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.