Dwight Freeney is a seven-time NFL Pro Bowler and has over 100 career sacks to his name in 11 career seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. He is also 33 years old and had just five sacks in 2012—his lowest mark since an injury-plagued 2007 campaign.
He sat unsigned through the first wave of free agency this offseason and then waited patiently as other names came off the board throughout March and April. He didn't get an official NFL call until May, when the San Diego Chargers signed him to a two-year contract following the news on injured star Melvin Ingram.
Freeney, speaking to CBS Sports' Mike Freeman on Thursday, believes he has an answer to the personally troubling questions that followed his name and why teams weren't jumping at the chance to add him to their defense.
That answer is NFL owner collusion.
The newly signed Freeney wasted no time in sending shockwaves through NFL circles now that he's back in a position of prominence. His biggest quote involved a conspiracy theory that includes the entire NFL—even the man who signed him in San Diego.
Here's an excerpt from Freeman's report:
I basically think the owners got together and decided not to spend the cash on free agents...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.
Freeney pointed out in the interview that fellow pass-rushing ace Elvis Dumervil only received $12 million in guaranteed money after signing a five-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason. He asserted that a player in his prime like Dumervil could have gone for a much higher price in a normal circumstance.
As noted by Fox Sports' Annie Heilbrunn, the last part of Freeney's interview will make San Diego fans happy:
He had this message to the 31 team owners, general managers and personnel who passed on him in free agency, all conspiracy theories aside: "I'm going to make all of them regret it."
While Freeney certainly has a point when you look at how long some of the bigger names stayed on the market, he also looks like a spurned lover of sorts when you look at contracts that Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Tony Romo and Mike Wallace received this offseason.
Per the report, the NFL has denied any knowledge or existence of collusion. However, this isn't the first time the issue has taken center stage in league drama, having already come up this offseason through an NFL Players Association request.
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 in early April, a move that questioned whether owners were working together to corner the market.
Here's an excerpt from that letter (via Freeman's report):
We have heard reports of a concern that teams are working in concert to "peg," "rig" or "set" market prices on player contracts. If you believe or have information that the teams have been colluding during this free-agency period, you have a responsibility as an agent of the NFLPA to come forward and share that information with us.
We have heard anecdotally that some teams are inaccurately reporting that they are facing salary cap restrictions on re-signing veteran players. While this is a common allegation and teams are free to make their own determinations on signing players, we provide this information to aid you in accurately evaluating each team's actual salary cap room.
The letter also brought some fans back to the grueling battle between the league and the NFLPA that took place in 2012.
The NFLPA filed a lawsuit against the league for transgressions concerning collusion and the 2010 cap year last summer, a situation that Andrew Brandt of ESPN broke down brilliantly as it happened prior to last season.
As Brandt noted on Twitter following the April request, collusion might or might not be happening in the NFL, but one difficult roadblock remains for those trying to mount a case: There's little evidence or capability of the NFLPA to prove such a claim.
Understand NFLPA's concerns re collusion but tough to prove. NFL GMs, if pressed on inactivity, would say "we like our own guys."— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) April 4, 2013
Freeney clearly believes that his patience was rewarded in the form of a promising situation in San Diego, but he also is choosing to believe that the owners—not his aging body or reduction in production last year—were factors in a lack of league-wide interest.
Given the nature of the details in all these reports, we might not know which theory is right for quite some time.