Philadelphia, PA – Dwight Freeney recently uttered the one word that can put a scare into any billionaire -- collusion.
The new San Diego Chargers defensive end was reacting to the soft market for this year's veteran free agent class, one which had players like Freeney and Charles Woodson twisting in the wind for weeks until they finally signed modest deals.
"I basically think the owners got together and decided not to spend the cash on free agents," Freeney told CBSSports.com. "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."
That of course is a very serious charge and one which could result in a significant financial penalty for the league's owners if proven.
Collusion is defined as an agreement between two or more parties to limit open competition by deceiving, misleading, or defrauding others of their legal rights, or to obtain an objective forbidden by law typically by defrauding or gaining an unfair advantage.
In sports, it's when owners begin working together in order to avoid competitive bidding for players.
Back in the mid-1980s, Major League Baseball owners were accused of collusion after then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth called them "damned dumb" for the trade off many were making, losing millions of dollars in order to compete to win a World Series.
In the MLB free agent market following the 1985 season, only four players changed uniforms and significant stars like Kirk Gibson and Tommy John didn't even receive offers. The next year featured more of the same and for the first time since the advent of the free agency system in baseball, the average salary for a player on the market dropped.
Grievances were filed by the MLBPA claiming the owners violated the sport's collective bargaining agreement which read: "Players shall not act in concert with other Players and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs."
By 1988, damages began to be awarded to the players and when a final settlement was finally reached in 1990, the owners agreed to pay the players $280 million, with the MLBPA deciding how to distribute the money to the damaged players.
In case you are wondering, $280 million back in 1990 ranges from $447 million to $757 million today depending if you are looking at a historic standard of living rate or actual economic power -- either way a significant chunk of change and something NFL owners certainly wouldn't want to be handing out in what is still a sluggish recovery from a massive recession.
Freeney's accusation, though, is a lot tougher to prove than the gripe MLB players had nearly 30 years ago.
According to Mike Garafolo of USA Today, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith requested that agents who had knowledge of collusion bring those cases to light back in April, so while there may be some smoke, it's going to very tough to fan that into any flames.
Sure you can argue Freeney and the top free agents at his position, like Seattle's Cliff Avril and Baltimore's Elvis Dumervil, were underpaid based on previous benchmarks, but at the end of the day they actually did receive offers, unlike Gibson and John when baseball owners were colluding.
Meanwhile, a player like Mike Wallace had to back up the Brink's truck when he signed with Miami, and quarterbacks like Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo now possess the gross national product of a third-world country after inking new deals this offseason.
A certain level of collusion is probably happening in the NFL right now, but it stems from a groupthink mentality not a Deep Throat-like economic conspiracy spearheaded by the Illuminati or the Bilderberg Group.
While he is a four-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Freeney is also 33 years old, three years north of a barrier that has basically turned into leprosy for NFL personnel people.
Instead of arguing collusion, Freeney might want to tap into ageism -- that's the discrimination he was facing this offseason.