League’s latest collusion brief is a two-edged sword

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The latest collusion claim filed by the NFLPA continues to confound us (or at least me . . . the other guys may not care about it at all, along with plenty of you).

Did collusion happen in 2010?  Absolutely.  Did the NFLPA give up any legal claims for collusion in 2010 as part of the 2011 labor deal and final settlement of the Reggie White class action?  Even more absolutely.

Last week, the NFL filed a brief that devotes 10-plus pages to the concise, conclusive, and convincing demonstration that the players signed away their right to sue for collusion occurring in 2010.  As to the suggestion that the NFL had a secret salary cap of $123 million in 2010, the NFL shows that the actual spending contradicts the existence of a secret cap, with team-by-team numbers that, for 21 franchises, exceeded the allegedly secret spending limit.

It’s a strong presentation of facts and law.  But, as the league seems to do from time to time, it brief goes one step too far, at page 13:  “There were no rules or agreements broken by the Redskins, the Cowboys, or any other Club with respect to Player Contracts executed in the 2010 League Year.”

That assertion is backed by a sworn affidavit from Peter Ruocco, senior V.P. of labor relations for the NFL Management Council, who says at paragraph 12 that “[n]o rules or agreements were broken” by the Redskins or Cowboys, even though total salary cap penalties of $46 million were imposed against the two teams.  At paragraph 3 of the affidavit, Ruocco denies that he told NFLPA general counsel Tom DePaso in March 2012 “that the League believed that the Redskins and Cowboys had secured an unfair advantage over Clubs that committed lesser amounts to players in 2010 than did those Clubs.”

Ruocco may not have said it privately to DePaso in March 2012, but Giants co-owner John Mara said it publicly that same month.

I thought the penalties imposed were proper,” Mara said.  “What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap.  They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole, and quite frankly, I think they’re lucky they didn’t lose draft picks. . . .  They attempted to take advantage of it knowing full well there would be consequences.”

So there wasn’t a $123 million salary cap.  And the players, in our view, sacrificed their ability to sue for collusion in 2011.  But the league has done itself no favors by trying to downplay what occurred earlier this year.  The Cowboys and Redskins were penalized for “attempt[ing] to take advantage of a one-year loophole.”  And while they may have violated “no rules or agreements,” they violated what Mara called “the spirit of the salary cap.”

Of course, perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the league’s position is that the NFLPA ratified the punishment by agreeing to the cap penalties in exchange for an increase in the 2012 salary cap.  That one fact, which technically is irrelevant to the legal analysis, should in all fairness prompt Judge David Doty to find that the new collusion case should fail.

17 responses to “League’s latest collusion brief is a two-edged sword

  1. Wow. Part of me wonders if the Skins and Boys backed off to let the league provide enough rope to hang themselves.

  2. … the NFLPA ratified the punishment by agreeing to the cap penalties in exchange for an increase in the 2012 salary cap …

    Quid pro quo … Quid pro quo … Quid pro quo (to the pace of Cosell’s “Down goes Frazier”). The collusion case is done.

  3. 1. I can’t believe the NFL is going to get away with this.

    2. It’s ridiculous that Mara should be allowed to have such a massive conflict of interest in putting the screws to two of his team’s division rivals.

    3. The NFLPA screwed up big time.

  4. Bottom line: there was collusion and the NFLPA bargained away their right to contest it. The NFLPA seems hell bent on displaying their poor negotiating tactics to its members and the public. Following this up with a poorly drafted lawsuit by incompetent lawyers is a nice touch.

  5. There was no agreement. Washington and Dallas were punished for violating that agreement. The NFLPA agreed to forget about the agreement. Therefore, the Judge should rule, there was no agreement.

  6. About a year or so before the uncapped year I read a column by Peter King about the uncapped year provision included in the CBA. King said Paul Tagliabue & Gene Upshaw had agreed that the spirit of the provision for the uncapped year was not meant for salary dumping. It was agreed that teams’ salaries as constructed by previous contracts, or new contracts similarly structured had no limits to the overall spending of the club. But the provision was not meant to allow teams to construct a salary structure that would free up space under future capped years.

    So the NFL & NFLPA had agreed to the “spirit” of the rule back when it was formulated.

  7. As a Redskins fan and more importantly as a football fan what Goodell did to the Cowboys and Redskins was criminal. Rodger Goodell sure be ashamed of the stain and taint that he has brought to the NFL. This reminds me of the MLB in the early 90’s.

  8. Did the NFL collude against the players? Of course they did. The League is structured specifically to unite the influence of the owners for the purpose of receiving the maximum revenue at the lowest cost. That includes everything from the deals they make with the networks to the salaries they pay the players. Since there’s a new CBA, however, I don’t really care.

    That being said, just for the sake of debate, two of the major points of this article do have some holes in them.

    1. I can’t condemn the NFLPA for signing off on the sanctions against the Redskins and Cowboys. As I understand it, the league pretty much threatened to lower the salary cap if the NFLPA didn’t agree to the action. I believe it had something to do with that current year’s salary cap having been boosted to make the players feel better about the deal. That meant the league could have taken a little back the next year, kind of like docking someone’s check to make up for a pay advance. So, the NFLPA agreed to sign off on two teams losing some of their ability to spend money to avoid their players actually losing money. In other words, they did their job and protected their members.

    2. The fact that they signed off on any collusion claims clearly makes this case a bit difficult for the NFLPA. Having said that, it’s possible that they could argue that the league went out of their way to deceive the players, and that the actions taken to hide the league’s collusion nullified the agreement. Many contracts have been overturned in the past on the basis that one side was intentionally denied vital information that was required for them to give informed consent. If the NFLPA could demonstrate that the league intentionally hid their collusive acts from the players, it’s possible that a receptive judge might accept that argument.

  9. Doty is one of those judges that will rule based in beliefs rather than facts or law. The boys/skins were disciplined for moving contract money (from future capped years) into 2010. How the union could possibly claim there was a $123M cap or that players were lowballed defies logic and reality.

  10. So when do the Skins and the Boys get their money back? The penalties severely hamstrung what both teams were able to do in free agency.

  11. I’m a little confused here. Who isn’t, right? But not by what you would think.

    I think what the league is saying is that 1) the penalized teams did not break any rules, but that 2) they did agree to adhere to NFL penalties where there deemed to be applicable. Sure, they can appeal, but they’re not going fight them beyond the League mechanisms.

    And this is actually the smart thing for them to do, because if they DO fight it, it gives credence to NFLPA claims to void the agreement.

    I thought this was pretty much done.

  12. I would just wonder when the DOJ would launch an Anti-trust investigation. Seems to me like they agreed into a contract with the NFLPA, which the owners then exercised an early out clause for, then when their secret agreement between themselves was “violated” by 4 (Saints and Raiders didn’t get extra cap space due to “minor” violations”) out of the 32 owners they punished the violating owners by taking money away from the players, in effect hurting competition, the reason for anti-trust laws, plus taking money away from one of the two groups of people they constantly try to squeeze, the players. (The other being us, the fans, if you think an iron on jersey costs $100 I’ve got some great land to sell you 50 miles west of Miami)

  13. i guess the new NFL commissioner is john mara, since everyone is accusing him of singlehandedly dishing out punishment. its a shame that the NFL is run by only one person, and no one else has a say in what goes on. i wonder why he didn’t punish the eagles as well, since, you know he has complete power to do so.

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