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To Franchise or not to Franchise that is the ongoing question

A short time ago the league informed it's teams that the Franchise tag could be applied in 2011 for the upcoming season:

"The CBA hasn’t expired and the CBA has the right to franchise players so we are telling clubs that you have the right to franchise players and then depending on what the new agreement says, that will take into account," Rucco said. "Neither party is proposing to get rid of the franchise tag. But as far as we’re concerned, clubs have the right to tag players, the agreement continues with the same terms and conditions that it has been; it isn’t expiring until March 4 and the window to franchise players is 14 days. From our standpoint, you have every right to franchise players."

Sounds reasonable, right?  Of course, the new CBA would have to address whether a franchise tag set before the new CBA would still apply during the new CBA, but that little wrinkle could easily be ironed out.

Then the union got into the act.  According to Pro FootBall Talk the Players union sent out a memo to each of their members:

"We have received reports that the NFL is advising clubs that they can place a franchise tag on players whose contracts will expire at the end of the 2010 league year," the Union says in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by PFT.

"The current CBA provides that ‘each club shall be permitted to designate one of its players who would otherwise be an Unrestricted Free Agent [or Restricted Free Agent] as a Franchise Player each season during the term of this Agreement.’ The 2011 season is not a ‘season during the term of this Agreement’ so the NFL has no valid basis for claiming the right to franchise players in 2011.

"If you have had any discussions with clubs about their intent to use the Franchise designation for the 2011 season please contact the NFLPA to discuss this matter. Meanwhile, we will make sure that the rights of any players improperly designated will be protected."

This sounds even more reasonable once you read the fine print.  I'm no lawyer, but there are plenty of people on this blog that are.  So the discussions on this ought to be interesting.

Here's a scenario.  The gentleman's club that is made up of the NFL owners could decide to honor the franchise tag even though the union doesn't agree.  Basically, they agree to not hire a player (say Logan Mankins) out from under you because you in turn are not going to hire Peyton Manning out from under them.  A gentleman's agreement, right?  Without the legal backing of the CBA, the legal term, I believe, would be collusion.  Essentually, you are conspiring against the player and his best interests by removing fair competition for his services.  With the CBA, this is Ok, without it, it is illegal.

Here's another scenario.  The at-times-not-so-gentlemanly gentleman's club that is made up of the NFL owners decides to honor the Franchise tag.  The Colts franchise Peyton Manning.  The Cardinals or Panthers decide that a QB as good as Manning is worth pissing off a few owners, so they sign a contract with PeyPey - essentially siding with the players union.  If the CBA holds up for this, the owners are in the right, and the offending franchise can be punished.  If not, Peyton Manning is soon tossing balls to Steve Smith or Larry Fitzgerald