With the NFL Draft only a few agonizingly long days away, it is easy to miss other developments in pro football. But one big story that has been overshadowed is the upcoming arbitration over the arbitrary cap penalties leveled against the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins by Roger Goodell. The $10 million and $36 million hits, respectively, were handed out in response to contracts issued, with league approval, during the supposedly uncapped 2010 season. Goodell cited an "unfair competitive advantage" gained by the teams in moving cap money around. He acted apparently at the behest of John Mara, an unquestionably impartial party as owner of the New York Giants, with no competitive advantage of his own to gain in seeing two of his division rivals docked on the eve of the free agent signing period.
Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder, the unlikeliest of allies, filed a grievance under the new CBA, and the hearing is scheduled for May 10. Now, in a move to head that off, the NFL has filed to have the whole thing thrown out, as reported at Pro Football Talk.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL has tried to block the hearing by submitting a request to dismiss the grievance.
The NFL contends that, because the NFL Players Association consented to the imposition of cap penalties, the Cowboys and Redskins have no grounds to attack the agreement under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which governs the relationship between the league and the players.
Reactions and more after the jump.
This may be no more than a standard legal maneuver, just the NFL lawyers taking every shot they can to head off what could be an embarrassing episode if the Special Master scheduled to administer the discipline in this case finds against the league. Or maybe they are just padding their fees. However, the basic contention of the league is that the NFLPA signed off on the punishments, and therefore the grievance procedure as outlined in the CBA does not apply here. It is a possible loophole, but the contention of Dallas and Washington is that the NFLPA was basically strong-armed by the league. The NFL held the threat of a reduction of the salary cap to $113 million over the NFLPA's head, knowing that NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith was facing reelection, and such a reduction would doom his chances. There certainly is more than a whiff of impropriety involved. There is also an argument that other teams, such as the Chicago Bears, did the same thing, but using a standard no one except Goodell and Mara seem to understand, only the Cowboys and Redskins were singled out for punishment.
At this point, it would seem logical to most that the arbitration would proceed, but nothing is a given in the legal system. To a certain extent, the move seems risky for the league, since it is very unlikely that Jones and Snyder would go quietly if the grievance is thrown out. The next move would seem to be Dallas and Washington filing suit in court over illegal collusion by the NFL, which opens up a much bigger can of worms, and could threaten the entire CBA. It was speculated in the comments of the PFT article that if this move by the league fails, they will make an attempt to settle this before the Special Master can get involved and make a binding ruling.
skinfangray says:Apr 20, 2012 12:07 PM
The longer this drags on, and the more that gets reported, the more the league is starting to look like an organized crime syndicate.
My guess is that sometime in the next 2 weeks, the league will try to offer a settlement to get this out of the press. The only question will be whether the Skins and Cowboys decide to accept the settlement or push for further compensation.
There was something else I noticed in general in perusing the comment thread. The overall opinion of NFL fans is overwhelmingly on the side of the Cowboys and Redskins in this. The very first comment up put it this (ungrammatical) way:
jiggy3198 says:Apr 20, 2012 11:14 AM
I know there is more to it than that. But how can you penalize a team after you signed off on their maneuvers and called it an uncapped year. I am definitely not a fan of the skins or the Cowboys because I can't stand her owners. But I do not understand how you penalize a team and uncapped year for spending too much Money.
Based on the "thumbs up/thumbs down" ratings on the thread, the opinion is running much better than 10 to 1 in favor of Dallas and Washington in this dispute. While the court of public opinion is not going to decide this, it seems a bit tone deaf for the NFL to take such an obviously unpopular stance. It is, after all, an organization that exists solely to make revenue by providing entertainment to fans, and the evidence seems clear that the fans think the league and Goodell are wrong about this.
While most people do expect the league to be on the losing end here, there is no way to be certain in legal proceedings how things come out. Hopefully, the fans have it right, and Dallas and Washington will at least get their cap money back.