The NFL Players Association wants the league to participate in a joint investigation that would allow union officials to question the man they believe is behind a breach of quarterback Josh Freeman's confidential information: Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano.
In correspondence obtained Saturday by USA TODAY Sports, the union says it has no confidence in the NFL's separate investigation, in part because the union is unaware of any previous league investigation into a confidentiality breach that has yielded discipline.
And the NFLPA contends it has information the original breach occurred when Schiano discussed Freeman's status in the league's substance-abuse program with other Buccaneers players, prior to the quarterback's Oct. 3 release.
"We take the confidentiality provision of the policy as seriously as the union and will vigorously pursue any leads the union provides," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement responding to USA TODAY Sports' report Sunday morning.
"However, such information should be shared confidentially with our office rather than inappropriately leaked to the media before the investigation has been concluded."
Freeman, 25, confirmed he's in stage one of the substance-abuse program in a statement Sept. 30, hours after ESPN reported the same, citing unnamed league and player sources.
But Freeman - now with the Minnesota Vikings - said he has "NEVER tested positive for any illegal drugs" and voluntarily submitted to additional testing after a positive result triggered by switching his ADHD medication without notifying the league.
A day after the ESPN report and Freeman's statement, Schiano said he was "absolutely not" the source of the information and was "100 percent comfortable with my behavior.
Reached late Saturday night, Buccaneers spokesman Nelson Luis said Schiano couldn't immediately be reached as the team completed preparations for Sunday's home game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The NFLPA has been interviewing players and agents as part of its own investigation into the confidentiality breach but has no power to question Schiano or other team officials. That's why the union wants the NFL to join or support its investigation, which would be unprecedented.
In the correspondence obtained Saturday by USA TODAY Sports, the union laid out nine cases in which the NFL said it would investigate a breach of confidentiality but never announced discipline, which the league has threatened could be substantial.
One of those cases involves Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, whose past drug use appeared in media reports while the NFL and union were negotiating what ended up being a six-game suspension this summer. An investigation into that breach is likely at some point, too.
Freeman has avoided discussing his divorce from the Bucs since Sunday, when he signed a contract with the Vikings that will pay him about $2 million for the rest of the season. He also can collect termination pay for the balance of his $8.43 million base salary from Tampa Bay.
His Sept. 30 statement said he has "taken and passed all 46 drug tests I've been given" since beginning the additional testing, which took place at the Bucs' facility "because I spend all of my time there and I have nothing whatsoever to hide or be embarrassed about.
"Unfortunately," Freeman continued, "it appears that some people who may have noticed the testing at my workplace have made hurtful and incorrect assumptions and chosen to disseminate inaccurate and very disturbing information."
Subsequent media reports about the Bucs fining Freeman on several occasions for violations - including missing and being late to team meetings and participating in an unauthorized media interview - drew another accusation from one of Freeman's agents.
"AND... Another breach of personal & confidential employee information: releasing info of alleged team violations w associated fines," agent Erik Burkhardt tweeted Oct. 3, hours before Freeman's release.
Asked about the state of the NFL's investigation and the union's request for a joint investigation, a league spokesman referred USA TODAY Sports to a statement issued Oct. 2.
"We do not believe it is appropriate to comment," that statement from league spokesman Greg Aiello said, "but the confidentiality provision of our drug program is critically important and a breach of that confidentiality by any party is a serious violation of our collectively bargained policy."
Officials from both sides were in Tampa on Thursday to discuss the handling of MRSA and other infectious diseases. Guard Carl Nicks' MRSA infection has returned, and the team admitted Friday another, unnamed player on the current roster also has MRSA.
Schiano, 47, has been under fire over a variety of issues in his second season as coach. The Buccaneers are 0-4 and have scored only 44 points entering Sunday's game, which the league confirmed Saturday night will go on as scheduled.