On October 18, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith strongly hinted that a collusion claim was coming regarding the refusal of teams to give veteran players fully-guaranteed contracts. Within 48 hours after Smith’s remarks, the NFL made it known that the collusion bird had landed.
Kalyn Kahler of TheAthletic.com reports that, in a memo dated October 20, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash informed the league’s teams of the union’s formal allegation that the teams had agreed to not make fully-guaranteed contracts available to “certain quarterbacks” after the Browns gave Deshaun Watson a five-year, fully-guaranteed contract.
The collusion claim, based on Pash’s memo, contends that NFL owners and/or executives discussed at an August 9 ownership meeting not agreeing to additional player contracts with fully-guaranteed salaries. The union will need to prove that something along those lines happened; otherwise, the league will simply argue that the teams independently decided that they wouldn’t follow Cleveland’s lead.
The memo also notes that the NFLPA is not exercising its right to attempt to terminate the Collective Bargaining Agreement, if a violation is proven. (Former NFL player Sean Gilbert once ran for the position of executive director based in part on a plan to attempt to scrap the CBA based on collusion arising from the teams hiding behind the funding rule to refuse to give players a fully-guaranteed deal.)
Since Watson signed his deal with the Browns, players like Kyler Murray of the Cardinals and Russell Wilson of the Broncos have gotten long-term deals that aren’t fully guaranteed. It didn’t seem to be a major sticking point for either of them. For Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, it has prevented a deal from being done.
Jackson wants a fully-guaranteed deal. The Ravens refuse to give it to him. The question in the collusion claim will be whether the teams and/or the league office have discouraged other teams from doing what the Browns did.
The union obviously believes there’s smoke. The challenge becomes finding the fire. In a later post, I’ll lay out some of the possible ways that the union may go about trying to prove it.