The NFLPA’s claim that the league’s teams engaged in collusion during the 2010 uncapped year has ample merit. If it ever gets to the merits of the case.
That may not happen. The new lawsuit filed Wednesday by the union in an effort to secure more than $3 billion from the league faces two major hurdles: the union knew or should have known in 2011 that there was collusion in 2010, and the union thereafter ratified any collusion by agreeing to the cap penalties imposed on the Cowboys and Redskins as a result of their failure to abide by the alleged agreement to collude.
The petition filed with U.S. Judge David Doty alleges that the claims presented are “entirely new,” but those claims flow from a set of facts that should have put the union on notice that something was amiss. Apart from the collusion claim filed by the NFLPA in early 2011 regarding the lack of interest in restricted free agents during the uncapped year, there was ample evidence to support suspicion, or more, regarding the NFL’s plan to keep more money in the owners’ coffers and put less in the players’ pockets as a work stoppage was looming.
Prior to the launch of the uncapped year in early 2010, multiple teams cited internal budgets when addressing the reality that there would be no salary cap. And to the extent that the actual spending by the 32 teams in 2010 suggested that perhaps the owners had an unwritten understanding as to the handling of the uncapped year, the NFLPA had full access to all contracts months before the new CBA was finalized, allowing the union’s lawyers to piece together enough circumstantial evidence to warrant full-blown litigation on the question of whether an informal salary cap had been established for the uncapped year.
Regardless of what the NFLPA knew or should have known before finalizing the current CBA and related legal documents, the paperwork seems to slam the door on any collusion claims relating to conduct in 2010. As the CBA state at Article 3, Section 3(a) plainly states: “The NFLPA on behalf of itself, its members, and their respective heirs, executors, administrators, representatives, agents, successors and assigns, releases and covenants not to sue, or to support financially or administratively, or voluntarily provide testimony of any kind, including by declaration or affidavit in, any suit or proceeding (including any Special Master proceeding brought pursuant to the White SSA and/or the Prior Agreement) against the NFL or any NFL Club or any NFL Affiliate with respect to any antitrust or other claim asserted in White v. NFL or Brady v. NFL, including, without limitation . . . collusion with respect to any League Year prior to 2011.” (Emphasis added.)
Even if the 2011 CBA didn’t slam the door on a collusion claim arising from the uncapped year of 2010, the amendment to the CBA that resulted in the league and the NFLPA agreeing to the imposition of cap penalties on the Redskins and Cowboys in exchange for an increase in the salary cap operates, in essence, as a ratification of the release of collusion claims. Indeed, the NFLPA should have realized, the moment the NFL asked the union to agree to take $46 million in cap space from the Redskins and Cowboys for treating the term “uncapped year” too literally, that the Redskins and Cowboys were being punished for refusing to collude. By signing off on the cap penalties, the NFLPA reaffirmed its waiver of the collusion claims, since the mere request to strip cap space from the teams in question proved that collusion indeed occurred.
So why did the NFLPA go along with the cap penalties? Because the NFL agreed to tinker with the salary cap formula in order to push the per-team limit higher in 2012 than it was in 2011. If the salary cap had dropped during the first year of the new CBA, there’s a good chance that the contract of NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith wouldn’t have been renewed at annual meetings that began only a week or two after the new cap numbers were disclosed.
Thus, at first blush it appears that the NFLPA is trying to have it both ways.