Earlier today, NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith made a comment on ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning that was a bit peculiar. Smith alluded to the fact that part of the reason no first round picks were signed thus far because of "collusion" around the league, and said he didn't know what else to call it. "You guys want me to say the collusion word, of course," Smith said. "Oh, wait a minute. There it goes."
First round picks are generally signed last minute. In 2009, only two first round picks were signed by 07/21/09. The first 1st round draft pick to sign was Matthew Stafford, who was signed before the draft even occurred. The other, Mark Sanchez, was signed mid-June. In 2008 offensive tackle and first overall pick Jake Long signed in April, before the actual draft occurred. After Long, Matt Ryan and Darren McFadden signed contracts. In 2007 the earliest pick to sign was the 31st overall selection, tight end Greg Olson on July 3rd.
The talk of collusion around the league has ramped up more this off-season than any other I can recall. There are whisper that free agent center and NFLPA rep. Kevin Mawae is being blackballed around the league and that's why he can't get a job. Nevermind the fact that he's a 39 year old offensive lineman. Mawae isn't signed because he'sa "fix" at his position, not an answer. If a team suffers an injury at the center position, there is no doubt they will be on the phone with Kevin Mawae's agent.
There is also talk of collusion and blackballing in regards to Terrell Owens, the 36 year old receiver who's production has sagged the past few seasons. Like Mawae, Owens can still play. Unlike Mawae however, Owens is known to be difficult to work with. Owens isn't being blackballed currently, he's reaping what he sowed as a diva wide receiver during his tenure with the 49ers, Eagles, and Cowboys. While he wasn't a problem child in Buffalo last season, that still lingers and that makes teams weary. This may sound like collusion in a sense, but the fact of the matter is he's not as good as he once was and you have to couple that with his attitude.
There's also been talk of collusion because of teams' unwillingness to give players big-time long term contracts. Most notably Darrell Revis of the New York Jets is planning to hold out until a long-term deal is reached. With threats of a strike looming, it really doesn't make a ton of sense for the Jets to lock him up long term. The same goes with the Tennessee Titans and Chris Johnson, who just re-worked their contract giving Johnson more money upfront. Then you have the situation in San Diego with Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeill, and Shawne Merriman where all three are claiming they're prepared to sit out for a new deal.
I do not believe however, that someone like Tyson Alualu, the Jaguars first round pick, isn't signed because of collusion throughout the league. He's simply not signed because there is no bargaining power on either side, and that makes it difficult to negotiate. Not a single first rounder has signed, so there is no basis to work on. There is talk that first overall pick Sam Bradford's negotiations have begun with the St. Louis Rams, and he is expected to be signed right as camp starts. Brian Price, recent second round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just signed a contract that yielded an 8% increase over the same slot last season.
That doesn't sound like collusion to me. Teams don't begin negotiations if they're colluding. That sounds like the norm in regards to first round picks being signed. Generally the week most camps start, the dominoes begin to fall. Teams are being cautious with a possible lockout and rookie wage scale in the future, but caution is not collusion. These first round picks will be signed, and the majority of them in the next two weeks.
While there are varying factors throughout the league that could leave one to allude to collusion, I don't think the lack of first round picks is one of them. Teams are in fact strong arming players with restricted free agent tenders in a time in which most of these players expected to hit free agency, but I believe it's more of a matter of teams taking advantage of the situation rather than teams colluding together to keep players on teams.