Domonique Foxworth Salary Cap Franchise Tag Draft NFL Screen grab: ‘Ross Tucker Football Podcast’

The start of the NFL offseason means that it’s time to reacquaint yourself with the league’s unique salary cap quirks.

But while most football fans revel in immersing themselves in offseason matters like the franchise tag, the draft and the league’s salary cap, Domonique Foxworth has a different opinion about such mechanisms.

“The franchise tag, I agree with you, it’s un-American. So is the salary cap,” the ESPN analyst said on Monday’s episode of the Ross Tucker Football Podcast. “Like all of these are actually illegal. They violate antitrust law.”

But if they’re legal, then how can they exist? Foxworth — who previously served as the president of the NFL Players Association and the chief operating officer for the National Basketball Players Association — proceeded to explain with a history lesson.

“They only exist because the union exists,” the former NFL defensive back said. “In ’93 when the union was able to get free agency was by decertifying the union. Essentially disbanding the union and forming a trade association and suing the league for their antitrust violations, which include like the draft and all that sort of stuff and not allowing players to have free agency.

“The ironic thing is, upon coming to a settlement, the league required that the players reform a union. Because that they needed a union to protect them so they could be allowed to have all these antitrust violations. So while I think — obviously as a former president and leader of two different sports unions and very heavily involved — I think the union is very much for the rights of the players, it provides a great deal of protection for the league also. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to have a draft. They wouldn’t be able to collude in the many ways that they are legally allowed to collude.”

While many will likely respond to Foxworth with their best Don Draper impressions — that’s what the money is for! — his history lesson makes sense. In exchange for allowing free agency (among other benefits), the league maintained structures such as the draft and the salary cap and required the NFL players to reform their union to establish such matters as collectively bargained (and therefore legal).

Foxworth isn’t the first football analyst to make such an argument. And although the idea of foregoing the draft and allowing players to pick their own teams might seem crazy to most, many likely would have felt the same way about players being granted free agency before it actually happened 31 years ago.

But while it might be hard to imagine the NFL without the draft or to a lesser degree, the salary cap, the same can’t necessarily be said about the franchise tag. As a mechanism that effectively limits star players from hitting the open market — whether through its explicit use or the implicit threat of its potential use — it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the NFLPA eventually make the franchise tag a bigger sticking point in future CBA negotiations.

Whether you agree or disagree with Foxworth’s statement, you can’t discredit this being his area of expertise. In fact, his unique knowledge of the NFL’s innerworkings is one of the biggest things that has set him apart in his post-playing career.

[Ross Tucker Football Podcast]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.