Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 6/27/13
All-Pro defensive end, Dwight Freeney, recently signed a two-year, $13.4 million contract with the San Diego Chargers.Considering the last contract he signed with the Indianapolis Colts—in 2007—was worth $72 million over six years, the 33-year-old’s free agent contract was quite a pay cut.Freeney isn’t happy about it."I basically think the owners got together and decided not to spend the cash on free agents," Freeney explained. "I definitely think that's part of it. I think the owners made a pact. There's only 32 of them and none of them broke ranks. I think they all decided not to spend money."It’s nice that Freeney not only stuck up for himself, but other free agent sack masters like Baltimore DE, Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil also took a hefty pay cut -- the six year, $61.5 million contract he signed with the Denver Broncos in 2010 fell apart this offseason, resulting in a five-year, $26 million contract with the Ravens.Freeney is right that Dumervil is in “his prime” at 29 years old, but he failed to mention that the undersized pass rusher - generously listed at 6-foot, 255 pounds - missed the entire 2010 season with a torn pectoral muscle. He also hadn’t faced nearly as much resistance from opposing offenses since Denver drafted OLB, Von Miller, in ‘11. Miller put up as many sacks (30) and solo tackles (106) in his first two seasons as Dumervil had in his first three.Freeney’s age and decreasing results are far more likely than his age to have contributed to his own predicament. Since his third All-Pro season in ’09, Freeney’s sack totals have decreased rather uniformly from 13.5, to 10, to 8.5, to 5 last season. And he’s suffered nagging ankle and abdomen injuries that have dogged him over the past four seasons, causing him to miss six starts and four games. And Freeney’s also benefitted from fellow sack fiend, DE/OLB, Robert Mathis lining up on the other side.But Freeney isn’t the lone voice in this plight. The executive director of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith sent out a letter encouraging players to report any evidence of price rigging. A prominent agent said, “I’ve been in this business for several decades and there was never an offseason like this. Never.”That anonymous agent is right. According to Scouts Inc. - via ESPN.com’s Free Agent Tracker - this year’s top 10 free agents are the third lowest rated collectively since ESPN.com began reporting Scouts Inc.’s metric in ’05. YearNo. 1 PlayerRatingNo. 10 PlayerRatingTop 10 Avg80+2011CB, Nnamdi Asomugha93three-player tie8588.0372009two-player tie93WR, Torry Holt8287.1162005OT, Orlando Pace95two-player tie8187.0102012QB, Drew Brees94three-player tie8386.1192010DE, Julius Peppers90two-player tie8385.4152008WR, Randy Moss93three-player tie8084.8102013OT, Jake Long86seven-player tie8383.8292006two-player tie90four-player tie7982.992007LB, Adalius Thomas84three-player tie7578.74With 29 players bunched up between 86 and 80 this offseason, the decrease in salaries should be attributed to the abundance of relative talent, not some tinfoil pigskin conspiracy. The only season there was more players ranked 80 or higher than the 29 in ’13, was the 37 in ’11. So why weren’t there cries of price fixing two years ago?The new collective bargaining agreement wasn’t signed until July 25, 2011, so free agency started much later than the usual mid-March frenzy. Because owners were anticipating a lockout, every team except for Dallas, Oakland, New Orleans and Washington maintained a lower in ’10 - an uncapped year - and thus had more money to burn once the labor dispute was resolved in ’11.It’s that uncapped season three years ago that ultimately deflates the claims of collusion from Freeney, et al.The NFLPA sued the NFL as soon as the league punished Dallas and Washington for “salary dumping” in ’10 since there was no enforceable cap. The NFLPA claimed that penalties for not sticking to an unspoken cap was evidence of collusion since there wasn’t supposed to be a cap in the first place. The NFLPA was correct in this assertion, but the irony is this case proves even if all the owners swear to these secret pacts, a handful are bound to break that promise in the name of winning.The conspiracy theories get pretty flimsy if you break down the owners/ownership groups of the 32 NFL franchises into categories based on how they came to join this exclusive fraternity: Nine teams are run by heirs of the original or previous owners, nine teams are run by millionaires/billionaires who gained their wealth, in large part, due to family business,  13 teams are run by self-made millionaires/billionaires, and Green Bay is a privately traded corporation.Nearly half of the league is run by entrepreneurs who didn’t get to such lofty levels of success by blindly following the pack. Just look at the four owners who rebelled in ’10: Dallas’ Jerry Jones made his money in oil and gas exploration, Oakland’s late Al Davis started out ascended from scout to majority controller of the owning partnership, New Orleans’ Tom Benson parlayed a successful auto sales business into successful banking institutions and Washington’s Dan Snyder made billions in advertising/marketing.Sorry, aging superstars: your considerable abilities have eroded and just aren’t as valuable as they used to be.Sorry, agents: this year’s talent pool was vast and diluted.Sorry, NFLPA: in an atmosphere of such prestige and intense competition, you’re going to have a difficult time nailing this economically diverse group for any surreptitious behavior because there will always be that maverick playing along just to gain the advantage.
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