The NFL is dropping the hammer on Browns general manager Ray Farmer.
Farmer has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for his role in illegally sending text messages to the Browns sideline during games last season, violating the league's electronic device policy. The Browns have also been fined $250,000, but they will not lose a pick in the upcoming NFL draft -- that was on the table, but the NFL ultimately determined it should be Farmer who took the brunt of this punishment. For those four games, Farmer will not be allowed to participate in any team-related activities.
"The use of a cell phone on multiple occasions during games in 2014 by Cleveland Browns General Manager Ray Farmer was a violation of NFL rules that prohibit certain uses of electronic devices during games," NFL Executive VP of Football Operations Troy Vincent said in a statement released by the league on Monday. "The suspension will start on midnight of the Sunday preceding the Browns' first regular-season game and will end immediately after the Browns' fourth regular-season game. During the period of the suspension, Farmer cannot be involved in any club matters and is prohibited from being at the Browns' offices, practice facility, or at Browns games.
"There was no evidence in the NFL's review that Browns ownership or any other team executives had knowledge of the prohibited conduct. Once the violation was discovered, Browns management implemented new processes to ensure future compliance. We appreciate the courtesy and cooperation the Browns organization extended during our inquiry."
A report surfaced in early January that a "high ranking official" was sending text messages to the sidelines, which was one of the reasons that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan departed last season. Farmer said after the season he doesn't believe his actions played into offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's decision to leave the team, but it's clear Shanahan wasn't comfortable with that kind of mess.
The NFL also announced that they've fined the Atlanta Falcons $350,000, while also forfeiting a fifth-round pick from the 2016 NFL draft. The Falcons actually acknowledged piping noise into the Georgia Dome over the last two years.
"The Atlanta Falcons have acknowledged the use of pre-recorded crowd noise in violation of NFL rules during home games throughout the 2013 season and into the 2014 season until the club was notified last November that the violation had been identified," Vincent said. "The rule states that "at no point during the game can artificial crowd noise or amplified crowd noise be played in the stadium."
Based on the full record, the Falcons have been fined $350,000 and will forfeit their fifth-round selection in the 2016 Draft. If the Falcons have multiple picks in that round, the highest selection will be forfeited.
"Our review concluded that Roddy White, the team’s former director of event marketing, was directly responsible for the violation. Mr. White would have been suspended without pay for the first eight weeks of the 2015 regular season had he still been with the club. If Mr. White obtains employment with another NFL team during the 2015 season, he may be required to serve some or all of this suspension.
"Our review also determined that Falcons ownership and senior executives, including team President Rich McKay, were unaware of Mr. White's use of an audio file with artificial crowd noise. However, Mr. McKay, as the senior club executive overseeing game operations, bears some responsibility for ensuring that team employees comply with league rules. As a result, Mr. McKay will be suspended from the Competition Committee beginning April 1. He may petition Commissioner Goodell for reinstatement to the committee no sooner than June 30."