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Collusion case centers on issues of malpractice, fairness

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After a bailiff cries “all rise” and Judge David S. Doty strolls, marches, and/or glides into his Minneapolis courtroom the morning after the Giants host the Cowboys in the first game of the regular season, the NFL and NFLPA will get their first glimpse into the predispositions of the jurist who’ll decide whether or not the union’s surprising claim of a “secret salary cap” in 2010 may proceed.

It was a surprise because the claim came well after 2010 ended, and after the new CBA presumably wiped the slate clean between the league and the players, erasing all pending legal issues including any collusion claims that could have been made based on actual or perceived restraints on spending in a year that was supposed to have none.  (Technically, the labor deal imposed a handful of limits in 2010, such as restrictions on the free-agent signings by the teams finishing in the final eight from 2009.)

It was a surprise also because the NFLPA had signed off on cap penalties imposed on the Cowboys and Redskins, penalties which revealed that the two teams were being punished because they didn’t comply with the “spirit” of a salary cap that didn’t exist.  The union agreed with the penalties because the union desperately needed the NFL likewise to agree to a number-fudging that would allow the NFLPA to avoid the kind of reduction in the salary cap from 2011 to 2012 that would have been awkward, to say the least, as executive director DeMaurice Smith’s re-election approached.

Now that the billable hours have hit the fan, Judge Doty will have to decide whether he’s more persuaded by technicality, or by equity.

As framed by the NFLPA in its final written submission, a copy of which PFT has obtained, the players claim that the NFL didn’t do enough to engineer a release and waiver of claims for past collusion when the new CBA was finalized and all pending litigation was concluded in 2011.  Apart from whether the documents drafted by the parties contained the right magic words to make the claims for collusion in 2010 disappear, the NFLPA has advanced an intriguing argument based on the nature of class actions.  (Try to stay awake on this, please.  If it helps, the link on “magic words” goes to a Bugs Bunny cartoon.)

The union smartly argues that claims made on behalf of a class of litigants can be extinguished by court order only.  And so the union claims that, by not ensuring that Judge Doty would officially wipe out the collusion claims, the collusion claims weren’t wiped out.

If Judge Doty agrees, it will mean that the league’s lawyers screwed up.

Balanced against that technical application of the rules is fairness and common sense.  Regardless of the specific words or procedures used by the parties, the idea was to hit the reset button on all legal issues between the parties.  The league made concessions and the players made concessions and now the players are trying to avoid one of the concessions they made.  Some judges would decide, quickly, that such an outcome simply isn’t fair.

Compounding the potential for a finding that the NFLPA is pushing for a fundamentally unfair outcome is the fact that the players gladly signed off on cap penalties that necessarily exposed the existence of collusion in 2010 in order to get something the NFLPA needed — a higher salary cap in 2012.  It’s unseemly, to say the least, for the NFLPA to now try to use that which it gave up to get a high cap number as the basis for seeking billions in collusion damages for allegedly depressed spending in 2010, especially since it should have been obvious to anyone paying attention that something fishy was going on.

Did the NFL engage in collusion in 2010?  Yes, in our opinion.  Should the NFLPA has done something about it in 2010?  Yes, in our opinion.  Is there something that doesn’t feel right about the NFLPA agreeing to the cap penalties that made the collusion crystal clear and then suing for collusion?  Absolutely.

But what we/I/anyone else thinks doesn’t matter.  Judge Doty will provide the first official word on the issue.  And if Doty agrees that the collusion case may proceed, look for the NFL try to appeal that decision immdiately, arguing that if the next level in the federal court system sees it the NFL’s way, there’s no reason to spend the time and money associated with developing the evidence that would prove collusion.

Even though that evidence should be fairly easy to find.

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15 Responses to “Collusion case centers on issues of malpractice, fairness”
  1. mjkelly77 says: Aug 25, 2012 6:48 PM

    “The league made concessions and the players made concessions and now the players are trying to avoid one of the concessions they made. Some judges would decide, quickly, that such an outcome simply isn’t fair.”
    ________________________

    There was quid pro quo. Intelligent judges would quickly side with the NFL.

  2. sfsaintsfan says: Aug 25, 2012 6:50 PM

    “If Judge Doty agrees, it will mean that the league’s lawyers screwed up.”

    The league’s lawyers are hired by Goodell.

    Goodell screws up all the time.

    Why would you expect anything different from the league’s lawyers?

  3. packhawk04 says: Aug 25, 2012 7:08 PM

    “The league made concessions, and the players made concessions. Now the players are trying to avoid one of the concessions they made.”

    Why does this sound familiar? Jonathan Vilma, is that statement ringing any bells?

  4. jaxtom says: Aug 25, 2012 7:31 PM

    There was a reason the players sought out Doty. He always sides with the players. He will side with the players this time.

    This is not a matter of law, it does not matter how airtight the contract is written. The judge is biased and should not hear the case.

  5. dennisatunity says: Aug 25, 2012 7:33 PM

    Balanced against that technical application of the rules is fairness and common sense. Regardless of the specific words or procedures used by the parties, the idea was to hit the reset button on all legal issues between the parties.

    Sorry. A court of law doesn’t really recognize fairness and common sense. It is all about the technical application. When you write, “regardless of the specific words or procedures…” it sounds good but is actually preposterous. A judge, rightfully so, must say, “If you wanted a different outcome you should have written it down.” Nobody gets to guess what’s inside the heads of all the parties. Judges get to interpret what is written down.

  6. winskins says: Aug 25, 2012 7:39 PM

    Does what Doty thinks really matter? If he sides with the NFLPA, it will just go to the same friendly neighborhood appeals court that Goodell keeps in his back pocket.

    Meantime, more billable hours…

  7. FinFan68 says: Aug 25, 2012 7:39 PM

    I still don’t see collusion for 2010. The Cowboys/Redskins did not get into trouble for paying players too much (over the alleged “secret cap” number). They circumvented future spending caps by placing all the money in the 2010 year. The players involved (Austin, etc.) actually got a little better than “fair market value” and some contracts were restructured to dump money from later years into the 2010 uncapped year. The new contract money was not spread over multiple years so the cap hit was almost nonexistent in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014… The teams were able to obtain/retain high value players long-term with little cap money spent. They basically had “free” cap money to spend on players for 2011 and future years. That is a fabricated competitive advantage and that is why the league disciplined the Redskins and Cowboys. It seems to me that the NFLPA is twisting the reason for discipline into something that fits their desire to prove that there was a conspiracy to not pay players in 2010. The data doesn’t support that but they seem to believe they can make some money off it. Based on this article, I would say that the players are being disingenuous and the case ought to end with a ruling from Doty.

  8. bluebongzilla says: Aug 25, 2012 7:55 PM

    The rest of the NFL, particularly John Mara, and the NFLPA are extremely lucky that Jones and Snyder didn’t push the issue. Let it be recognized that they took the high road while everybody else was in the back room making shady deals. And this isn’t the first time. Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw came up with another backdoor deal to punish the Cowboys regarding the Deion Sanders contract in 1995 a month after the NFL approved the contract.

  9. bluebongzilla says: Aug 25, 2012 8:06 PM

    “I still don’t see collusion for 2010. The Cowboys/Redskins did not get into trouble for paying players too much (over the alleged “secret cap” number). They circumvented future spending caps by placing all the money in the 2010 year. The players involved (Austin, etc.) actually got a little better than “fair market value” and some contracts were restructured to dump money from later years into the 2010 uncapped year.”

    So what? There were no rules against it. Which is the point. Of course there was collusion. There’s no argument that there was no collusion.

  10. mrpowers88 says: Aug 25, 2012 8:08 PM

    @FinFan68

    That money they dumped into the uncapped year turned into cap space for the next seasons because the Cowboys/Redskins (and to a lesser extent, the Raiders/Saints) already paid the players in 2010 nstead of being forces to spread the money through 2011 and on. For example, the ‘Boys gave Miles Austin something like $17mil for 2010 alone- if a cap was in place, they would’ve surely spread it over the length of the contract instead of the one payment. They got penalized for using the uncapped year to circumvent the cap in future years.
    ____________________________

    As for the collusion case:

    1) Isn’t it illegal for one side to insert a clause to a contract when it mitigates their wrongdoing that they knowingly committed? and

    2) If the language is at question, couldn’t the judge rule the language to be ambiguous- which would then lead to the ruling to favor the party that was disadvantaged by the ambiguity?

  11. bluebongzilla says: Aug 25, 2012 8:14 PM

    By the way, it’s not an unfair “competitive advantage” if it’s not against the rules. This is a case of two billionaire owners spending as much as they can within the rules, and a bunch of other billionaires that didn’t like it because it makes them look cheap if they don’t do it, too.

  12. FinFan68 says: Aug 25, 2012 8:41 PM

    @bluebongzilla,
    I think you misinterpret my point. The collusion argument by the players asserts that the teams secretly agreed to not pay the players big contracts in 2010.

    I am not saying the league was right to discipline those teams; just that doing so does not prove collusion. What the Cowboys and Redskins did in no way proves that alleged collusion happened between the 32 teams. The league disciplined the DAL/WAS for exploiting the gap in the capped years. If JJ would have payed Austin $50 million for 2010 on a 1 year contract, the league would have said nothing. The league views the actions as scamming the system. It’s not that it was against the rules for 2010 but the impact in future cap years was unacceptable. I think the league should have addressed the issue when the contracts were up for approval rather than wait and fine the teams later. The league allowed the system to be scammed and then disciplined two teams later on. That’s wrong, but it is not collusion.

  13. mrpowers88 says: Aug 25, 2012 9:23 PM

    @FinFan68

    The collusion argument is that the league warned teams not to dump salaries into 2010 and then when the Skins/Boys started to, they continued to warn them not to.

    The uncapped year was not supposed to have a floor or a ceiling, and no rules outside of what was stipulated in the CBA. Jones and Snyder were operating well within their rights (Cutting players and eating all the guaranteed payments in 2010, handing out high base salaries in 2010 to cover low base salaries later in the deals. etc.). The collusion stems from the league over-regulating how teams were handling their caps (except for the teams that weren’t meeting the number that would have usually been set as a cap floor).

  14. fmwarner says: Aug 25, 2012 10:03 PM

    The ridiculous penalties against the Cowboys and Redskins prove collusion. Since what they did violated no written rule, it had to be an unwritten rule. That part isn’t even in at issue among people who understand the case.

    It’s a shame that the NFLPA failed to sack up and push the issue in 2010, because it seems to me that while an outcome favoring the NFL will not be very fair, they have no one but themselves to blame.

  15. FinFan68 says: Aug 25, 2012 10:15 PM

    @mrpowers88
    That is not the collusion argument that the NFLPA has filed suit for. The NFLPA contends that there was a “secret $123M salary cap” in effect for 2010 and that the fines of the Cowboys, Redskins and two other teams are proof of that secret cap. It seems to me that the fines were for circumventing the cap in future years and in no way indicate there was a “secret cap” in 2010 as asserted by the NFLPA in an effort to receive between $1B and $3B in damages.

    The actual spending on players in 2010 was: Redskins: $178.2M, Cowboys: $166.5M, Saints: $145.0M, Vikings: $143.4M, Seahawks: $138.8M, Jets: $135.7M, Packers: $135.3M, Raiders: $135.2M, Colts: $133.1M, Bears: $131.9M, Eagles: $131.0M, Patriots: $128.8M, Giants: $128.6M, 49ers: $125.9M, Dolphins: $123.8M, Texans: $123.1M, Lions: $122.9M, Steelers: $122.9M, Browns: $122.8M, Ravens: $122.3M, Falcons: $118.5M, Titans: $118.0M, Panthers: $110.9M, Rams: $109.1M, Chargers: $108.0M, Bills: $105.3M, Broncos: $102.9M, Bengals: $100.8M, Cardinals: $97.8M, Jaguars: $89.5M, Chiefs: $84.5M, Buccaneers: $80.8M. Where is the proof that there was a “secret $123M salary cap” when 1/2 the league was OVER that number?

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