NFLPA Accuses League of Collusion

The Cleveland Browns turned the NFL on its head when they acquired quarterback Deshaun Watson and signed him to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract in the 2022 offseason, but the deal has yet to prove a precedent-setter. According to the NFLPA, that's no coincidence. The NFLPA has filed a collusion claim, accusing NFL teams of working in concert to withhold fully-guaranteed deals from star players. The NFL has successfully avoided the sorts of fully guaranteed, long-term deals that permeate the NBA and MLB despite its significantly larger revenue and wider reach. Football, due to its high injury rate and the sheer size of its rosters, has managed to keep the value and leverage of individual players deflated enough that Watson's contract was a total outlier when it was finalized.

Given Watson's 20+ accusations of sexual misconduct and relatively modest on-field success, the NFLPA is right to find it peculiar that no other young franchise passer has achieved a similar deal. Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson have each since signed deals that eclipsed Watson in yearly average earnings but fell well short of his total guarantees. 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson remains without an extension despite being in the fifth year of his rookie deal.

The NFL can argue that Watson's acquisition by the Browns featured unique circumstances, and that's partially true. Young franchise passers are seldom subject to the bidding war that Watson was when the Houston Texans made him available for trade, and the Browns had to do something to win his attention away from other interested parties like the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints. Still, in a league that fancies itself as a meritocracy, it hardly seems fair that Watson's troubles would earn him such a unique and favorable contract.    
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