NFL owners yesterday at their annual meeting affirmed the salary cap sanctions leveled against the Redskins and Cowboys moments after those two teams argued their case before the league, sources said. Shortly after, the league issued a statement saying the two teams were taking the dispute to arbitrator Stephen Burbank as provided for in the CBA. Commissioner Roger Goodell said no vote was taken, but sources said the owners by a show of hands affirmed the commissioner’s penalties against the two teams. The NFL, with the blessing of the NFLPA, took away $36M of cap space from the Redskins over the next two seasons, and $10M from the Cowboys over that time frame. Their alleged infraction was front-loading contracts in '10 when there was no salary cap, and the league had apparently agreed not to do that. But that agreement was never in writing, and the NFL approved the contracts. The NFLPA agreed to the sanctions provided other teams receive more cap room, and that the salary cap be higher than it otherwise would have been, sources said (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). In DC, Mark Maske cited a source as saying that Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones and Redskins Exec VP & GM Bruce Allen “addressed representatives of the other 30 NFL teams” during one of yesterday’s meetings. The source added that Jones and Allen “argued that the actions taken by their teams were justified and violated no salary cap rules” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 3/26).
WAS THIS COLLUSION? In Boston, Ron Borges notes although Goodell has been “widely lauded as an iron-fisted leader, he is now at odds with several of his 32 bosses.” The NFL has its own “collectively bargained rules regarding collusion, but under most definitions what the league did in 2010 would be collusive: all the business owners in their industry conspiring and agreeing to limit the earnings of the workers in that industry.” One NFLPA exec “raised the specter of a collusion lawsuit if information of ‘a gentleman’s agreement’ that suppressed salaries during the uncapped year comes to light during the arbitration challenge.” The exec said, “The league’s defense has to be that they colluded. What other defense is there? Since we’re a defendant we’re privy to discovery. If in fact they had unwritten rules when there were no rules we could potentially file a lawsuit.” Borges notes if the owners “were found to have colluded during the uncapped year the penalty could be the most feared one in jurisprudence: treble damages” (BOSTON HERALD, 3/27). Bears Chair George McCaskey said, “It’s very important that everybody plays by the same set of rules. If they tell people what the rules are, they all have to play by them” (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 3/26).
DIVISION IN THE RANKS: In DC, LaVar Arrington wrote the move “almost comes across as a power struggle among owners: The old school owners who did things with a handshake and a cigar versus the new school guys who are branding machines and seem to find their way under the other owners’ skin.” Arrington: “I’d like to know the grounds for the penalties and whether they were legit. If it turns out they weren’t justified, this could open Pandora’s box” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 3/26). In Boston, Greg Bedard writes business “might be booming for the NFL since the lockout,” but there is “an undercurrent of angst in the ranks” (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/27).