The NFL will deny, deny, and deny again that collusion has occurred in connection with the refusal to give fully-guaranteed contracts to “certain quarterbacks.” To have any chance to prove that collusion actually happened, the NFL Players Association will need to develop evidence to disprove the defense that it was coincidental, not coordinated.
That means getting access to text messages and emails exchanged by and between key owners, team executives, and league-office employees. And that’s surely what the union will try to do.
It’s possible that the NFLPA may be facing stiff resistance. As one league source has explained it to PFT, the arbitrator has already applied restrictions to discovery that have frustrated the union.
The source explained that the union is trying to secure emails and text messages exchanged by the owners who belong to the NFL Management Council Executive Committee, along with owners of the Cardinals (who didn’t give Kyler Murray a fully-guaranteed contract), Broncos (who didn’t give Russell Wilson a fully-guaranteed contract), and Ravens (who have refused to give Lamar Jackson a fully-guaranteed contract). The NFLPA has, for now, gotten clearance to get less information than that.
In our view, it also would be important to secure evidence demonstrating that Browns management experienced a negative reception at the March 2022 annual meeting, based on the decision to give quarterback Deshaun Watson a fully-guaranteed contract. Texts or emails among key Browns employees regarding interactions with others who may have given them the cold shoulder and/or may have made pointed remarks about Watson’s contract would help support the notion that the other teams didn’t like what the Browns did, making the existence of a wink-nod understanding that the others wouldn’t do it more plausible.
To have a fair shake at getting to the truth, the union must have access to the private communications among owners. Depositions aren’t enough, because it’s too easy to simply say “we never talked about fully guaranteed contracts.” The best evidence comes from electronic communications that possibly were sent by people who weren’t thinking that those communications ever would become public.
All too often, arbitrators and judges fail to understand the manner in which human beings interact and communicate. They routinely have conversations that “never happened,” and they’re committed to keeping that secret — even if it means committing perjury. Electronic communications never lie, however. And that’s always the best way to work backward in an effort to get to the always-elusive truth, in all matters of this nature, regardless of who the defendants may be.