When the NFL fined the Cowboys $10 million in cap space and fined the Redskins $36 million the day before free agency opened, for all intents and purposes they made it sound like a done deal. It almost came across that this was a cut-and-dry case of the two teams violating the rules and paying the price. At least that's the way the NFL tried to make it sound. Immediately, members here at BTB, and across the media landscape, started looking closer and it was clear there was something fishy going on. Questions immediately surfaced; what rule had been violated specifically? Why would the NFLPA agree to this? Why did the NFL approve the contracts at the time? Doesn't the rationale behind the fine sound a lot like collusion?
As time has passed, those issues, along with others, have come to the surface, and now we got a full-blown confrontation. As we noted yesterday, the Cowboys and the Redskins have filed a grievance to get an independent arbitrator to rule.
Why are the Cowboys and Redskins keen on getting the case in the hands of an independent arbitrator? One, to get it out of the hands of Roger Goodell. The other? Because of comments by John Mara, owner of the New York Giants and the chair of the NFL Management Council.
By the way, thanks to Dan Graziano and ESPNDallas for their great work in following this case. Check it out here.
"I thought the penalties imposed were proper," John Mara, the New York Giants' owner and chair of the NFL Management Council, which imposed the penalties said Sunday. "What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap. They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole, and quite frankly, I think they're lucky they didn't lose draft picks."
In violation of the spirit of the salary cap? What the heck is that supposed to mean? Either they were in violation of a rule, or they weren't. Basically, what he's saying is they were in violation of the spirit of a collusion deal the owners had struck, not in violation of a specific rule. In fact, I've never seen anyone mention a specific rule they were in violation of. It seems to me the NFL is getting themselves into a bigger mess as thing rolls along.
More comments from Mara:
There was no salary cap in 2010. This is a fact. Mara repeatedly brushed that aside during questioning Sunday, irritated at the fact's mere existence. "We've had a cap for 29 of the last 30 years,"...
"This has nothing to do with collusion. It has to do with teams attempting to gain a competitive advantage through a loophole in the system. They attempted to take advantage of it knowing full well there would be consequences."
The "gaining competitive advantage" argument is one that the NFL keeps bringing up. But Dan Graziano had a good response to that.
If this penalty was rooted in common sense, the NFL's owners would be mad at teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who spent well below the level where the salary floor would have been. If this were really an issue of future competitive balance, as the ruling establishing the punishments claims it is, then teams that didn't spend enough in 2010 would be punished as well. But the fact that they're only going after the two teams that overspent in 2010 -- or restructured contracts to take short-term hits in an effort to allow them to spend more down the road -- indicates that this is not a competitive balance issue. It's a salary restriction issue.
It's a collusion issue. And the longer the NFL drags out this fight, the more likely that's going to become a central issue, whether in a lawsuit, or with Congress stepping in. And just to add insult to injury, ProFootballTalk has this little nugget to add:
As we already know, the agreement regarding the imposition of the penalties was struck between the NFL Management Council Executive Committee and the NFLPA, making it a revision of the CBA without a vote of the league’s owners or union leadership. That deal happened even though Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was and still is a member of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee. It’s one thing for the so-called CEC to use its delegation of authority to work out side agreements with the union. It’s quite another for the CEC to do so without knowledge of one of the men who has secured membership on the CEC.
This could get very ugly.