NFLPA Could Use Collusion Claim as CBA Bargaining Chip
According to the current CBA, the union must submit any collusion charges within 90 days of the start of the regular season. That meant Tuesday, and the union had been preparing in recent days to formally file the charge. Instead, they negotiated an extension of the deadline to an undisclosed future date, allowing the union more time to get its case together and possibly giving commissioner Roger Goodell some motivation to light a fire under owners who have so far been reluctant to negotiate. The union believes owners are planning to lock the players out in 2011, but if there's a serious threat of legal action on collusion, the owners might be more likely to give on certain points in exchange for the union's dropping of the claim.
"The NFL and the NFLPA have agreed to extend the deadline for the players to file a collusion claim," the league and the union said in a joint statement released Tuesday evening. "This agreement does not prevent the NFLPA from filing a collusion claim at a future date. We are continuing to work toward a new CBA that will be good for players, owners and fans."
At issue is the union's belief that the NFL's teams acted in concert regarding restricted free agency during the 2010 offseason. When the owners opted out of the current CBA, and a March deadline for reaching a new deal passed, it triggered an uncapped 2010-11 season. One of the side effects of was that about 216 players who would have been unrestricted free agents under the old rules instead became restricted free agents. And the union's contention in its potential collusion claim would be that the teams acted together to decline to give offer sheets to those players. Only one restricted free agent, Mike Bell with Philadelphia, signed an offer sheet this offseason.
The NFL has contended that the uncertainty surrounding the 2011 labor situation is what depressed this year's free-agent market. The union's claim would contend that the slow market was orchestrated and therefore illegal.
It's certainly possible that this never gets to court. And if you're a fan looking for positive news on a potential 2011 work stoppage, you can take some encouragement from the fact that the league and union were able to agree on extending the deadline. The result of what happened Tuesday is that the union may have a new tool with which to improve its leverage in negotiations. And if the owners are afraid of getting sued for collusion and losing, that could give them a new, scary reason to get to the bargaining table in a hurry.