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Arbitration loss creates a potential mess for league office

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 13: The NFL shield is painted in gold and black after a game between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets  at MetLife Stadium on September 13, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The new color scheme is to commemorate this years' Super Bowl witch will be the 50th edition. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images) Getty Images

It lacks the shock of the Ray Rice video or the drama of #Deflategate, but a recent misadventure from the league office is creating plenty of problems for some of the highest-paid people who work there.

Last month’s slam-dunk arbitration ruling regarding the funneling by the NFL of general admission ticket revenues to a made-up exception from the pool that funds the salary cap has rankled multiple owners, especially since many of them knew nothing about the controversy until it was resolved adversely to the interests of the league.

As one source with knowledge of the situation told PFT, members of the NFL’s Management Council Executive Committee weren’t apprised of the situation until after arbitrator Stephen Burbank issued his ruling. While it’s possible that CEC chairman John Mara knew about the situation, the committee at large apparently wasn’t given a head’s up about the issue or about the league’s decision to fight the thing in an arbitration that went as badly for the NFL as it could have.

Apart from the slam-dunk defeat before Burbank, who made the rare decision to rule on the issue at the end of the hearing without taking the matter under advisement, the outcome creates the impression that the NFL was stealing from the NFL Players Association. Sure, the league issued a statement that made it all seem ambiguous and accidental, but the players believe their money was deliberately taken, and there isn’t much (if anything) the NFL can say to change that.

It damages if not destroys the trust between management and labor, making it harder to reach agreements because the union won’t be willing to make a future leap of faith without clear protections against similar efforts to interpret powers so aggressively as to be clearly and plainly erroneous and improper.

“How many things have they taken all the way to an arbitrator that obviously they knew they were going to lose?” NFLPA president Eric Winston said last week on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio. “Or if they didn’t know they were going to lose they felt like, ‘Well the repercussions aren’t such that if we lose, oh, no big deal, we’ll still be back.’ Now, going forward we’re probably going to have to look at ways now to remedy this, and that’s a sad thing. That’s not good for our business, that’s not good for the NFL, but it is where we are.”

Here’s where the league is: Fewer than three weeks away from the annual meeting, at which hard questions will be asked and grievances will be aired and actions could be taken by owners who may be growing disenchanted with the NFL’s overall approach to legal disputes. While the Patriots were the only team affected in a negative way by the #Deflategate debacle, others surely realize that the league handled the situation poorly, allowing for reasonable minds to conclude that the league office picked a result and then worked backward through the evidence to justify a predetermined outcome.

In this case, reasonable minds can conclude that the league tried to pull a fast one with the union, got caught, and then doubled down with a flimsy legal argument that held no water before an arbitrator who can’t be discredited in the way that lawyers who have lost like to discredit judges and juries who have ruled against them. If enough reasonable minds belonging to NFL owners believe that the league screwed this one up badly, folks like Commissioner Roger Goodell, COO Tod Leiweke, and general counsel Jeff Pash may have some high-stakes tap dancing to do when the NFL descends on Bota Raton later this month.

Of those three, some would say Pash should be the most nervous. With Leiweke now serving as the buffer between Goodell and his layer of lieutenants, Leiweke could decide that the time has come to take action. And since the NFL typically doesn’t dismiss high-level executives, “action” would likely consist of nudging Pash back toward Covington & Burling, to one of the 32 teams, or in the direction of another large law firm that does business with the league.

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33 Responses to “Arbitration loss creates a potential mess for league office”
  1. citizenstrange says: Mar 1, 2016 11:29 AM

    The only logical thing to do is to pay Goodell another $50 million.

  2. webofbelief says: Mar 1, 2016 11:34 AM

    I almost always side with management in labor disputes, except when it comes to the NFL.

  3. collectordude says: Mar 1, 2016 11:39 AM

    goodell MUST resign.

  4. patsbrat says: Mar 1, 2016 11:39 AM

    …and 3 posts down is the article on the Jets raising ticket prices again.

    SMH

  5. steelerben says: Mar 1, 2016 11:39 AM

    It is abundantly clear that the current position of NFL ownership is, “Over reach and we will fight it out in court.”

    As much as everyone likes to blame Goodell and the rest of the front office goons, because it is easiest to hate the face of the problem, they aren’t doing anything without the approval and insistence of the owners, or at least a majority group of them.

  6. cwwgk says: Mar 1, 2016 11:40 AM

    The owners, collectively, get too much of a free pass on this site. So much focus is on their spokesperson Goodell, but the owners (aside from those who inherited their money) didn’t become rich enough to buy an NFL franchise by playing nice. They cheated and got caught, and I agree with the remaining premises of the article. But to suggest that Pash, Goodell, et al., might have to do some tap dancing is a bit too simplistic. Some owners might be hands off on the football operations, but I doubt few, if any, are hands off on the business side.

  7. 6ball says: Mar 1, 2016 11:45 AM

    .
    At some point, fans of the game are going to ask themselves one simple question :

    When I tune in and watch the NFL, am I watching to see the players or a pack of sleazy, aged billionaires?
    .

  8. forthegoodofthegame says: Mar 1, 2016 11:46 AM

    According to this ruling, apparently the NFLPA has been paying half of Goodell’s salary for years thanks. To the connivers in the NFL league office.

  9. footballboozer says: Mar 1, 2016 11:46 AM

    Mark Cuban said the NFL would implode.
    I had no idea that he was right on.

  10. magnumpimustache says: Mar 1, 2016 11:54 AM

    Spygate Boiled down to Belichick disregarding a Memo which Goodell put out regarding filming locations. Since it was not a voted on Rule Belichick said Im going to disregard this and got spanked.

    Deflate gate was a total hoax. 3 of the 4 balls measured by the colts was also under the limit and their balls were filled to 13 PSI….. If that is not a red flag I dont know what is.

    The facts are that ……. Goodell and his crew of idiots have screwed up or lost every decision to come there way.

    Just imagine if this league was run by competent people how much more it would be worth. Even these idiots can derail the league.

    They all need to go.

  11. chuckshontaspads says: Mar 1, 2016 12:04 PM

    Wow! I am shocked that your hero Roger Goodell and his minions were caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Serial liar Goodell will get his head handed to him again in the “Framegate” ruling later this week, but you will all bow down to the tyrant Goodell because after all it’s the Patriots and you can’t beat them, so you may as well steal draft choices from them.

  12. musicfootballprogramming says: Mar 1, 2016 12:04 PM

    Maybe now they’ll realize what an incompetent fool Goodell is? Honestly it was only a matter of time before something like this bit the league as a whole rather than just a team here and there.

    It’s also only a matter of time before something much worse happens. His utter lack of training in law has been screwing over the league repeatedly since he took over.

  13. cymbaline6 says: Mar 1, 2016 12:07 PM

    Hubris. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. The NFL front office is run by idiots.

  14. TheBrownsareClowns says: Mar 1, 2016 12:07 PM

    We have been thinking scumbag Goodell is always in trouble yet he is still employed. Mara in charge, gee theres a surprise. Him, Rooney, Haslam, Irsay, McNair are the scum of the earth. Goodell, NFL attorneys and all these scumbag crooked owners need to be stung by the FBI. Im sure there is plenty of crimes and corruption and racketeering they are committing. When is the FBI going to wake up and raid the offices of Park Ave and every NFL owner?

  15. whatjusthapped says: Mar 1, 2016 12:09 PM

    “While the Patriots were the only team affected in a negative way by the #Deflategate debacle”

    That’s logical, they were the only team cheating, why should the other 31 franchises be affected?

  16. tmcb7 says: Mar 1, 2016 12:19 PM

    So the next time the collective barganing is up and the players hold out… It is because of situations like this the problem needs to be put on the owners!
    I almost always sided w/ the owners in years past. But w/ this and the constant bafoonery by Goodell…
    The owners need to be spotlighted.

  17. coutre says: Mar 1, 2016 12:23 PM

    Once again, the NFL makes a massive mistake and there will be no one held accountable. In reality, they will promote a woman well past her capability because it makes Richard Lapchick happy (see Kim Fields, Anna Isaacson, Natara Holloway).

  18. yooperman says: Mar 1, 2016 12:33 PM

    “the outcome creates the impression that the NFL was stealing from the NFL Players Association.”

    The NFL “WAS STEALING” from their employees.

  19. bobsnygiants says: Mar 1, 2016 12:35 PM

    NFL OWERS THIS IS THE TIME TO GET RID OF GOODELL.

  20. paulrevereshorse1775 says: Mar 1, 2016 12:50 PM

    Pash can go work with Ted Wells…..since they already have experience co-authoring an “independent investigation”

  21. harrisonhits2 says: Mar 1, 2016 12:54 PM

    Roger Goodell’s National Integrity League

    Goodell is VILE

    Goodell and his cronies must go

  22. nolasoxfan2012 says: Mar 1, 2016 1:04 PM

    My cat could do a better job as commissioner than Roger Goodell. All that time he spends sleeping he’s not making colossal mistakes. That alone makes him more qualified.

  23. chesswhileyouplaycheckers says: Mar 1, 2016 1:09 PM

    “While it’s possible that CEC chairman John Mara knew about the situation, the committee at large apparently wasn’t given a head’s up about the issue or about the league’s decision to fight the thing in an arbitration that went as badly for the NFL as it could have.”

    For those blasting the owners as a whole please read the above quote. NOT even the entire Execuctive Management Council was aware of the chicanery, never mind all of the owners. The majority of NFL owners are relatively silent in league matters. The McCaskey/Bidwill/Ford/Adams types more than likely are sent little more than position papers that their lawyers read on issues like the Rice video or deflategate. One can’t help but wonder if getting painted as thieves, and arrogant bad ones at that, might make them demand some accountability beyond the checks they receive. Although on a per team basis it is not much cash wise the underlying issue is quite large. At what point does enough become enough as far as the relatively silent majority is concerned?

    I doubt we have heard the last of this by long shot.

  24. harrisonhits2 says: Mar 1, 2016 1:10 PM

    “That’s logical, they were the only team cheating”

    Judge Berman: What evidence do you have that Tom Brady cheated.

    League: None your honor.

    Keep propagating the lie though.

    Furthermore –

    After he retired former NFL pro bowl QB Jeff Blake, who played for the Jets, Bengals, Saints, Ravens, Cardinals, Eagles and Bears admitted during a radio interview on Nashville 104.5 The Zone that he ordered ball boys to let the air out of his footballs just before the game throughout his NFL career. He played from 1992 to 2005.

    “Cause when you take the balls out of the bag, they are rock hard. And you can’t feel the ball as well. It’s too hard. Everybody puts the pin in and takes just enough air out of the ball that you can feel it a little better. But it’s not the point to where it’s flat. So I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s not something that’s not been done for 20 years.”

    The NFL never investigated any of these teams. They never fined any of these teams. They never penalized any of them either financially or by removing draft picks.

    Yet these 7 teams are 100% known to have deflated balls after the refs gave them to them.

  25. psljax says: Mar 1, 2016 1:20 PM

    I think the larger picture is that when the next collective bargaining agreement comes up, you’ll see a far more adversarial role by the nflpa. Kraft and others may be more reluctant to play good soldiers. The nfl and thier leadership are extremely short sighted. Enjoy the games now since cell I presume labor peace is a thing of the past.

  26. clashpoint says: Mar 1, 2016 1:30 PM

    I love tthe game of football, which is played by football players, not fat old thieving weasels. The players earn their money on the field. The weasels steal their money.

  27. ricko1112 says: Mar 1, 2016 1:37 PM

    whatjusthapped says:
    Mar 1, 2016 12:09 PM
    “While the Patriots were the only team affected in a negative way by the #Deflategate debacle”

    That’s logical, they were the only team cheating, why should the other 31 franchises be affected?
    ____________________________________
    The post above this says it perfectly.

    Jerry Rice admitted that he cheated EVERY SINGLE PLAY OF HIS ENTIRE CAREER and no one bats an eye.

    The NFL manufactured a SB win for Denver this year by placing pro-Broncos refs for the Championship game and SB. The NFL even placed a rabid Broncos fan in the replay booth! The game turned on a call that should have been over turned, but wasn’t. The QB was taking HGH. No on cares. Denver cheated the salary cap by 10s of millions of $$$ twice in order to win Elway his rings. No one remembers.

    The Vikings and Panthers were seen on live TV warming their footballs during a game.

    Indy pipes in noise, tanks games, and tampers with balls.

    Yet all anyone wants to do is harp on a single camera out of place for less than 30 minutes of 1 game and Mother Nature doing what she does on cold nights.

  28. jgedgar70 says: Mar 1, 2016 1:44 PM

    As much as I love watching football, it’s about time to blow this racket up. When it’s time for a new CBA, I hope the players have stashed away lots of money, dig their heels in and wait for the owners to implode. They are as addicted to money as the players, maybe even more so. RG1, his goons, and the 32 owners have no conscience, and they need to be broken.

    I hate the Patriots as much as anyone, but I am rooting for Brady so hard in the upcoming proceedings that I’m half-tempted to buy a Tom Brady Fathead. Another necessary step to bringing the goons to their knees.

  29. 2manyconcussions says: Mar 1, 2016 1:48 PM

    What this article fails to point out is that the league office does the bidding of the NFL owners. To suggest that these things happen without their knowledge and consent is a specious argument.

    In addition, while beating dead horses has become an art form recently, deflategate and this issue could hardly be more unrelated and don’t belong in the same article. One was a discipline issue of a player and the other related to league financing. That they both ended in arbitration hardly unifies the cause and effect.

  30. granadafan says: Mar 1, 2016 1:55 PM

    Goodell has helped the owners make a boatload of cash. He’s their fall guy for bad PR, which is why he gets paid $40 or so million a year. For that much money, you can verbally abuse me all you want. They’re not going to get rid of him. The lawyers run the league anyways.

  31. rportkid says: Mar 1, 2016 1:57 PM

    None of this surprises me. The NFL has become a corrupt organization led by a dishonest buffoon who continues to be supported by out-of-touch billionaires. I’ve been an avid football fan for 60 years but am about to drop the NFL. Disgusting.

  32. RE LEE says: Mar 1, 2016 4:38 PM

    The NFL is run by kleptomaniacs.. stealing draft picks and money.

  33. switchwitch59 says: Mar 1, 2016 5:54 PM

    granadafan says:
    Mar 1, 2016 1:55 PM

    Goodell has helped the owners make a boatload of cash. He’s their fall guy for bad PR, which is why he gets paid $40 or so million a year. For that much money, you can verbally abuse me all you want. They’re not going to get rid of him. The lawyers run the league anyways.
    ———————————————
    Right. They won’t get rid of Goodell because he knows where all the bodies are buried, which owners were involved in which illegal activities.

    RE LEE says:
    Mar 1, 2016 4:38 PM

    The NFL is run by kleptomaniacs.. stealing draft picks and money.
    ————————————-
    I almost fell off my chair laughing, good one!

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