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A Closer Look At The NFLPA Lawsuit

DeMaurice Smith,  executive director of the National Football League Players' Association, explains to reporters about his sudden discovery of a sense of right and wrong.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players' Association, explains to reporters about his sudden discovery of a sense of right and wrong.

Roger Goodell must sometimes feel like the lead in a slasher flick. You know, he keeps thinking he has finally slain the monster that keeps trying to kill him, but every time he thinks it is over with, that monster is rising up out of the darkness and coming at him again.

On Tuesday, Roger and his minions, like John Mara, were celebrating the smackdown they gave the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins by successfully convincing Special Master Stephen Burbank that the teams had no grounds for filing a grievance under the CBA. As best I can figure out, they based this on the fact that the grievance process is to resolve issues between the league and the players, and the dispute over the salary cap cuts was strictly between two wealthy team owners and all the other wealthy team owners. Burbank accepted this, and is now no longer involved, which means I can quit wondering if the working uniform for a Special Master involves leather and whips.

Related: Dallas Cowboys Have A Bad Day

And on Wednesday, the NFL Players Association filed a lawsuit accusing the league of illegal collusion concerning the 2010 season and the now infamous warnings to teams not to exceed the "spirit" of the salary cap.

I'm sure at some point today, Goodell must have been thinking to himself, "Why won't it just die?"

If you are not afraid of the most frightening creatures on earth - lawyers - take the jump and read more.

The lawsuit was apparently prepared in advance while the NFLPA waited for the outcome of the arbitration hearing. The early betting seems to be that this lawsuit will suffer the same fate as the failed attempt by Jerry Jones and Dan Synder to take on the league, due to some wording in the CBA and previous agreements that indicate that the Players Association signed away their rights to file any more lawsuits against the NFL. The rather original argument that the NFLPA is putting forward is that when they signed away those rights, they were unaware of the dastardly and illegal collusion going on during the "uncapped" 2010 season.

Although I am speculating on this a bit, I feel that this is partly an attempt by DeMaurice Smith, the Executive Director of the NFLPA, to stand up and show that he does, indeed, have a spine after the way the league rolled him. After signing off on the salary cap punishment, he apparently began to hear from the membership that they felt this was unjust and basically unfair to the players, since it endorsed an action clearly intended to keep spending on salaries down.

It would be very interesting to find out just when Smith and his lawyers decided to prepare this lawsuit. The assumption is that it would have been after they started paying attention to what a certain arrogant, bombastic, and possibly purely evil owner was saying (more about that later), but there is at least a possibility that this was a sort of trap laid for the league, since the arbitration hearings were going to bring some things out in the open that the league had successfully hidden with past settlements and the new CBA. The NFLPA is looking for up to $3 billion in real and punitive damages. That is certainly enough money to inspire a bit of Machiavellian plotting.

However, that is not something us poor peons are every likely to find out. What is made clear, in the wording of the actual lawsuit, is that the case is built largely on the words of one John Mara.

Regardless of how this all comes out, I will freely admit to a bit of wicked glee at seeing his words thrown right back in his face. I remember how angry I was about some of the things he said, and to see the union beating him and the NFL as a whole over the head with those very statements is almost fun. Here are a couple of excerpts from the lawsuit.

22. Through media reports, the NFLPA and the players first learned of the NFL's and the Owners' Collusive Agreement to impose a secret 2010 salary cap that - in the words of John Mara - "came up several times in [ownership-level] meetings" before the 2010 League Year. (D. Graziano, Mara: Redskins, Cowboys got off "lucky," ESPN NFC East Blog (Mar. 25, 2012); see also, e.g., M. Florio, NFL warned teams "at least six times" about not dumping salary in uncapped year, NBC ProFootballTalk (Mar. 12, 2012) ("teams were told ‘at least six times' during ownership-level meetings").)

23. According to a report published on the NFL's own website on March 25, 2012, Mara, in discussing the NFL's and the Owners' Collusive Agreement, referred to the SSA's requirement that the Final League Year be an Uncapped Year as a mere "oneyear loophole." (Giants owner Mara: Cap penalties could have been worse, (Mar. 25, 2012).)

It is amusing that the very articles that we were quoting and discussing with such heat here at BTB are the same ones cited in the lawsuit as proof that the league was engaged in illegal activity. It is also ironic that the justification the league put forward for its salary cap punishment is the basis of this lawsuit.

Although my cynical nature does doubt that this was really the shock to the NFLPA that they claim it was, it is true that many of these details were only brought out in public after the agreement had been signed between the NFLPA and the NFL Management Council, without the participation of Dallas or Washington. Then, as the league put out its justification of why it was stripping cap money from the teams, it became obvious to almost anyone that this was a case of collusion. The league apparently felt that it had immunized itself from further charges of collusion through the CBA and the earlier agreements with the players.

This may well be true - but the joker in the deck, and the thing that may be keeping Goodell and his cabal of tightwad owners awake at night, is that this is going to be decided on by Judge David Doty. Doty has a barely disguised contempt for the NFL owners, and he may find a way to proceed with this lawsuit. It does seem unlikely, according to the commentary on this from people who are a lot smarter about the law than I am, but certainly stranger things have happened in courts.

Sadly, this really does nothing to help the Cowboys with the salary cap issue. There is no reason for the league to want to drop the cuts here, since the lawsuit is based on the reason for the cuts, not whether they were fair to the teams or not, and the damages are being sought for the benefit of the players, not the two teams that got slapped by the league. If things do proceed, then it could wind up hurting the Cowboys, along with the rest of the league, if they have to come up with a big cash settlement. And the very structure of the NFL could be threatened in this lawsuit. This is a dangerous thing, if the judge does find a crack to force his way in with this.

But one thing is for certain: The NFLPA has shown, if belatedly, that they are really unhappy about being out-manuevered by the league, which is the interpretation many put on the CBA. This is likely to come back to haunt the owners in the future, even if this dies right where it is. And it will be interesting to see if the players remember that it was paying the players that got the Cowboys and Redskins in trouble in the first place.

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