deal with it."

Although teams can contact an agent during the legal tampering period, they cannot speak with players directly until after the new league year. During his introductory press conference with Atlanta, Cousins indicated that he had a conversation with the team's trainer before March 13, when the new league year began.

"When you get here and you look around and you think, boy, there's great people here," Cousins said on March 13. "And it's not just the football team. I mean, I'm looking at the support staff, meeting, calling yesterday, calling our head athletic trainer and talking to our head of PR, I'm thinking we've got good people here."

Any team that began negotiating with Cousins' agent prior to Monday, March 11, or spoke with Cousins directly prior to Wednesday, March 13, would be in violation of the rules of the negotiating period, an offense the NFL considers to be conduct detrimental to the league and a violation of the league's anti-tampering policy.

The Falcons should not have been in contact with Cousins' agent prior to Monday, March 11, when the league's negotiating period began. Commonly referred to as the "legal tampering" period, the negotiating period is a two-day window that allows teams to negotiate "all aspects of an NFL player contract" with the certified agent for prospective unrestricted free agents.

“Any time the word ‘tampering’ comes up, you worry about it,” Blank told USA TODAY Sports on Monday.

The Philadelphia Eagles are also under investigation for violating tampering policies after Penn State coach James Franklin told a reporter that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman had been in contact with running back Saquon Barkley prior to free agency. For what it's worth, the Eagles have also denied the claims.

Each year, NFL insiders accurately report about multi-year, $100 million contracts within hours of the legal tampering window opening. Those would never get constructed and agreed upon so quickly without tampering.

In 2022, the Miami Dolphins were penalized for tampering with former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton. In 2008, Minnesota was penalized for tampering with Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre.

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