On Feb. 9, Niners tight end Vernon Davis told his fans, via Twitter, “about to watch film and hit the playbook with my coach!!”
A few minutes later, Davis added, “Gosh its hard to get off this account! Damn almost got caught my coach coming back, this device gonna get me in trouble.”
No telling if Davis actually got his hand slapped. But it appears such organized player-with-coach meetings got the 49ers in a bit of trouble.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell revealed Tuesday that five unidentified teams had been fined an undisclosed amount for having illegal contact with players during a dead period that begins after the end of each player’s season. In a typical year, the dead period ends around March 15, the start of teams’ offseason programs.
As National Football Post first noted, the Niners appear to be one of the “likely violators” based on published reports of offseason contact with players — the most notable report being Jim Harbaugh’s throwing session with Alex Smith at the team’s facility. Given the fact that Harbaugh admitted to the session in an interview with CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco in February, it’s fair to assume he wasn’t aware that such contact was illegal.
In addition, Davis’ tweets would seem to offer more evidence that Harbaugh was unaware of the rule and hadn’t issued a hush-hush edict to his players.
But such dead-period meetings apparently aren’t allowed according to Article XXXV-ii of the now-expired collective bargaining agreement, which states “… players are not permitted to participate in organized workouts, practices or meetings of any kind” during the designated dead period. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an e-mail this morning, “The rules are to give players some guaranteed down-time from supervised football activities after the season.”
It’s not known how much Harbaugh, or his assistants, could have accomplished with players during any such meetings. Or with any possible take-home assignments: On Feb. 14, Davis tweeted that he’d just finished “his open book take home football quiz.” Assuming the fine isn’t too steep, though, any possible illegal contact was probably worth the cost — particularly if the lockout is lengthy.
By the way, it appears Harbaugh was aware of the dead-period rule prior to the NFL Combine. On Feb. 24 in Indianapolis he was asked if there was anything he could do to get a head start prior to a potential lockout.
“There really isn’t,” Harbaugh said. “This is a time where you can’t require players to come in and we don’t want to get into anything that isn’t legal to do.”