After controversial quarterback Deshaun Watson inked a fully guaranteed contract during the NFL offseason, many team owners were not pleased.
Some owners may have believed Watson’s deal would set a precedent and quarterbacks with expiring contracts would seek similar terms during their contract negotiations.
Now, the NFLPA has filed a grievance claiming that owners across the league colluded to prevent teams for fully guaranteed contracts, according to a report from The Athletic.
A third-party arbitrator is expected to hear the union’s grievance.
The report from The Athletic also reveal that NFL general counsel Jeff Pash sent a memo to teams across the on Oct. 20. The memo is believed to have informed NFL team’s of the players association’s claim that teams agreed to block fully guaranteed contracts for some quarterbacks in light of Watson’s deal.
The Browns acquired Watson in a trade with the Houston Texans in exchange for first-round picks in 2022, 2023 and 2024 as well as a 2023 third-round pick and a 2024 fourth-round pick.
After the trade, Watson signed a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract. The deal set a record for the highest guaranteed money given to an NFL player.
The NFLPA argued, according to the report’s recounting of the Pash memo, that owners made an agreement to not offer large-scale, fully guaranteed deals going forward.
It is important to note that the current collective bargaining agreement does not mandate NFL team to offer fully guaranteed contract during negotiations with players.
ESPN reported that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s ongoing negotiation was mentioned leading up to the claim.
Jackson has yet to sign an extension and is set to be a free agent after the season. Adam Schefter reported in September that Jackson declined a deal with Baltimore worth roughly $250 million in the pursuit of a fully guaranteed contract.
Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson were among the quarterbacks who signed extensions prior to the start of the regular season which were more in line with traditional NFL business.
In March, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti did not mince word when he spoke about Watson’s deal at the NFL’s owners meetings.
“I’m trying to answer that when I had a reaction to it. And it’s like, ‘Damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract,'” Bisciotti said. “I don’t know that he should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract. To me, that’s something that is groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to play that game, you know? We shall see. If I was in bogged-down negotiations with Lamar, then maybe I would have a quicker reaction to that news.”
Many player’s contracts do have certain guarantees built in, but a fully guaranteed contract is far from normal in the league.
According to NFL rules, a team has to pay the majority of a guaranteed contract within the first year of the deal. But, the players association wants to know whether teams are operating independently when it comes to declining to offer a guaranteed contract.
An NFL spokesperson declined to comment, and the union did not provide any immediate comment. The evidence the NFLPA has to support is argument is not known.