With the NFL and NFLPA suddenly getting along even worse than the Hatfields and the McCoys, it makes sense to think about other ways in which the fight could manifest itself.
The union now claims that the teams engaged in collusion two years ago, establishing a secret $123 million per-team salary cap. Though that claim wasn’t specifically made before the current CBA was signed, the NFLPA previously claimed that the teams agreed among themselves not to sign each other’s restricted free agents in the uncapped year, when players with four and five years of service fell under the rules of restricted free agency.
Given that the union is now pursuing a collusion claim that arguably was waived by the current CBA, it’s hardly a stretch to wonder whether the NFLPA will turn its attention to restricted free agency in 2012.
Of the 42 restricted free agents, not a single one signed an offer sheet. The pool included players who could have been had with a first-round pick as compensation (like Steelers receiver Mike Wallace and Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb) and players who could have been had for no compensation (like Steelers offensive lineman Doug Legursky).
There’s currently no publicly-known smoking gun that would prove that the teams have a wink-nod understanding that restricted free agents are off-limits. But the objective proof suggests that something is happening, just like it did when teams weren’t signing restricted free agents in 2010 — and just like it did when teams treated the uncapped year as anything but uncapped.
The only question at this point is whether the NFLPA will point a finger and fire up the legal engines.