The NFL has gotten itself into trouble before when its constituent teams have been accused of colluding in certainly cases, whether it involved a specific player, or even a specific position group at any given time. Collusion in this sense is illegal. The league has been taken to court over cases and have settled for millions of dollars.
It is permissible, however, for players to ‘collude’. Collusion involves secret and unlawful conspiratorial communication between parties designed to exploit a situation to their own gain. Teams have been accused of communicating with one another before in order to suppress the market, to keep player salaries down across the board, rather than having a rogue team reset a market at a position with an outlier contract.
Given the realities of the impending salary cap crunch, which figures to see this year’s number come in around $15 million under what last year’s campaign was allotted, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith is encouraging players and their agents to collude with one another, for the exact opposite purpose: ensuring that players sign fair-market and equitable contracts. Dan Graziano writes for ESPN:
Speaking on the videoconference, which replaced the annual all-agent seminar the NFLPA holds each year at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, Smith told the agents that the union expects this year’s cap to be pretty close to the $180 million “floor” negotiated by the NFL and the NFLPA, and that the 2022 and 2023 caps could be affected as well by the pandemic-related revenue losses that resulted in this year’s cap reduction, the source said.
Because of that, Smith said, agents this year should push back on teams trying to cut players for cap reasons and should consult with one another and with the NFLPA’s cap department on the offers they’re receiving from teams for free-agent players. The source relayed Smith’s message to ESPN and said Smith told the agents it was OK for them to “collude” in free agency in order to ensure the best possible deals for players.
In other words, Smith is encouraging players and agents to communicate with one another, particularly players within a similar compensatory bracket and at the same position, to compare notes about what they are being offered—basically, to make sure that nobody is being low-balled, and falling for a low-ball offer.
Of course, some compromise will be unavoidable. For the first time in nearly a decade, there will be less cap money to go around than the year before, and that’s going to have to have consequences at some point. The NFLPA understands this, but is hoping to avoid some of the worse possible effects of the shortfall.