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Legal collusion helped Dez, Demaryius get deals done

The world will never know whether the Cowboys and Broncos impermissibly compared notes on their negotiations with receivers Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas, respectively. (The teams officially deny it.) Through their agents, the players definitely did.

It’s permissible for players and agents to collude. In this specific case, coordination between Bryant and Thomas became a no-brainer because their agents, Tom Condon and Todd France, now work together at CAA.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the two agents took full advantage of their new relationship to shake five-year, $70 million deals from two teams that, before Wednesday, hadn’t gotten close to the $14 million annual average that two years under the franchise tag dictated for both players.

Despite the public chatter about Calvin Johnson’s contract and other veteran receiver deals, all that mattered for Bryant and Thomas was the money they would have made under the next two years of the franchise tag. It exceeded $28 million, putting the floor on a long-term average at $14 million and requiring that each received more than $28 million fully guaranteed over the first two years to make a long-term deal better than the tag.

Both did much better than $28 million fully guaranteed over two years. Bryant has $32 million fully guaranteed now, with another $13 million fully guaranteed as of March 2016, roughly the same time that the Cowboys would have had to decide whether to apply the franchise tag again. He currently has $45 million guaranteed for injury; if the Cowboys decide to move on before the next $22 million vests, he’ll get $32 million for one year of play and become a free agent.

Thomas has $35 million guaranteed now, with another $8.5 million shifting from injury-only to fully guaranteed in early 2017.

As noted yesterday, it ultimately came down to comparing money to be made under the tag over the next two years to the value of the long-term deal. By coordinating, Condon and France were able to squeeze out a lot more than the $28-million-over-two-years line of demarcation between signing a long-term contract or simply playing under the tag. Their ability to permissibly collude helped make that happen.

This doesn’t mean the Broncos and Cowboys didn’t at some point compare notes. It would be naive to assume collusion doesn’t happen among NFL teams; the question is whether anyone puts themselves in position to get caught doing it.

In this case, it could be that the NFL Players Association seized on a shred of collusion evidence (i.e., the notion that Cowboys COO Stephen Jones told Bryant that Jones had spoken to Broncos G.M. John Elway about the receiver negotiations) as an effort to ensure that the Broncos and Cowboys wouldn’t collude in the critical hours leading up to Wednesday’s deadline for doing long-term deals.

Which means that collusion among the players aimed at exposing potential collusion among the teams allowed the players to collude on Wednesday while preventing collusion by the teams.