Steve Bisciotti’s comments on Deshaun Watson’s contract peel back the collusion curtain, a little

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The NFL consists of 32 independent businesses. The antitrust laws prohibit certain types of concerted effort by those 32 businesses, with notable exceptions (e.g., the broadcast antitrust exemption, which allows the league to sell TV rights collectively, not individually).

Within the confines of the NFL’s labor deal, certain negotiated policies that otherwise would amount to antitrust violations (salary cap, franchise tag, the draft) are permitted. However, teams aren’t allowed to collude regarding devices that the Collective Bargaining Agreement permits.

With the NFL’s Management Council often serving as the conduit, the league’s teams definitely collude. They allegedly colluded to keep Colin Kaepernick out of the game. (They eventually paid a significant settlement of his collusion grievance.) When it comes to fully guaranteed contracts for veteran players, there’s reason to believe that they have colluded in the past — and that they would like to collude in the future.

Tuesday’s comments from Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti peel back the curtain a bit on this reality.

“That’s something that is groundbreaking,” Bisciotti said, “and it’ll make negotiations harder with others.”

It’s groundbreaking not because it’s some new right the players secured at the bargaining table. It’s groundbreaking because someone finally broke ranks to fully guarantee every penny of a five-year contract with a veteran player.

Teams have had the power to fully guarantee five years of a veteran contract for much longer than five years. But despite the ever-present competition among teams to get the best possible players, no one had ever done it.

So they didn’t do it because they chose not to extend this extra benefit to secure the services of a given player, or because they knew that doing so would be frowned upon in this establishment.

Bisciotti’s remarks hint to the latter. That the league and the teams don’t want to have to guarantee four or five years of a player contract. That the Browns doing so will now force others to do what they’ve previously resisted doing, via collective will.

That’s collusion. Plain and simple.

Here’s another form of collusion that, for now, no team has broken from. And it could be the next frontier for a franchise quarterback with leverage. Someone eventually will have a contract that ties his compensation to a specific percentage of the salary cap, year in and year out.

The CBA permits it. No one has done it. No one has done it in part because the Management Council discourages it. In other words, the NFL’s teams are colluding on this point.

17 responses to “Steve Bisciotti’s comments on Deshaun Watson’s contract peel back the collusion curtain, a little

  1. It’s not collusion on the league’s part. It’s stupidity on the Browns’ part.

  2. What’s wrong with the guy saying that this is a bad contract that will have repercussions down the road? Look at Watson’s record. There’s no way he’s worth all that money – guaranteed. It’s simply the Browns being the Browns. Their owner is an outright clown when it comes to the QB position.

  3. Maybe another reason no one has done it is because it’s not a wise risk to take in a league where significant injury has a high probability of occurring.

  4. Albert Hayensworth’s contract was also groundbreaking. Hugh contract with a lot of guaranteed money. Let the buyer be ware. The WFT took a beating on that contract and everyone learned from it.
    The contract could work out and more teams could follow suit. Or Watson could get injured and the Browns could be left without draft picks. The contract which gives over ten percent of the salary cap to one player with no way out could quickly become the Albatross that Hayensworth was to Washington.

  5. How many teams would line up to give Joe Burrow a guaranteed contract like Watson’s? QBs are a different animal. Young QBs with proven track records are even rarer. I can understand the criticism Cleveland is getting for taking on Watson’s off field problems. I can understand the criticism Cleveland is getting for giving up as many draft picks as they did to obtain Watson. But I don’t understand the criticism for paying a QB as young and proven as Watson is in a league where the QB is almost everything.

  6. Not only that, with a lunatic like Watson giving him all the leverage is plum stupid. What if he says one day I don’t like Cleveland I don’t want to play for you anymore just like he did with Houston, what are the browns going to do? What if Watson has a catastrophic injury and his career ends? You cannot guarantee 100 percent of contracts in the nfl for those reasons it makes 0 sense.

  7. Florio is absolutely right. The owners have depressed RBs salaries through the last several years. Which by all accounts is the most physically most abused position but lowest paid outside of special teams players and backups.

    I am surprised no one is taking shots at Jerry Jones for bucking trends with way overpaying several of his “stars” and helping raise franchise tag rates at WR and QB.

  8. Part of me thinks it might be better for teams to guarantee a specific percentage of the cap to certain star players – if you can get the number right. The problem is you’ll still probably have constant wrangling for a bigger piece of the pie.

    “Well if so and so is worth 15%, I should be worth 18%.” Or, “the best quarterback in the league makes 25%, but I’m a hot free agent coming off a career year and am going to push for 30%.” Then the next time the best quarterback’s contract is up, he’ll say “if he makes 30%, I should get 33%.”

    With cap inflation, teams can to some extent contain the growth of player salaries to a certain percentage of the cap, but once players start negotiating percentages, I envision things getting crazy.

    Not that that justifies collusion. I was just imagining how that might work in practice.

  9. A bunch of successful, intelligent businessmen individually come to the same conclusion on an issue or a transaction – be it not wanting their team to be involved with a guy who made himself into a marketing and public relations nightmare – or not giving out guaranteed contracts to players in such a violent sport – gotta be collusion.

  10. Its not “collusion pure and simple.”

    Its simply indicative of collusion.
    As long as it isnt planned or agreed upon – avoiding an escalating arms race isnt actually illegal. But it puts you in a weak spot to defend against a civil suit.

  11. Could not happen to a better franchise.

    The arrogance to wait until the rookie deal expires where you end up having no leverage and you just wasted a bunch of time seeing if the guy could progress, when it’s clear he can’t.

    It’s not like he’s a spring chicken anymore. He’s been in the league for 4 years.

  12. Just because an owner doesn’t like being impacted by another owner’s bad decision doesn’t mean he’s colluding with anyone. It means he doesn’t want to make the same mistake.

  13. Look, I have no sympathy for the owners , they are making ‘groundbreAking” obscene amounts of money now with legalized gambling and tv deals. Players see that and want their piece.

  14. Nobody should never again question the Haslams commitment to winning by shelling out that kind of guaranteed money. The Browns are either going to look amazingly intelligent for this move or complete morons. There is no middle ground on this deal.

  15. It’s not collusion to echo the sentiments of anyone who knows anything about foolish contracts.

  16. How is it collusion if one owner gives a player who doesn’t deserve it a really stupid contract and every other owner knows said stupid contract will effect them in a negative way in the future?

    Seeing as this post is about the Ravens, how does Watson’s contract effect them? Well, love Lamar or hate him, the guy is the polar opposite of Watson. Jackson has a NFL mvp under his belt and to this point the guy carries himself as a leader and a professional on and off the field. Watson on the other hand is a PR nightmare, a scummy pervert, and somehow he gets rewarded with a $230 mil fully guaranteed contract and he may never take a regular season snap ever again in the NFL. So, if you compared Watson to Jackson, Jackson is a model citizen who deserves more than $230 million by this new standard. So, when it comes contract time, what will Lamar’s contract be? $231 million, $300 mil, $400 mil? That’s why all the other owners are looking at the Browns and ask WTF Cleveland? What the heck are you clowns doing? It isn’t collusion, it’s the rest of the NFL looking at Cleveland like they’re a bunch of incompetent tools who will do anything to win while throwing all common sense and integrity out the window.

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