NFL rules on tampering cases: Eagles cleared, but Falcons will give up 2025 5th-round pick

The Eagles were alleged to have had illegal contact with Saquon Barkley, while the NFL proved the Falcons had illegal contact with three free agents.

After three months of investigation, the NFL resolved the free-agent tampering cases of the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons.

The league announced Thursday that its investigation found the Eagles did not have contact with then-free-agent running back Saquon Barkley during the 52-hour legal tampering period prior to the start of free agency, during which teams can speak to only agents and not directly to players. After reviewing text messages, emails and other documents related to the signing, and interviewing of Barkley, general manager Howie Roseman, head coach Nick Sirianni and Penn State head coach James Franklin, the NFL found no evidence the team violated the anti-tampering policy.

The league reserves the right to reopen the investigation if new evidence is discovered.

The Falcons, however, were not cleared.

The league found they had improper contact with Kirk Cousins, Darnell Mooney and Charlie Woerner during the 52-hour legal tampering period. Atlanta will forfeit its 2025 fifth-round draft pick and pay a team fine of $250,000, while general manager Terry Fontenot will pay a fine of $50,000.

These incidents of possible illegal contact came to light in the days after each player signed their contract. The NFL began its investigation into the Eagles after Franklin, Barkley's former coach at Penn State, commented on a conversation he had with Barkley about the signing. According to Franklin, Barkley told him Penn State was part of Roseman's pitch, implying that Barkley heard the pitch first-hand. Here's Franklin's exact quote:

“For him now to come back and be able to play within the state in Philadelphia, [Barkley] said that was one of the first things that Howie [Roseman] said to him on the phone as part of his sales pitch to him,” Franklin said. “Not only the Philadelphia Eagles but obviously the connection with Penn State and the fan bases as well.”

Franklin later said the comment was misinterpreted, and Barkley tried to clarify what his former coach had said.

“Coach Franklin, I think, kind of misinterpreted,” Barkley explained. “The truth was the sales pitch to Penn State, how many Penn State fans are Philadelphia Eagles fans. But that was through my agent and my agent told me that. It happens. I’m going to let Philly handle that.”

As for the Falcons, their tampering investigation was triggered by Cousins himself. He essentially admitted during his introductory media conference that he had contact with Falcons staff members before free agency officially began, including director of player personnel Ryan Pace and the team's head athletic trainer.

“There’s great people here,” Cousins said. “And it’s not just the football team. I mean, I’m looking at the support staff. Meeting — calling, yesterday, our head athletic trainer, talking to our head of PR, I’m thinking we’ve got good people here. And that’s exciting to be a part of.”

Cousins later brushed off any implications of tampering, despite the fact that he was the one who triggered the NFL's investigation.

“The league’s still kind of going through that,” Cousins said. “So, I’ll let them do it. But there’s not a whole lot there.”

The NFL felt there was in fact "a whole lot there" — not just with Cousins, but with two other free agents, While no details were released about the Falcons' contact with Mooney and Woerner, their addition to the Falcons' illegal contact list causes one aspect of their discipline to stick out: if the team had illegal contact with three free agents, why are they forfeiting just one late-round pick and paying a relatively small fine?

NFL Network's Tom Pelissero cleared that up.

"The violations were found to have occurred *during* the two-day negotiating window, not before it opened, e.g. talking to players about flights after they’d (legally) agreed to terms," Pelissero wrote on X. "Hence, less discipline than in some other cases."