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Friday, March 16, 2012
Cowboys have little recourse for cap penalty

By Dan Graziano

Look, I'd love to keep hammering the NFL for its ridiculous decision earlier this week to strip the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys of $36 million and $10 million, respectively, in cap room over the next two years. The league deserves to be hammered, and almost everyone else (just as the league hoped they would) is ignoring the story in favor of free agency. But the fact is that there is almost nothing the Redskins or Cowboys can do about this, and the few avenues available to them are avenues they're extremely unlikely to pursue.

When the story broke Monday, my first thought, as I wrote at the time, was that the owners appeared to have engaged in collusion by conspiring to limit spending in the uncapped 2010 season and that the Cowboys and Redskins were being punished for not going along with that plan. So I reached out to ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson and asked him if I was on the right track. Here's his response:
The NFL collusion clause (Article 17, P. 119) in the new CBA is very narrow in its definition of collusion.  It applies only to certain contract procedures and any agreement among owners that would restrict the offers made to players.  It is limited to multi-team decisions on whether to negotiate with a particular player, whether to submit an offer sheet, whether to offer a contract, and whether to include a right of first refusal. It is nothing like the broad anti-collusion clause that became famous in MLB. There is nothing in the NFL definition of collusion that applies to the Dallas and Washington frontloading of contracts.  What the league did certainly sounds like what we normally think of as collusion, but it does not appear to violate anything in the CBA. If Dallas or Washington want to do something about the penalties, they would be forced to rely on an antitrust action, an enormous undertaking. It would be similar to the numerous cases that Al Davis filed over the years. I doubt that either Jones or Snyder would be willing to undertake so massive an effort.

I share his doubt. The idea of Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder bringing an antitrust suit against the other members of a cartel of which they themselves are members is farfetched to say the least. I know that the Redskins, at least, have made inquiries about how they can fight these penalties, but the odds are that nothing ends up happening on that front.

The NFLPA isn't going to be any help either. They agreed as part of the Brady settlement at the end of the lockout to drop all pending litigation against the league, including the collusion charges they were intending to pursue. And while they could technically revisit those charges in light of the stunning new evidence the league has presented that it did, in fact, engage in collusive behavior during the uncapped year, don't hold your breath. The NFLPA (as we also reported Monday) agreed to these penalties last weekend in a settlement after the league threatened to cut this year's salary cap by $4 million or $5 million per team. It's highly doubtful the union, which was blindsided by this whole thing, is eager to open those negotiations back up.

The NFL is remorseless in its arrogance and its hypocrisy. It doesn't believe it has to answer to anyone. The lockout (which was clearly a sham, since we now know the league was instructing teams on how to behave while awaiting what it considered an inevitable solution) was more proof of that than anyone should ever need. This latest incident is just a far more narrowly focused example of the same thing. The Cowboys and the Redskins did something the rest of the owners didn't like, so the rest of the owners ganged up on them and took away some of their money. Mob justice, sanctioned by the commissioner. It's not right. It's not fair. But in the end, there's almost nothing the Cowboys and Redskins can do about it.