NFLPA tells players to work together in free agency, push back on teams amid reduced salary cap, per report

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When dozens of high-profile names hit NFL free agency every offseason, they’re often competing against each other for the best contracts of their respective careers. This offseason, however, player leadership is urging free agents to work together. According to ESPN, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith told NFL agents Thursday it’s OK to “collude” in order to get the best possible deals for their clients, encouraging them to push back against teams attempting to capitalize on a reduced 2021 salary cap.

Because of pandemic-influenced losses, this year’s cap is expected to be close to the $180 million floor negotiated by the NFL and NFLPA, ESPN’s Dan Graziano reports. A number of teams will be tight against the reduced cap, if not scrambling to get under it, so Smith’s message — delivered as part of an all-agent video conference — was meant to band players together ahead of potential mass cuts, restructures and stingy free-agent negotiations:

Smith said … agents this year should push back on teams trying to cut players for cap reasons and should consult with one another and with the NFLPA’s cap department on the offers they’re receiving from teams for free-agent players … Collusion, of course, is an illegal corporate practice in which the league’s teams are prohibited from engaging. But there are no laws or rules against workers (in this case players) exchanging information about who’s offering how much.

In other words, while players have never been forbidden from sharing information during the offseason, the uncharted waters of such a reduced cap demand — at least in the NFLPA’s eyes — special cooperation to fight against potential swindling on the behalf of cap-strapped teams. Even the dire circumstances could have been worse, though, as Smith reportedly also told agents during the video call that, without the NFL and NFLPA’s newest collective bargaining agreement, the league would likely be approaching an indefinite shutdown with “little motivation to negotiate a new deal” because of financial losses.

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