The Athletic's Kalyn Kahler reported last week that NFL general counsel Jeff Pash wrote in an Oct. 20 memo to club owners, presidents, general managers and attorneys that the NFLPA filed a grievance alleging that teams and the league colluded to prevent fully guaranteed contracts from being offered to players. The basis for the NFLPA's claim is "the fact that no other quarterback or high-profile player has signed a fully guaranteed contract after Browns' quarterback Deshaun Watson signed his contract last March."
The NFLPA contends that fully guaranteed contracts would become the norm for the NFL's top players because of the Watson deal. The memo alleges that prior to, during and after an Aug. 9 ownership meeting in which the owners met to approve the Denver Broncos sale, there have been discussions among owners, league and teams executives about agreeing not to sign veteran players to lucrative fully guaranteed contracts.
Pash added that the NFLPA isn't seeking to terminate the collective bargaining agreement if the claims are proven. Instead, the NFLPA has asked the arbitrator to award damages and allow "certain quarterbacks" adversely affected to terminate their contracts.
Nobody expected Watson to get a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract in connection with his trade from the Texans to the Browns, especially considering the numerous sexual assault and misconduct allegations he was facing. Watson just finished serving an 11-game suspension for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy. He had four years worth $136 million remaining on the four-year contract extension averaging $39 million per year he signed in September 2020 before signing the Browns contract.
The Browns "pulled a rabbit out of hat" with the help of the new contract. Watson had narrowed the teams he was willing to waive his no-trade clause for down to the Falcons and Saints. The Browns had missed the cut prior to a new contract entering the equation.
Watson had unique circumstances where multiple teams were recruiting him to waive his no-trade clause. In a sense, Watson was more like a free agent than the typical contract-extension candidate where there's a closed negotiation only with the player's team. Essentially, David Mulugheta, Watson's agent, was able to leverage Cleveland's desperation to get his client into the type of contract that's routine for NBA superstars.