After goodplayers, good coaches and good health, nothing is more valuable to an NFL teamthan having the goods on its next opponent. Just consider the lengths to whichteams will go not only to protect news about injuries (Point After, page 76)and personnel changes on their own team, but also to gather information aboutother clubs.
This is an article from the Nov. 3, 2008 issue
Before theirseason opener a few years ago, the Patriots brought in a player who'd beenreleased by the team they were preparing to face in Week 1. He arrived at NewEngland's facility in Foxborough, Mass., expecting to be worked out andpossibly signed. The player never even made it to the practice field. AfterPats officials picked his brain about his former team, they put him on a flightback home.
Of course, teamsalso prepare themselves for the possible leaking of such info. When the Bearslet their 2007 starting wide receivers leave last off-season, releasing MuhsinMuhammad in February and choosing not to pursue free agent Bernard Berrian inMarch, offensive coordinator Ron Turner immediately made a mental note tochange his quarterbacks' hand signals and audible calls. He knew the receivers'new teams were on Chicago's schedule this year and had to assume that Muhammad(Panthers) and Berrian (Vikings) would give up the goods on their previousemployer. "Everybody exchanges information," a Bears official said lastweek.
The issue of lateis what kind of information sharing, between which personnel, is consideredacceptable. Last week Fox Sports reported that Jets quarterback Brett Favresupplied inside dope to then Lions general manager Matt Millen in Septemberbefore Detroit played the Packers, with whom Favre spent 16 seasons.
It's widelyaccepted that players swap information about common opponents with players fromother teams; and two head coaches, speaking on the condition of anonymity,acknowledged that coaches share information. What's almost unheard of, however,is for a player on a current roster to discuss his former team's personnel orschemes with a coach or official outside his organization. "There's anunwritten rule that you don't do that," says one prominent defensivecoordinator. "If we have a relationship, definitely I will call anothercoach about a team that he's faced and we're about to face. I'll ask thingslike, What was your thought process? What did you see? A lot of times it's justto verify what I saw on film already. But I never talk to players on otherteams about that stuff."
Favre, whoseseparation from the Packers was bitter, denies providing detailed informationto the Lions, who lost to Green Bay 48-25 on Sept. 14. Still, even if he did,he would not be violating league rules. The spirit of fair play, yes. Butthere's no NFL stricture against the passing of info about mutualopponents.
"Players shareinformation all the time," says Steelers linebacker James Farrior. "IfI'm playing a team and one of my friends played for that club, I'm going tocall him and try to get all the information I can. It's up to him to spill thebeans or not. I don't think it's wrong--it's just using all yourresources."
But Farrior'steammate Hines Ward considers the practice overrated. "If you're notfamiliar with the personnel, you might call a guy and ask about it," saysthe Pro Bowl wideout. "But we don't get into play routes and stuff likethat. That's why you have coordinators. Who's to say they're going to run thatsame play in the game? And what works for somebody else might not work foryou."
Still, knowledgeis power in the minds of many. For instance, the Chiefs came close to tradingsafety Greg Wesley to the Broncos before last season but backed out because theproposed compensation was not to their liking--and because some members of theKansas City organization were concerned about sending a player to a divisionrival whom they face twice a year.
Even so, there'ssome question about the value of such information. Farrior admits he doesn'toften get much from talking with other players about common opponents. "Thestuff that they tell you usually doesn't happen anyway," he says."You've got to look at the tape and see what the teams do and how they gameplan. You've got to go far deeper into it than what someone will say."
So why make thecalls at all? Because it's a copycat league, and as Farrior said in so manywords, everyone else does.