Veteran free agents: Collusion or value?

Dwight Freeney's claim that NFL owners colluded during free agency, made during an interview with CBSSports.com, brings to mind last month's post about the tough market for some high-profile and veteran NFL players. As you might recall:

(Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch doesn't appear to have received any offers after the Detroit Lions released him -- and his $7 million salary -- in February. But the presumption for months has been that Vanden Bosch, 34, will retire.)

So were Woodson, Urlacher and Winfield victimized by collusion? Or were they just valued harshly in a league that prefers younger players?

ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt, whose column now appears on SportsIllustrated.com, addressed the topic this week. Brandt noted that "far more money has been shed from veteran contracts than spent on them" but attributed it to factors other than collusion.

Brandt explained the spread of "draft and develop" franchises who prefer to use younger, less-injury prone and cheaper players rather than veterans who are past their prime. The "Moneyball" approach, placing numerical values on players, is also gaining traction, Brandt notes. Teams have also grown to appreciate the flexibility of a roster populated by young players on their first contracts.

In the end, there is a fine line: Are owners conspiring to keep costs down as a matter of course or because they think spending less on free agents is a better way to build a team? Could it be both?