The latest collusion claim filed by the NFLPA continues to confound us (or at least me . . . the other guys may not care about it at all, along with plenty of you).
Did collusion happen in 2010? Absolutely. Did the NFLPA give up any legal claims for collusion in 2010 as part of the 2011 labor deal and final settlement of the Reggie White class action? Even more absolutely.
Last week, the NFL filed a brief that devotes 10-plus pages to the concise, conclusive, and convincing demonstration that the players signed away their right to sue for collusion occurring in 2010. As to the suggestion that the NFL had a secret salary cap of $123 million in 2010, the NFL shows that the actual spending contradicts the existence of a secret cap, with team-by-team numbers that, for 21 franchises, exceeded the allegedly secret spending limit.
It’s a strong presentation of facts and law. But, as the league seems to do from time to time, it brief goes one step too far, at page 13: “There were no rules or agreements broken by the Redskins, the Cowboys, or any other Club with respect to Player Contracts executed in the 2010 League Year.”
That assertion is backed by a sworn affidavit from Peter Ruocco, senior V.P. of labor relations for the NFL Management Council, who says at paragraph 12 that “[n]o rules or agreements were broken” by the Redskins or Cowboys, even though total salary cap penalties of $46 million were imposed against the two teams. At paragraph 3 of the affidavit, Ruocco denies that he told NFLPA general counsel Tom DePaso in March 2012 “that the League believed that the Redskins and Cowboys had secured an unfair advantage over Clubs that committed lesser amounts to players in 2010 than did those Clubs.”
Ruocco may not have said it privately to DePaso in March 2012, but Giants co-owner John Mara said it publicly that same month.
“I thought the penalties imposed were proper,” Mara said. “What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap. They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole, and quite frankly, I think they’re lucky they didn’t lose draft picks. . . . They attempted to take advantage of it knowing full well there would be consequences.”
So there wasn’t a $123 million salary cap. And the players, in our view, sacrificed their ability to sue for collusion in 2011. But the league has done itself no favors by trying to downplay what occurred earlier this year. The Cowboys and Redskins were penalized for “attempt[ing] to take advantage of a one-year loophole.” And while they may have violated “no rules or agreements,” they violated what Mara called “the spirit of the salary cap.”
Of course, perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the league’s position is that the NFLPA ratified the punishment by agreeing to the cap penalties in exchange for an increase in the 2012 salary cap. That one fact, which technically is irrelevant to the legal analysis, should in all fairness prompt Judge David Doty to find that the new collusion case should fail.