Could the Patriots charge the Buccaneers with tampering after Bruce Arians' Tom Brady comments?

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com

Tampering Tampa?

That may have been the case Wednesday at the NFL Combine.

When asked what quarterbacks he would 'pick up the phone for' in free agency, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians didn't hesitate, naming two players who are still technically under contract until March 18.

Greg Auman on Twitter

Asked for examples of NFL quarterbacks he'd pick up the phone for in free agency, Bruce Arians said "Tom Brady. Philip (Rivers) is another guy. We'll see.

While Rivers' situation is a bit murky given the fact the Chargers have already publicly disowned him, involving Tom Brady's name seems like a direct violation of the NFL Anti-Tampering Policy.

According to the policy:

The term tampering, as used within the National Football League, refers to any interference by a member club with the employer-employee relationship of another club or any attempt by a club to impermissibly induce a person to seek employment with that club or with the NFL.

The policy also contains a section dedicated specifically to comments about players under contract:

Any public or private statement of interest, qualified or unqualified, in another club’s player to that player’s agent or representative, or to a member of the news media, is a violation of this Anti-Tampering Policy. (Example of a prohibited comment: “He’s an excellent player, and we’d very much like to have him if he were available, but another club holds his rights.”)

Based on those parameters it certainly seems like Arians violated the policy, even if he was joking. Regardless of what happens this spring, the Patriots could press charges and potentially be awarded compensation. From the Anti-Tampering Policy's discipline section:

The Commissioner may award compensation to the offended club if it certifies a complaint that initiates an investigation against the offending club. If the offended club declined or otherwise failed to certify such a complaint after the facts of the matter became known or reasonably should have become known to the offended club, the offended club may not receive any potential award of compensation.

Arians handling of the question is in stark contrast to how coaches have handled themselves the rest of the week. Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy instantly shot down a similar question earlier in the day, while Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel got testy with a reporter during an exchange on Tuesday.

Brendan Connelly on Twitter

Knew a Tom Brady question was coming. Asked how Dallas ended up in the conversation: https://t.co/r1J90xgX4x

Will any other coaches take the bait and cross the line the way Arians did? There's still 21 days until Tom Brady officially becomes a free agent when the new league year begins on March 18.

Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].