Shortly after the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins were subjected to a total of $46 million dollars in salary cap penalties for exceeding the CBA imposed salary cap during an "uncapped" year, the National Football League Players Association went to court with a claim accusing the NFL owners of acting in collusion to keep player salaries down during that uncapped year. According to the NFLPA, the owners conspired to limit the earnings potential of its members in spite of a contractual arrangement not to do so. The league also took specific punitive action against owners, namely Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder, who did not take part in the conspiracy.
Dallas and Washington were penalized for contracts in the uncapped year that nevertheless complied with the language of the CBA and that nevertheless were approved at the time by the NFL.
During the initial hearings, the league successfully argued that the Players Association had no right to legal recourse because the violations occurred under a previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that as a term of the current CBA, the union had agreed to dismiss any pending actions against the league and not to pursue any additional actions for any alleged collusion that took place under the previous agreement. At the time Judge David Doty ruled in favor of the league and dismissed the NFLPA claims as not having merit due to the terms of the current contract.
Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has reversed Judge Doty's decision and sent the case back to his courtroom for further action. For now little will change, except for the attorneys. The next step in the process will be the discovery period. During this time the league will be forced to reveal documents which the union believes will reveal that the owners were working together to insure that player salaries were kept below a specific level despite the lack of a salary cap.
Once thing that this decision does not mean is that Dallas and Washington will be entitled to get their cap space back. That matter, if it is ever addressed again, will be left for another venue and a later time. This case is strictly about what the NFLPA may be entitled to, and has nothing to do with the teams recovering what they lost.
In response to the ruling today, the National Football League has released the following statement:
"As the Court emphasized, today’s decision is entirely procedural in nature. Far from validating the Union’s claim, the Court specifically highlighted the heavy burden that the NFLPA faces in establishing this claim, and we remain highly confident that the claim will be dismissed yet again."