NFLPA's Collusion Claim Againt NFL Latest Example Of Growing Tensions Between Parties
The NFLPA yesterday fielded questions about whether the union could file a collusion claim against the NFL, and if the union knew about the alleged collusion when they agreed to a deal in which the Redskins and Cowboys were punished in exchange for a higher salary cap for players. The NFLPA yesterday filed a lawsuit against the NFL in federal court in Minnesota alleging the league colluded to install a secret $123M salary cap in '10, a violation of the CBA's requirement that the year be uncapped. The NFL has denied that it engaged in collusion. The NFL also said the union's lawsuit is not allowed under the CBA or as part of the settlement of litigation which led to the current CBA. Reporters on an NFLPA conference call asked whether the lawsuit could be brought against the NFL under the terms of the settlement of the Brady v. NFL case, or under the current labor deal itself. NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler said the court dismissed all claims that were pending in August '11 as part of the Brady settlement, but rejected any broader dismissal of claims. "We believe it was very clear that these claims are still now available to be asserted," he said. On whether the current CBA prohibits the union from bringing the claims, Kessler said that Article 3 refers to claims that "could or would" be asserted when a deal for the CBA was reached. "These are claims that weren't asserted and could never have been asserted because there was no knowledge (of the alleged collusion) and there is lots of case law on that," he said.
QUESTIONS ON COWBOYS, REDSKINS PUNISHMENTS: The NFLPA in March agreed to sanctions the NFL levied against the Cowboys and the Redskins in exchange for the league agreeing to a higher salary cap in '12. The union yesterday explained why officials accepted the penalties. Kessler and NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir of External Affairs George Atallah said the union had only a few hours to agree to the deal, which meant hundreds of millions of dollars for players, and the league did not tell them the teams had violated the alleged secret salary cap. Kessler said, "What we heard from the league before the agreement is they thought the Cowboys and Redskins had ... taken advantage of there being no salary cap to gain a competitive advantage. And the league felt it was necessary in their mind to equalize that competitive advantage. The union didn't agree with that, but that was the price of getting other cap benefits for players around the league. So it was basically forced into agreeing to it. But at no time did the league indicate there was any kind of secret agreement or secret cap or collusion.” Kessler added the NFLPA would never have agreed to the punishments for the Cowboys and Redskins had it known about the alleged $123M salary cap. The NFLPA first learned of the alleged collusion, Kessler said, from media reports that surfaced in the following days quoting different NFL officials and owners about why the Cowboys and Redskins were punished. "Remarkably, NFL owners, NFL spokespeople, NFL executives all started to spill their guts and say the reason for all this is because there has been a directive from the league to the teams to obey to a fantasy salary cap and there would be consequences to that and now these were the consequences," Kessler said. "We were frankly stunned when that spilled out in the record and spill it did." Kessler indicated the union had evidence of the alleged collusion other than media reports, but declined to reveal it on the conference call (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal). Kessler said that it was “purely coincidence” that the lawsuit was filed a day after the league's decision to punish the Redskins and Cowboys for overspending in ‘10 was upheld by an arbitrator (L.A. TIMES, 5/24).
WILL HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF? Kessler said that he believed the evidence in this case “would be more compelling than that gathered when baseball owners were accused of collusion” in the ‘80s. In N.Y., Judy Battista noted arbitrators ruled “in favor of the players in those cases” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/24). Indiana Univ. School of Law Dean Gary Roberts said that this case “is not comparable to baseball’s” case. Roberts said, “With baseball players it was strictly a matter for arbitration, where here the union is alleging a violation of the White class action. Procedurally and substantively the claims are not that similar.” ESPN.com’s Chris Mortenson wrote this is “dangerous territory for any sport” (ESPN.com, 5/23).
GIVE PEACE A CHANCE: USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell writes the NFLPA “has recast itself in the image of its leader, DeMaurice Smith, a former federal prosecutor.” It is “ready to scrap at the drop of a hat, no issue too large or small.” The union's “most compelling case since the lockout might come in the collusion claim." The NFL and NFLPA “might have agreed to a labor deal in August, but that is not to be confused with labor peace.” The landscape over the next decade “figures to be fertile for so many battles” (USA TODAY, 5/24). CBSSPORTS.com’s Clark Judge wrote under the header, “Labor Peace Already A Memory As NFL-NFLPA Differences Intensify.” Judge wrote the "rapport, understanding and cooperation that were there" when Paul Tagliabue was NFL Commissioner and Gene Upshaw was NFLPA Exec Dir "seem absent now.” The relationship between the league and players union “seems to be growing more hostile, which doesn’t exactly foreshadow future cooperation.” Judge noted it was only 10 months ago when Packers C and NFLPA Exec Committee member Jeff Saturday "stood on the steps of the union’s headquarters” in DC and embraced Patriots Owner Robert Kraft. Judge: "I can’t imagine that happening today” (CBSSPORTS.com, 5/23). ESPN's Chris Mortensen said, “They're saying they got muscled and strong-armed into this cap agreement. ... There's a lot of undercurrent of other stuff, which is basically saying, ‘You know, this is starting to be a brass-knuckle fight again’” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 5/24).
THE TIMES, THEY ARE A CHANGIN': YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole cited a league source as saying if Upshaw were still alive, “None of this would be happening." The source said Saints LB Jonathan Vilma would have "probably been suspended for six games" instead of an entire year for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal, and the "other guys for one or two each." The source said, "Gene would have seen the evidence and it would be over. Instead, you have this fight that's going on forever. It's all we talk about and that's not good for the players or the league." Another league source said, "The worst part of this is the demonizing of [NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell]. Instead of the players seeing Roger as a resource and a person who wants to help them, he's the bad guy." A source said, “There's no cooperation on even the smallest ideas. We come to the union with ideas about programs and the union just gives us blank stares and says, 'Our leadership is not interested in that.'” Cole wrote the belief by some is that Smith "doesn't want to follow in the footsteps of Upshaw, who was sometimes perceived as being too close to Goodell and predecessor Paul Tagliabue.” A union source said that Smith and Goodell “never had a great opportunity to develop a real relationship because of the timing” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/23).