In a development that can only be considered ironic, the NFLPA has confirmed that the Dallas Cowboys are included as defendants in their collusion lawsuit against the NFL.
Although this may strike many here as downright ungrateful, it really is something that should be expected. The lawsuit is filed against the league, and Washington and Dallas are still part of the NFL, despite any desires to the contrary that may be held by John Mara.
The irony, of course, is that it was the punishment levied against the Cowboys and Redskins for refusing to participate in what the NFLPA is claiming (with considerable justification and near unassailable logic) to have been illegal collusion that created this whole scenario. However, dollars is dollars, and the Dallas and Washington franchises represent a disproportionately large chunk of the total value and revenue stream of the NFL. If the lawsuit should proceed and a verdict or finding be rendered in the union's favor, they are going to want to get paid. The matter of how unfair it might be to force the teams that resisted the collusion to pony up is going to be secondary to getting those bucks.
More details, including the possibility of an out, after the jump.
DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of the NFLPA and the most recent name stricken off of Roger Goodell's Christmas Card list, did leave a door slightly open for the Cowboys and Redskins to get out from under any settlement.
"We look at what the facts are as we know it," DeMaurice Smith, the union's executive director, said at a news conference Thursday afternoon outside the NFLPA's offices in downtown Washington. "The 32 teams are defendants in the action right now. If there's evidence that is developed later on that would demonstrate that any one of those teams did not abide by the conspiracy, then my guess is those teams will make the appropriate assertions and we'll see where we end up."
In a saga that has already seen one of the strangest alliances ever in the joint filing for arbitration by Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder, the latest twist leaves the two owners who bucked the league in a position where it may be best for them, at least from a financial point of view, to try to help Goodell and Mara squelch the lawsuit. The question that they must now answer is: What is best for the continued viability of the National Football League?
This certainly seems unjust in many ways, but this is hardly about justice. It is a struggle over power and money. John Mara was motivated to take steps to punish the Cowboys and Redskins for using their financial leverage to improve their position during the uncapped 2010 season, but he also likely saw this as a direct challenge to the ability of the Management Council to control owners who disagreed with its decisions. Dallas and Washington have a built in advantage in having the two largest revenue streams in the league. Other owners seek to benefit from the success of those two through revenue sharing, while also wanting to restrict their ability to use that financial strength though the restrictions of the salary cap. The less financially successful teams want to remain competitive on the field without having to try and match the spending that Jones and Snyder are capable of.
The decision by the league to opt out of the previous CBA was supposed to eliminate the restrictions on payroll spending for that one year. This was a built in feature designed to motivate the owners to seek extensions of the CBA rather than tearing it up and starting over again. The league decided to take the steps that led up to the lockout because they were unhappy with the prospect of having to share too much of the projected income under the new television and cable contracts with the players, and they wanted a more favorable deal, including such things as the rookie pay scale.
But in a classic case of wanting to have the cake and eat it too, they did not want the upward pressure on salaries which would be caused by contracts such as the Miles Austin deal, which pushed the cost of the franchise tag upwards. The teams could not openly do anything about what Dallas did in that contract, so they tried to enforce a secret and, under federal antitrust law, illegal "secret" cap. They then levied the salary cap punishments on Dallas and Washington, believing that the agreements they had gotten the NFLPA to sign made them immune to any action by the union.
With John Mara essentially laying out the case for collision in the media, DeMaurice Smith was given a chance to rebuild his reputation with the players, who were apparently beginning to ask some very pointed questions about just whose side Smith was on in signing off on the NFL's punishment of two teams that had taken actions to increase player compensation. While there is still a very good chance that Roger Goodell and the forces of avarice and mediocrity may triumph in this, it would likely in the long run be a Pyrrhic victory, because the union is going to remember how it all went down. The next CBA negotiation may see a truly hard line from the NFLPA. And in the meantime, Smith seems to think he will win now.
Asked Thursday about the league's contentions that the union does not have the right to file such a lawsuit, Smith said: "I guess the first thing I would ask is: It doesn't sound like you're denying the existence of collusion, does it?"
However the lawsuit plays out, it may not leave the Cowboys with any really good outcome. If the suit is dismissed because of the agreements the NFLPA made with the NFL, then they just have to suck up the $10 million cap penalty. If it goes through and the league loses, then you can bet that the rest of the owners will do everything they can to make sure that Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder pay at least their fair share of any settlement.
In this situation, it seems that any winning for the Cowboys will have to be on the field.