NFLPA contends cap penalties didn’t raise collusion concerns

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As a certain Internet hack pointed out during Wednesday night’s NBC SportsTalk, the collusion case filed by the NFLPA on Wednesday won’t impact anything that fans see on the football field — unless, of course, part of the settlement of the case includes concessions from the NFL that result in changes to on-field rules.  If the claims go to trial and if the NFL loses and if the ruling survives an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and possibly the Supreme Court, the matter will be resolved via the writing of a check with a lot of zeroes.

And so most of you don’t care about the collusion case.  But you should.  It’s the best evidence that, in the nine months since the CBA was resolved, the relationship between the NFL and the NFLPA has once again become combative and toxic — and it may stay that way for the foreseeable future, and beyond.  The quality of the relationship will make it harder for the two parties to strike deals on matters that are in the best interests of the game, especially since the filing of the collusion claim undermines dramatically the level of trust between the NFL and NFLPA.  Put simply, the NFLPA won’t believe anything the NFL ever says, and the NFL won’t believe that any deal signed by the NFLPA will be honored.

The case at hand, which arises from claims that the NFL engaged in collusion during the uncapped year of 2010, was sparked by the cap penalties imposed on the Cowboys and Redskins two years after the fact.  During a Wednesday conference call to discuss the situation, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah and NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler made it clear that, when the NFL asked the union to agree to the cap penalties, the NFLPA did so.  Atallah and Kessler consistently characterized the proposal, which entailed the union agreeing to the cap penalties in exchange for a willingness by the NFL to pump up the salary cap in 2012, as a “take it or leave it” proposition.  The NFLPA wanted to find a way to drive the team-by-team spending limit higher (some reports suggest that it would have been as low as $113 million, $7 million per team lower than 2011), and the NFL would agree to make the cap higher only if the NFLPA agreed to the cap penalties.

Addressing the issue via questions from several different media members who participated in the call, Kessler said that he didn’t view the request to remove cap space from the Cowboys and Redskins as evidence of collusion in 2010, even though the NFL explained that the two teams had “taken advantage” of the absence of a salary cap to gain a “competitive advantage” in 2010.

Frankly, that’s when the bells and whistles and alarms should have sounded.  By proposing to take cap dollars from the Cowboys and Redskins now, the NFL was essentially admitting to the union that the league had engaged in collusion in 2010, and that the NFL was now going to punish the teams that refused to go along with the unwritten rule of limited spending in the uncapped year.

The fact that the NFL believed all collusion claims from 2010 had been waived likely made the league willing in 2012 to approach the NFLPA with proposed cap penalties that amounted to a confession of collusion.  The fact that the new CBA and the legal documents submitted in connection with the settlement of multiple pending antitrust lawsuits likely made the NFLPA less inclined to refuse to agree to the cap penalties and pursue a collusion claim.  Besides, the NFLPA needed the league to help drive the salary cap higher in 2012; if the cap had been lower this year than it was last year, the re-election of DeMaurice Smith as executive director in late March 2012 would have been far less of a lock.  (Atallah declined during the conference to answer a question regarding speculation that, if the cap had dropped, the NFLPA in turn would have dropped De Smith, whose contract was expiring.)

Moving forward, the NFLPA will be forced to deal with two major hurdles, before the collusion case can get rolling.  First, the union will have to persuade Judge Doty that the collusion claim wasn’t released as part of the new CBA.  Second, the union will have to explain persuasively why it chose to essentially ratify the past collusion by agreeing to the imposition of cap penalties against the teams that refused to collude.

That said, the NFL made this mess by insisting on smacking the knuckles of the Cowboys and Redskins — and then by talking publicly about it.  Even if Judge Doty dismisses the collusion claim by finding that all collusion claims had been released as part of the new CBA, the point the NFL wanted to make to the Cowboys and Redskins is coming with a significant price, both in legal fees and in style points.

17 responses to “NFLPA contends cap penalties didn’t raise collusion concerns

  1. Frankly, that’s when the bells and whistles and alarms should have sounded. By proposing to take cap dollars from the Cowboys and Redskins now, the NFL was essentially admitting to the union that the league had engaged in collusion in 2010, and that the NFL was now going to punish the teams that refused to go along with the unwritten rule of limited spending in the uncapped year.


    Frankly, you grossly mischaracterized the situation. There is only one aspect of the spending which was limited and you are painting it with a broad brush. There has been no evidence shown to the effect that there was an unwritten salary cap for 2010 that was violated. If Jerry had spent $500 million on 1 year contracts, he would not have been fined. The limitation was specifically in regards to longterm contracts and actively trying to hide money from the future salary capped years.

    If the Cowboys had signed Miles Austin to a 1yr/$17 mill contract, the league would not have an issue with it. This point can not be made often enough as both the media and fans frequently miss/ignore this point. It was never about how much, is was about how the payments were structured.

  2. Fans should be interested in it because if the NFL loses (which is hard to see that happening) there will be a financial impact on the fans. The owners & league are not just going to lose a billion dollars, they will pass that onto the fans in ticket prices, cost of merchandise, tv contracts… which impact fans in the end.

  3. Remember when De Smith said at 1 point during the Lockout both sides had to throw the lawyers out the room to get down to business? Now both sides are bringing them back in it. Fair settlement please & let’s move on. Give the $29 million lost to the NFLPA, they should disperse much of it to the Pioneers still suffering with no benefits and give the Redskins and Cowboys their cap space or compensatory picks.

  4. The reason for the cap penalties was not because they were gaining a “competitive advantage” in 2010. It was because they were gaining a competitive advantage in the years beyond 2010 by renegotiating existing, “bad” contracts to be dumped into the uncapped year. Had the Redskins and Cowboys simply signed free agents to contracts with huge base salaries in 2010, there would be no issue at all.

  5. Every Redskin representative, whether owner, management, employee, player, or fan, should have major issues with the NFLPA, for their callous willingness to damage the Redskins for money.

  6. Well written this time Mike.

    Too bad the two derelict team owners didn’t just behave and spend in a competitive way during the uncapped year instead of trying to get a competitive advantage.

    Too bad the NFLPA and NFL can’t get along better.

  7. SMH.. I know this won’t have any affect for the on-field part of the game- which is most important- but I thought we would not have to read about labor stuff until 2021.

    I just threw up a little reading the name “Kessler”

  8. “That said, the NFL made this mess by insisting on smacking the knuckles of the Cowboys and Redskins…”

    Actually, isn’t the real message, that SHOULD have been driven home by what happened to MLB years ago, is that owners should not agree to collude? You’ve pointed a lot of fingers, all legitimate, but you ignored what got the ball rolling. A group of exceedingly wealthy men deliberately chose to ignore the law and bargain in bad faith. And, yes, that includes Snyder and Jones because neither one challenged the “gentlemen’s agreement” prior to or during, they just ignored it. Certainly, at bare minimum, SOME of these men knew that collusion could result in their anti-trust exemption going away. Those voices were either never raised or were shouted down. Either way, they all knew they were rolling the dice. Both sides have managed to bungle this in a way that makes you question what the hell are they paying their lawyers for. But the original sin was the act of collusion. You have to wonder if certain owners wanted the whole thing to blow up. Maybe, just maybe, some of these guys got tired with revenue sharing and this was a way to get rid of it by getting rid of the anti-trust.

  9. You really have to distort reality to say that the penalties levied against the Cowboys and Redskins prove collusion. Because the penalties weren’t charged against them because they spent too much in 2010. They were penalized because they dumped money from future cap years into the 2010 non capped year so that they would have more money to spend in the future capped years. That affects competitive balance and the league had rules to protect that. But they didn’t limit how much a team could spend in the 2010 season. If a team would have signed a bunch of free agents to 1 year contracts the league wouldn’t have been able to penalize them. But doing things to sign players to long term contracts and putting the majority of money into the uncapped season to have more money in future capped seasons was breaking the rules that the league set to keep competitive balance in future years.

    so it looks like this:

    Team A- signs a player to a 3 yr 30 million contract but pays the player 25 million in 2010 and then 2.5 million each of the following years and they can do this because they have more available funds in the immediate season.

    Team B- signs a player to a 3 yr 30 million contract but pays 10 million each of the 3 years. and they do this because they don’t have as much money available in the immediate season.

    Can you see why that is unfair to Team B? Can you also see how they can make rules against doing this without it being collusion? Can you see the purpose of having rules against a team putting all the money in a long term contract into an uncapped season?

    The NFLPA shouldn’t have a case, but the stupidity of people will allow it to continue.

  10. Def a dumb move by the league, which is why you can’t even be mad at the NFLPA. The league walked right into this one… Amateurs…

  11. The league may win this small battle but in the long run this issue will come back to bite them. Especially when the two sides begin talks for the next CBA. I look for a long holdout in nine years. I usually side with the owners and the league, but not in a case where there’s obvious collusion mandated from the top (Goodell).

  12. To people who are ruing the fact that they have to read about this stuff instead of on the field stories:

    No you don’t. This is truly one issue you can skip, no matter how much noise either side makes or how obsessed this and other sites get with it.

    Because unlike CBA negotiations, rule changes, and other boring topics people rail about here, this has absolutely 0% chance of effecting anything that happens on the field.

    I agree with the author that the most this will result in is someone writing a big check, but I DISAGREE with his assertion that you should care about it even if you don’t want to.

    If you choose to follow it because it interests you, fine. If it bores/frustrates/angers you, skip it.

    The games you watch on Sundays will be completely unaffected.

  13. wiley16350 what say you about all those other contracts then with teams other than the redskins/cowboys?

    For example Julius Peppers certainly didn’t get all that money on a one year contract….he got a huge payout during 2010 instead of getting (extra) money in the form of salary in years beyond 2010.

    My point is that considering only two teams were called out for doing what many others did means that your point doesn’t hold water.

  14. everyone knew that the next football season would have a salary cap. they tried to gain an advantage in future seasons. but why did the nfl keep this in their back pocket for 2 years? why not decline approval of the contracts in 2010 on the basis of gaining competitive advantage for future capped years? better to have done then than impose penalties 2 years later.

  15. The League and the NFLPA have a real problem. They colluded to penalize the ‘Boys and the ‘Skins last year when there was no cap and the league approved the contracts. THEN Mara in his infinite wisdom and league officials bragged about it thinking they were free and clear to do whatever they wished to whomever they wanted to.

    The bottom line is that it will not affect play on the field for 30 teams for this year, but what it WILL do is open up the other 30 teams to a massive lawsuit if it goes deeper from two rich and ticked off owners.

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