Union denies link between cap penalties, De Smith contract


The decision of the NFLPA to sue the NFL for collusion has raised questions regarding the NFLPA’s failure to realize that salary cap penalties the union agreed to imposed n the Cowboys and Redskins earlier this year amounted to evidence of collusion.  The NFLPA contends that it didn’t believe that the cap penalties suggested collusion.  Moreover, the NFLPA claims it had no choice but to agree to the removal of $10 million in cap space from the Cowboys and $36 million from the Redskins.

“What was agreed to was worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the players, collectively,” NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler said earlier this week, during a conference call with the media.  “When held with a gun of either agreeing to reallocate, move [salary cap space] from two teams to other teams to get those hundreds of millions of dollars, the players felt they did what was in the best interest of the players.”

Kessler was referring to “hundreds of millions of dollars” that pushed the per-team salary cap in 2012 to $120.6 million per team.  Some reports have suggested that the salary cap otherwise would have been as low as $113 million per team, more than $7 million per team less than the 2011 cap of $120.375 million.

Given that the 2012 cap was determined in early March and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith’s contract was set to expire later that month, there has been ample speculation that the NFLPA feared that a drop in the salary cap less than a year after execution of the new CBA would prompt NFLPA leadership to elect a new executive director.  NFLPA spokesman George Atallah addressed that speculation during the same conference call.

“I’ll answer that by not answering it,” Atallah said, “because he obviously was elected unanimously and there were no issues whatsoever at the rep meetings.  And, you know, it’s interesting that people have speculated or had speculated at the time about De’s future and, you know, you’ve written on the terms of the deal and how good the deal has been, frankly, for players and owners and the league.

“And at this point, you know — there has been a lot of speculation about De’s future in the months after the CBA, and there was a lot of speculation about even De becoming executive director back in 2009 if people remember.  You know, neither he nor I nor Jeff nor David on the call can really worry about that kind of stuff.

“We have an obligation to our members. We have an obligation to every NFL player to make sure that terms of any agreement are complied with and rules are enforced. And that’s what we focus on every day. We, you know, we’ll leave the rest to you guys.”

And so the speculation has persisted.  As Ross Tucker of NBC Sports Network and elsewhere observed on Twitter, “Feels like NFLPA forfeited their rights to a legit collusion case to get 2012 cap [number] higher so De Smith would get re-elected.”  Asked for a reaction to Tucker’s tweet during a Friday morning appearance on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning, here’s what Smith had to say:  “Well, I hadn’t heard that.  My reaction isn’t to spend too much time debating with people outside of football about issues that purely relate to my job and the Executive Committee and the players of the National Football League.  Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but nobody’s entitled to their own facts.  So, you know, with respect to what he thinks, let him think it and wish him a good day.”

We agree with Smith regarding his belief as to the facts, but we don’t know what the facts are.  And even though we’d like to know what the facts are, it’s unlikely the media will get anything other than a flat denial.

Still, the circumstantial evidence is fairly compelling.  The NFLPA felt so strongly about getting the salary cap north of $120.375 million that they believed, as Kessler explained it, that they had a “gun” to their heads when the time came to determine whether to accept the proposed cap penalties against the Cowboys and Redskins.  Why did they feel that way?

More importantly, why did they need an infusion of “hundreds of millions” to get the salary cap higher than it was in 2012?

These are questions that the media can ask, but that the NFLPA probably won’t answer.  Whether and to what extent those questions are or have been or will be asked by the NFLPA Executive Committee or the Board of Player Representatives is an entirely different issue.

11 responses to “Union denies link between cap penalties, De Smith contract

  1. “The NFLPA contends that it didn’t believe that the cap penalties suggested collusion.”

    They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means…

    Seriously, 30 owners decided to punish 2 owners for not playing the game they were supposed to play. The owners “agreed” to limit what they’d do with the uncapped year. Given that they weren’t acting within the CBA, that was collusion. And the penalties imposed for not playing by those rules certainly amounted to evidence of collusion. Had the owners not colluded, there wouldn’t have been penalties.

    What exactly does the NFLPA consider collusion?

    And why didn’t Jones and Snyder fight this harder? Do they view limited cap space as an easy excuse for on-field performance as usual?

  2. I HAVE A QUESTION for everyone pointing the finger at the NFLPA, wondering why everyone just can’t get along, villifying Jeffrey Kessler, etc:

    Why couldn’t the owners just play by the rules they agreed upon by allowing 2010 to be an uncapped year?

  3. I HAVE A QUESTION for everyone who thinks 2010, being an uncapped year, allowed franchises to do whatever they wanted.

    If you truly believe there were no restrictions on what teams could do, that means, for example, Jerry Jones could’ve restructured all of his contracts to pay each of his players $20M for 2010 and the league minimum for the remaining years of each contract. As such, the Cowboys would have Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, etc. under contact for the league minimum this year, leaving $100M+ to go out and sign tons of high priced free agents.

    If you believe 2010 was an unrestricted, no-holds-barred year, you HAVE to be ok with that logical possibility. Ok by you?

  4. Too much is brought up about the capped/uncapped year. The point is they were told not to try to restructure contracts and dump the money in 2010 to avoid the cap in FOLLOWING years. Miles Austin made just shy of $20M in 2010…. Now they could and should make the argument that the league approved the restructured contracts with the pre-meditation of nailing them on it later. I applaud Jerry and Danny boy for standing up to that crook Mara and the way it went down, but they probably should’ve gone about fighting it another way

  5. @kchoya -Yes, it’s OK by me.

    It’s what the CBA called for, it’s what the owners agreed to. If the owners had a problem with a team laying out contracts in the manner that you described there should have been a clause specifically prohibiting it. There wasn’t.

    In addition, there was no CBA in place for the 2011 season and beyond. The teams shouldn’t have assumed that there would be a salary cap in the next CBA.

  6. “The teams shouldn’t have assumed that there would be a salary cap in the next CBA.”

    Really? What would cause any reasonable person to assume there wasn’t going to be a salary cap?

    The success of the NFL has been based on the ability of teams in small markets (Green Bay, Pittsburgh, etc.) to compete with team in big markets (New York, Dallas, etc.). If you’re truly OK with construting the uncapped year to mean that the big market teams could have created a competitive imbalance by monkeying with their players’ contracts to create huge amounts of cap space in 2011 and beyond, then you’re in the minority.

  7. Love these behind-the-scenes look at the business side of football, Mike. Thanks for your perspective and for explaining the issues so well.

  8. @ butthatmakes etc

    One of the few issues the NFL and NFLPA seemed to agree on all along was a rookie salary scale. Why would they even have discussed that at all at those early points if a salary cap wasn’t pretty much a given? No cap, no rookie scale available to implement. There was NEVER not going to be a cap. Never.

  9. Why was there an uncapped year? Because the OWNERS agreed to it in the last CBA. The uncapped year was supposed to hold risks for BOTH sides and give incentive for negotiating the new CBA ahead of time.
    The risk to the owners was for high cash flow teams to do exactly was the ‘skins and ‘boys did. The risk for the players was for teams to spend way less, like the ‘Bus and others did.
    If, in retrospect, the owners think the uncapped year was stupid, they can only blame themselves (unless they assumed collusion from the start).
    When the uncapped year approached, the owners tried to eliminate their risk by engaging in collusion. And then, 2 years later, punish the teams that didn’t go along.

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