Black Monday had a dual meaning this year. In addition to seven coaches and five General Managers losing their jobs, every player suffered a defeat when Judge David Doty refused to permit a collusion claim against the NFL proceed.
Doty, who did the NFLPA a favor by issuing his ruling on the last day of the 2012 calendar year and the hectic first day of the 2013 offseason, ruled that the players had released all claims that could have been made against the league when signing off on the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. The NFLPA believes that Doty’s ruling is incorrect, and we’re told that the union is now considering its next move.
The options are limited. The union can ask Judge Doty to take a second look at the issue (known in the legal industry as a “motion for reconsideration”), the union can file an appeal to the federal court that oversees Judge Doty, or the players can punt, figuratively. (Or literally, if they decide to wad up the written decision into a ball and kick it.)
The best move could be to move on. Though the players believe the settlement agreement that released all claims that could have been made by the union (including a claim for collusion arising from an allegedly secret salary cap in the uncapped year of 2010) required formal court approval, it’s a technicality at best. And judges tend to ignore meaningless technicalities that would point to an unfair result.
There are three reasons why the result would have been unfair. First, if the lawyers had presented the paperwork to Doty for approval, he would have applied the rubber stamp and banged the gavel without giving the settlement agreement serious consideration. Second, the NFLPA affirmatively accepted the cap penalties imposed on the Cowboys and Redskins that triggered the claim for collusion in order to obtain a higher per-team salary cap for 2012. Third, and as we explained at the outset of this specific controversy, the NFLPA arguably ratified any collusion by agreeing to permit punishment to be imposed on the Cowboys and Redskins for failing to comply with the collusive behavior.
Judge Doty didn’t delve into those issues. Indeed, he generally avoided in his 11-page written opinion any commentary that would have “called out” the NFLPA or otherwise made the players or their leadership or their lawyers look bad. Though there’s a good-faith argument to be made that court approval was required because the settlement encompassed a class action affecting the rights of hundreds of players, Doty likely took the simplest path from point A to point B, finding a way to end the case without embarrassing the NFLPA or chiding their counsel for trying to have it both ways.
If the NFLPA pushes the issue, the next opinion from Judge Doty or the appeals court (which has a reputation for being business friendly) could be more blunt regarding the failure of the NFLPA to assert the claim before signing off on the settlement agreement, the decision of the NFLPA to agree to cap penalties imposed on two teams who treated the uncapped year as, well, uncapped, and the arguably disingenuous idea that the NFLPA didn’t suspect collusion until after the Cowboys and Redskins were whacked for $48 million in cap space.
So, yes, the smartest move could be to wad the decision up into a ball and kick it.