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Of poison pills and collusion

Update [2007-3-14 9:46:41 by Skin Patrol]: And per PFT per Boston.com this thing is dead. NFLPA is walking away from it.

This is not exclusively Redskins related though it is a potentially important league-wide matter. PFT is leading the charge on one of their many moral crusades against the NFL. I say that only half-flippantly, because if what is being alleged is true, then I agree principally with PFT's position.

What's the poison pill?

The poison-pill device was developed last March, when the Vikings presented Seahawks guard Steve Hutchinson with a seven-year, $49 million contract that became fully guaranteed if in any year of the deal Hutchinson was not the highest-paid offensive lineman on the team.  As a practical matter, the deal would have not been fully guaranteed in Minnesota, but it would have been fully guaranteed in Seattle, given the presence on the team of left tackle Walter Jones.
Ok, and what's PFT's stance on it currently?
And since none of the teams are now using the poison pill, could it be because the teams have decided among themselves not to employ the pill against each other?

Lest there be any doubt, the CBA plainly outlaws such an arrangement.  Per Article XXIII, Section 1 of the amended CBA:  "No Club . . . shall enter into any agreement, express or implied, with the NFL or any other Club . . . to restrict or limit individual Club decision-making . . . concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to any player for inclusion, or included, in a player contract."

And is there any evidence of collusion?
In response to our item from Monday night regarding the question of whether agents are asking for the poison pill, an agent contacted us (unsolicited) and told us this:  "My agency represents a player who is a restricted free agent and in whom one team in particular seems very interested. The only holdup is that the front office of the new team feels very strongly that the original team will match any offer.  When I suggested a poison pill deal that would have ensured my client's services, they balked and commented that some higher ups in the organization were reluctant to use any poison pill type clauses in fear of retribution.  The focus of their fear was not the league but of the original team and the possibility that they or another team would feel free to f--k with one of their restricted players in the future."
And more from the Sun Sentinel (Hat tip: surprise, PFT):
The NFL Players Association is concerned that the Patriots and Dolphins violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement while putting together the recent trade of receiver Wes Welker and has asked the NFL Management Council for an explanation, according to a source.

"They may have violated the CBA rule that says one club can't offer the player's former team anything that would [sway] that team from matching their offer," the source said. "Anti-collusion [rule], that's another thing that may come into play."

Apparently Wes Welker's agent complained that his client was robbed of a substantial sum in a contract because the two teams (allegedly) colluded against using the poison pill by negotiating a trade instead. Apparently the Patriots were willing to offer around 38M to Welker; they eventually settled on a new contract with him for 18M.

I don't know how I can possibly relate this directly to the Redskins, so I'll try and fail. Remember when we stole Chad Morton from the Jets? It was ruled that the Jets had failed to match our offer for Morton because of a "voidable clause" portion of the contracts that did not match. We offered voidable years and the Jets didn't. Clear cut case of a failure to match according to my Burgundy and Gold colored glasses. Anyways, I don't think a "voidable clause" is much of a poison pill, but in so far as it made the Jets reluctant to match, you could consider it as such. Redskins related quotient met.

I don't want NFL teams colluding, but what a difficult thing to prove. I doubt any owners would be stupid enough to contractually agree or even explicitly state publicly that they wouldn't use the poison pill collectively to prevent a higher inflation of player salaries than would occur without. And that seems to my non-legal mind the only way to arbitrate against them. And the Sun-Sentinel suggests as much as well:

One agent said that these inquiries generally "go nowhere."

"When it comes to anti-tampering and collusion in regards to players, generally the league looks the other way and hands out a slap on the wrist unless the player's agent gets all frustrated and thinks their player has been devalued," the agent said. "If the player's happy with the offer and the teams are happy, the league's stance is, `Let's move on.''

PFT thinks this has legs (because the Agent is pissed) but I don't. If Welker and his agent thought there was something amiss, why would either of them agree to the Patriots 5 year around 18M dollar deal? Wouldn't have made more sense to hold out for the 7 year, 38M deal they thought the player would've earned on the market?

I understand the concern; if poison pills are in the equation players will potentially get paid more. But this wasn't the case with Hutchison (as far as I can tell) as the poison pill made him more expensive for Seattle but not for Minnesota, hence why he ended up in Minnesota. I also do not know if Wes Welker is worth 38M or 18M or whatever; ultimately the market determines what's available and the player chooses from among available contracts. And in this case that's exactly what happened, right?

Do I think the owners have a general, informal(ish) agreement not to poison pill one another? Yea, of course I do. They meet behind closed doors and it wouldn't surprise me in the least that some shouting and mean words were exchanged regarding the poison pill in those meetings. But collusion becomes a crime only once it's proven. And it just seems like a difficult thing to prove to my non-legal mind. If any reader(s) are informed at all about this topic I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions, as I'm fascinated with the seedy legal aspect of NFL Contract negotiations. Do reader(s) think the owners have an informal agreement? Am I being too cynical?