In late July, the NFL faced a problem. After an offseason that generated plenty of circumstantial evidence to support a finding of collusion when it comes to the failure to sign restricted free agents and or key veterans with a year or two remaining on their contracts to long-term deals, the owners had to decide whether to play hardball with the incoming crop of rookies, or whether to continue to sign unproven players to big-money packages.
The approach that many teams applied to restricted free agents — offering the minimum tender and, in multiple cases, slashing it to the absolute minimum permitted by the labor agreement — if applied to the rookies would have resulted in teams squatting on their rookies via a one-year, $310,000 offer, the minimum permissible tender under the CBA.
But the league likely realized that such an approach would come dangerously close to providing smoking-gun evidence of collusion, even though it would have been the logical extension of the approach taken regarding the league’s proven players who are in line for new deals.
And so after the Rams gave a quarterback who had never played a down of NFL football a contract with $25 million guaranteed upon signing and another $25 million in guaranteed money vesting within a year, it only made sense that someone would break ranks from the “we can’t do long-term deals until there’s a new labor contract” mantra and sign a big-name player to a landmark deal.
The Patriots did just that on Thursday, with multiple reports indicating a guarantee of $48.5 million for quarterback Tom Brady.
The message? Teams really can sign veteran players to long-term deals notwithstanding the labor situation, and hopefully the fact that the Patriots finally have done it will get others to do the same — which in turn could thaw the icy relations between the league and the union.