The lawsuit filed Wednesday by the NFLPA against the NFL for collusion in the uncapped year technically is framed as a petition to “reopen and enforce” the agreement that finally settled the Reggie White litigation. And it’s clear upon reviewing the 20-page document that the claim flows directly from the NFL’s effort to remove $46 million in combined cap space from the Cowboys and Redskins.
Setting aside for now the impact of the NFLPA’s agreement to those cap penalties upon the new action, it’s clear that the claims wouldn’t have been made at all if the NFL hadn’t tried to impose the cap charges on the Cowboys and Redskins for their behavior in the uncapped year.
Paragraph 2 of the petition explains that the NFLPA became first aware of the alleged “conspiracy” to limit spending in the uncapped year to $123 million per team via the disclosure on March 12 that four teams (the Cowboys, Redskins, Saints, and Raiders) failed to “abide by secret NFL rules to suppress player salaries.”
The petition explains that the Redskins exceeded the secret cap by more than $102 million, the Cowboys by more than $52 million, the Raiders by more than $41 million, and the Saints by more than $36 million. (No cap penalties were imposed on the Raiders and Saints, but those teams were barred from participating in the reallocated cap space that had been stripped from the Redskins and Cowboys.)
The petition alleges actual damages of “up to $1 billion, if not substantially more,” and the NFLPA contends that treble damages are in order, putting the potential bill at more than $3 billion.
In support of the claims, the NFLPA cites comments from Giants co-owner John Mara (who said the issue “came up several times in [ownership-level] meetings,” that the teams in question “attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole, and quite frankly, I think they’re lucky they didn’t lose draft picks,” and that the teams knew “full well there would be consequences”), quotes from Commissioner Roger Goodell (who said, “[T]he rules were articulated. . . . [T]he rules were quite clear”), and even a PFT report that teams were warned “at least six times” against dumping cap dollars into the uncapped year. (Maybe I’ll finally get to refuse to identify a source on the witness stand and go to jail . . . and get shanked.)
The point for now is that, if the NFL simply hadn’t gone after the Redskins and Cowboys, the NFL wouldn’t currently be dealing with the present claim, which makes abundantly clear that the next nine years of labor peace will entail plenty of labor but not much peace.
Moreover, the fact that the Cowboys and Redskins aggressively fought the penalties served only to highlight the story and generate many of the quotes the NFLPA is now using against the league. And while the NFLPA doesn’t explain how it knows that a secret $123 million per-team cap applied in 2010, it’s not a major stretch to conclude that someone from the Cowboys or the Redskins made that disclosure to the union in a fit of frustration and/or rage in discussions that occurred after the cap penalties hit the fan.
Of course, the bigger question is whether the NFLPA has the ability to make these claims, in light of the settlement agreement and the later agreement to impose the cap penalties against the Cowboys and Redskins. We’ll address that issue separately.