NFL clears Philadelphia Eagles of tampering in signing Saquon Barkley; Atlanta Falcons penalized

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Thursday, June 13, 2024

The NFL has cleared the Philadelphia Eagles of tampering with their signing of running back Saquon Barkley this offseason, while the Atlanta Falcons were docked a fifth-round pick in the 2025 draft and fined for violating the NFL's anti-tampering policy related to free agent signings.

The NFL says it did not discover sufficient evidence to support a finding that the anti-tampering policy was violated by the Eagles in the lead-up to signing Barkley.

Shortly after Barkley agreed to terms with the Eagles on a three-year, $37.75 million contract in March, his former coach at Penn State, James Franklin, suggested general manager Howie Roseman spoke to Barkley directly during the "legal tampering" period to sell him on playing for Philadelphia, which has a large Penn State fan base.

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Teams are not allowed to talk directly to players during the negotiating window unless the player represents himself.

The Eagles at the time denied having impermissible contact with Barkley, saying that all recruiting done by the team is facilitated through the agent. Barkley said Franklin "misinterpreted" how the Eagles went about recruiting him.

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"In coming to this conclusion, the league reviewed phone logs, text messages and other documents related to Philadelphia's free agency and decision to sign Barkley," the league said in a statement. "The NFL also interviewed several members of the organization, including [general manager] Howie Roseman and [coach] Nick Sirianni, as well as Barkley and Penn State head coach James Franklin. As with every review, should new evidence be uncovered, the league may reopen the investigation."

In Atlanta, the tampering violations are related to the Falcons having "improper contact" with prospective unrestricted free agents Kirk Cousins, Darnell Mooney, and Charlie Woerner during the two-day negotiating period prior to the start of the 2024 league year.

The Falcons officially signed Cousins to a four-year deal worth up to $180 million on the first day of official free agency, two days after his agent, Mike McCartney, announced on social media that Cousins and Atlanta had agreed to terms.

"While the policy permits clubs to engage with and negotiate all aspects of an NFL player contract with the certified agent of any prospective unrestricted free agent during the two-day negotiating period, any direct contact between the player and an employee or representative of the club is prohibited," the NFL said in a statement. "This includes discussion of travel arrangements or other logistical matters, which the club acknowledges took place with regard to these three players."

During Cousins' opening news conference, he indicated he had spoken with the team's head trainer before 4 p.m. on March 13, when the new league year was set to open.

In addition to forfeiting its fifth-round pick, the Falcons were also docked $250,000 while general manager Terry Fontenot was fined $50,000.

"We are pleased this review is complete," the Falcons said in a statement. "We cooperated fully with the league and its review, and appreciate the NFL's thoroughness. As we do with every process, we will review how we operate and look for ways to improve."

ESPN's Tim McManus contributed to this report.