Right now, fans of the Dallas Cowboys are riding a wave of optimism after getting the first reviews on the new rookies and some excited discussion of what is happening with the team. But May 10th marks a day when the team takes on Roger Goodell and John Mara again. The first hearing is set that day for the arbitration of the grievance that the Cowboys and the Washington Redskins filed over the salary cap penalties levied against them over the uncapped 2010 season.
Dallas and Washington have, to a large degree, made a successful adjustment to what is widely perceived to be an unjust and illogical punishment for contracts they negotiated with players that adhered to all the legal rules and were approved by the league. The Redskins mortgaged their future to sign Robert Griffin III, their quarterback of the future, and the Cowboys had the most active free agency signing period in their history, followed by a blockbuster draft day trade to acquire Morris Claiborne, the best defensive player in the 2012 class. Dallas followed that move with some very interesting and encouraging draft selections plus UDFA acquisitions that brought in some talent and some players that were coveted by other teams.
But $5 million is $5 million, and the team would like to use that money this year, or at least get it back for the future. The fact that John Mara, owner of the New York Giants, was the apparent prime mover behind a punishment that was only levied against two of his division rivals is in itself enough to raise some questions about the real objective here. So Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is girding his loins to take on the NFL over the issue.
Some of what JJ and the media have to say after the jump.
The first thing to be decided is whether the grievance filed by Dallas and Washington will be heard or not under the provisions of the CBA. The NFL has filed a motion that there are no grounds for the grievance because the NFLPA
weasled signed off on the penalties. Of course, this happened after the league informed the NFLPA that the salary cap was likely to be reduced under the new CBA, but that they might find a way around that little problem if NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, who just happened to be facing re-election, went along with the penalties. But that is a subject for the arbitration, if it does proceed.
Jerry Jones is ready for the fight.
Jones feels the Cowboys did nothing wrong and will continue the fight to get some salary cap space for this future since this year is essentially lost.
The next phase of the appeal by the Cowboys and Redskins, who were stripped of $36 million for same violation, occurs Thursday when they face off before a special arbitrator to determine if the grievance should proceed.
If the arbitrator, Stephen Burbank of the University of Pennsylvania, finds that the teams cannot file a grievance, then things will be over in this venue, and the teams would have to decide whether to file suit in court. This would open up the question of whether the league was trying to participate in collusion, which would be in violation of federal labor law, and does run the risk of spiraling out of control for the NFL. However, Jerry indicates that he would expect the arbitration to continue.
"I can't and won't address the specifics and certainly wouldn't dare try to predict what the resolution will be," Jones said Wednesday at the Cowboys' annual team golf outing. "I'm glad we've got an opportunity to present it under the labor agreement to a mediator, and that's what tomorrow is all about. ... It won't resolve the issue, but it will help decide whether or not we can go before a mediator."
The league leveled the sanctions after it ruled that the Cowboys and Redskins violated the spirit of the uncapped 2010 season with front-loaded contracts for Dallas receiver Miles Austin and ex-Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Jones said the Cowboys' legal team has filed a "very good brief" and pointed out once again that the contracts were approved by the league office.
"I know we followed the rules," Jones said. "The league has not said that we did not follow the rules. Those were approved contracts, but this is a complicated issue. Again, that's about all I need to be saying about it and want to say about it."
If Burbank does rule that the teams can file for the arbitration, the actual hearing on whether the penalties were justified will come later, so this is really just the beginning. That is one reason why the focus is on getting some redress for this in the future. Even if things go in favor of the Cowboys and Redskins, it may happen too late to really affect the 2012 season.
Fortunately for Dallas fans, the team has done what seems to be an excellent job of handling the penalty.
Even if the teams get back the cap money, it may be too late to help in 2012, as the top free agents are already off the market. Still, the Cowboys signed more veterans in 2012 than in the history of the current free agency system.
"Certainly we've been able to adjust," Jones said. "It was a big surprise to us to have that downward adjustment in our cap. It's very meaningful to us because we usually always are looking for room under the cap . . . but, I can tell you that as we stand here right now, we didn't not to anything that we wanted to do.
"What we've had to do, though, because they've reduced the amount of dollars we had this year, we had to go into the future and get some of those dollars that we wouldn't have had to do if we wouldn't have had that adjustment. That'll just create a challenge for us in the future."
However the first hearing turns out, there will be more to this story. And personally, I think winning this season would be the best revenge.