SBJ/20100913/Labor Agents

NFL not investigating trades that union is looking into

align=While the NFL Players Association is investigating whether the trades of some low-profile players may have circumvented the collective-bargaining agreement, a league spokesman said the NFL has no intention of doing so.

The union’s investigation, as first reported by, involves the St. Louis Rams trading their fifth-round pick, linebacker Hall Davis, to the Washington Redskins and the Redskins trading their sixth-round pick, tight end/fullback Dennis Morris, to the Rams, for conditional undisclosed draft picks. The clubs later cut both players.

The trades come in the last year of the NFL CBA, when some unusual rules apply to player compensation. There is no salary cap for veteran players, but there is an overall cap for rookies, known as the “rookie pool.”

The Redskins traded Dennis
Morris to the Rams, who cut
him before the season began.

When the CBA was negotiated in 1993, the NFL insisted on keeping a lid on rookie pay. The NFLPA insisted that if there were to be a rookie pool in an uncapped year, 85 percent of the salary of any rookie who was cut by the team that drafted him should go to other rookies who did play. That provision is known as the “85 percent rule.”

When the Rams and Redskins traded for the players and released them soon afterward — the Redskins doing it within 24 hours — it raised eyebrows in the NFL agent community and at the union. Some wondered whether it was a way for the teams to get out of paying the 85 percent of money owed: about $250,000 for each player.

“We are looking into this to see if the intent of the transaction was to circumvent the CBA,” said Richard Berthelsen, NFLPA general counsel.

The NFL has disciplined a few teams this year for violating rules governing organized team activities, but the league has no plan to investigate whether the Rams and Redskins trades violate the CBA, said Greg Aiello, NFL senior vice president of communications. “We are not investigating any trades because we have no reason to believe there has been a violation of any rule,” Aiello wrote in an e-mail.

But four veteran NFL agents interviewed by SportsBusiness Journal last week said there were plenty of reasons for an investigation of the trades, which they called highly unusual if not unprecedented.

“You just drafted this guy; you scouted him,” one agent said. “If he wasn’t going to make the team, you put him on your practice squad.”

For two clubs to trade two late-round players in itself is rare, but to cut them both never happens, this agent said. “Usually, when there is a trade,” the agent said, “there is a sincere interest in the player. I have never seen two draft picks from the same year get traded, let alone then both get cut.”

Three rival agents agreed with that assessment. These four agents requested anonymity, saying they did not want to adversely affect their relationships with the two executives involved, Bruce Allen of the Redskins and Kevin Demoff of the Rams.

Attempts to reach Allen and Demoff were unsuccessful. Rams and Redskins spokesmen did not answer a list of questions submitted by e-mail.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan denied any wrongdoing in the trades, The Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear whether the NFLPA will file a grievance over the matter, but if the union were to file a collusion case and win it, the teams would be on the hook for much greater damages than the money they would have saved by cutting the rookies.

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Liz Mullen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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