The NFL Players Association will pursue collusion charges against the Broncos and the Cowboys if Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant do not sign long-term deals with their teams, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano. If the case does indeed go forward and the union wins, it could result in a payout worth more than $48 million for each receiver.
It was first reported two days ago that the union was looking into the possibility of collusion between executives from both teams; now, the NFLPA believes it has the evidence to proceed with a case. The union's evidence stems from a reported conversation between Bryant and Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones in which Jones told Bryant that he had discussed their contract negotiations with Broncos team president John Elway.
If the Players Association can prove its claim, one or both players could be awarded a payout worth up to three times what Calvin Johnson, the NFL's highest paid receiver, makes at roughly $16.2 million per year.
Both players are haggling for long-term extensions after being handed franchise tags this offseason. The tag means both players will earn $12.823 million next season, making them some of the highest-paid receivers in the league. The tag comes with little security, however. Without extensions in place, Thomas and Bryant are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in 2016.
The two are roughly equivalent players, so it would make sense if the Broncos and Cowboys wanted to get together to discuss their situations. Bryant and Thomas should command similar deals when or if they are extended. The problem is that NFL teams are prohibited from making such contact. By discussing contract terms with one another, the Broncos and Cowboys could, in theory, artificially cap the market value of their wideouts.
Both players can argue they should be paid like the best receivers in the NFL. Thomas finished second in the NFL with 1,619 yards receiving last season, and Bryant led the league with 16 touchdown receptions to go with 1,320 yards. At 27 and 26 years old, respectively, both players should be remain very good for the foreseeable future.
That puts the Broncos and Cowboys in a precarious situation, because either player could redefine the salary ceiling for top wideouts, just as Calvin Johnson did in 2012. By colluding, the two teams could save each other a lot of money.
The deadline for both players to be signed to long-term extensions is Wednesday, July 15. At that point, both players will have to sign their franchise tenders if new deals aren't in place, or risk losing money. Both players have reportedly threatened holdouts that could extend into the regular season if their situations aren't settled by then.