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Calvin Johnson’s deal at the heart of NFLPA’s collusion concerns

Yes, the NFLPA is investigating whether the Broncos and Cowboys have colluded in connection with their negotiations regarding long-term offers for receiver Demaryius Thomas and receiver Dez Bryant, respectively. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the suspicions flow from a mutual rejection by both teams of Calvin Johnson’s contract with the Lions.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, both teams have taken the position that proposals made on behalf of the players are too high, explaining that Johnson’s deal doesn’t reflect the receiver market because that contract was influenced by the salary-cap numbers generated by Johnson’s enormous rookie contract from 2007, four years before the launch of the current rookie wage scale.

That coincidence hardly would be enough to prove collusion standing alone. Any team trying to negotiate a fair deal for a receiver would resist paying Calvin Johnson money ($16 million per year) simply because Johnson’s deal was driven by other factors.

In this case, the source tells PFT that the NFLPA has credible information the Broncos and Cowboys have been communicating to set, control, or manipulate the relevant market -- elite receivers who entered the league in 2010. Of course, nothing prevents the players and their agents from comparing notes and devising strategies; Thomas and Bryant soon will be represented by the same firm, given reports that Todd France (who represents Thomas) will be joining CAA (which represents Bryant).

But while it’s fair for players and agents to work together to push the market higher, teams can’t work together to keep the market lower.

If collusion between the Broncos and Cowboys occurred, it was unnecessary. Regardless of where the market is or where it’s going, the Broncos and Cowboys currently control the rights to Thomas and Bryant, and their long-term value should be driven not by what Johnson got from the Lions or what an elite receiver would make on the open market but by the reality that the tag will pay them each more than $28 million over the next two years.

There’s also an argument to be made that the receiver market will soon soften, given the new supply of game-ready wideouts who are more prepared than ever before after catching so many more passes in college, high school, and at the 7-on-7 camps that have proliferated to encourage quarterback development.

Either way, the Broncos and Cowboys should be smart enough to independently understand the realities of the market, to place a fair value on the receivers, and to either work out long-term deals or employ them under the tag for 2015. Communicating and coordinating regarding the issue adds nothing, other than the fresh headache that both teams will now have to deal with as the July 15 deadline looms for working out long-term deals with franchise-tagged players.

Regardless of whether the credible evidence of collusion ever becomes a finding of collusion, the emergence of this suspicion could be aimed at breaking whatever impasse currently exists between the Broncos and Thomas and the Cowboys and Bryant. After Wednesday, when the time period for signing franchise-tagged players to multi-year deals expires, it won’t matter.

Over the next five days, the threat of a potential collusion case could help break the logjam.