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Are NFL owners colluding against Lamar Jackson? The collusion theory explained

It’s rare that NFL teams would be publicly “out” on an MVP QB available to them and the fact that they are so with Lamar Jackson has led to some theories.

It’s rare that so many NFL teams would be publicly “out” on an MVP QB available to them and the fact that they are doing so with Lamar Jackson has led to some theories.

The Baltimore Ravens put the non-exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson, making him available for any NFL team to snatch up. One of the best in the league, a former MVP, and still healthy and young at 26 years old. And yet, not only are no teams interested, but they’ve made it abundantly clear they’re not.

So, what’s the big idea? The Panthers are really choosing Sam Darnold over Lamar Jackson? And the Atlanta Falcons, who released quarterback Marcus Mariota last month are now left with Desmond Ridder and Logan Woodside. Even they are reportedly not in the least bit interested in Jackson. They’d rather take their chances at no. 8 in the draft. The Washington Commanders and Las Vegas Raiders are also not interested in pursuing a deal with him. The Raiders….who currently have Chase Garbers at quarterback, and if you just said “…who?” in your head, well then, that’s my point.

Well, one pretty obvious explanation for all of this would be that Jackson has asked for a fully guaranteed contract - the same kind that the Cleveland Browns gave to Deshaun Watson when he was traded from the Houston Texans. And the NFL owners are not likely to want to be put in the position the Browns are now in with him.

The implications of a fully guaranteed contract

First of all, let’s explain why this fully guaranteed contract is such an issue. Deshaun Watson, who hasn’t played a full season since 2020 and was accused of sexual assault by dozens of women, signed a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract with the Browns. Now, he is set to have a huge cap hit of $55 million in 2023, which alone would be the biggest in league history and take up 24.5% of Cleveland’s cap space. If they release him at the end of 2023, they’d take a dead cap charge of $219,972 million. In 2024, it would decrease, but still be $164,979 million. Even in 2025, it would still be a whopping $109,986 million. So, they’re either stuck with him or a ridiculous dead cap charge. Indeed, they are already looking at ways to possibly restructure his contract.

The Browns assumed all of this risk because they apparently thought Watson would be worth it, and perhaps more importantly, because they could afford it. The economic ramifications of this contract though, could change how the NFL operates, and it would seem they most definitely do not want that. None of the other NFL teams since have signed a contract like Watson’s and in October, the NFL Player’s Association filed a grievance, saying that the NFL owners were colluding to lowball the players.

Last year, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti told reporters he wished the Browns hadn’t guaranteed the full contract for Watson.

“I don’t know that [Watson] should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract,” he said. “To me, that’s something that’s groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others.”

When a player is signed to a fully guaranteed contract, the NFL requires that the full amount be placed into an escrow account. Even for billionaires, putting away somewhere in the realm of $250 million over five years is a big ask. Many teams cannot afford to do so, as they rely on that income to live. Others, like the Browns, are owned by people worth billions, and can afford to take the risk. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam apparently thought they needed to do what it took to secure Brown.

And now the other league owners are avoiding being in the position the Browns are in, like the plague.

Collusion in the NFL?

Jackson was given the non-exclusive franchise tag on Tuesday at 3:02 p.m. and almost immediately, teams were expressing their disinterest in him. The Falcons said so a mere 14 minutes later, and then the others followed suit.

Collusion, by definition, would mean that the NFL owners got together and decided not to take Jackson, as a sign that they are opposed to the idea of a fully guaranteed contract, even for a quarterback of Jackson’s caliber. Of course, this is not an easy thing to prove, unless there’s actual written evidence (texts, emails, etc.). Otherwise, it’s just speculation that the NFL is trying to make an example out of Jackson. But it’s a pretty safe bet.

Jackson is a 26-year-old MVP, available for the taking, and NO team is even the least bit interested in even finding out what deal they could get out of him. That’s including teams who are in desperate need of a solution at quarterback. It may be next to impossible to prove, but it’s the only thing that makes this make sense.