Dallas Cowboys: stephen burbank

Jerry Jones will let cap ruling go

May, 30, 2012
5/30/12
5:26
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jerry Jones sued the NFL in the 1990s. He will not do so again in 2012.

Last week, special master Stephen Burbank upheld the NFL’s decision to dock the Dallas Cowboys $10 million in salary cap space and the Washington Redskins $36 million for how the teams paid out and restructured contracts in 2010.

A day after Burbank’s ruling, the NFL Players Association filed suit against the league claiming collusion took place in 2010.

“We honor that ruling and we were very emphatic that there was no deal among the owners about anything to do with the cap and that was our position,” Jones said during Wednesday’s organized team activity at Cowboys Stadium. “We honor the arbitrator’s ruling. The ruling is that the place to hear this was not in his jurisdiction, the place to hear it was over in federal court, which we’re not interested in getting involved in that.”

Why?

“I just don’t want to,” Jones said.

In 1996, Jones filed a countersuit for $750 million against the NFL after the league alleged Jones violated the sponsorship rules with deals at Texas Stadium with non-NFL sponsors. Eventually both sides agreed to drop the suits.

A day after the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys saw their complaint over a combined $46 million in salary-cap penalties dismissed by an arbitrator, one of the entities against whom that claim was field has decided not to let the matter rest. The NFLPA has filed a federal lawsuit against the NFL alleging that the owners' spending practices in the uncapped 2010 season amounted to collusion. The suit claims the owners established a "secret $123 million salary cap" for that season and that the Cowboys, Redskins, Saints and Raiders "did not fully abide by secret NFL rules to suppress player salaries."

Here's my attempt to answer a few of the more popular questions I'm getting on this:

Q: Why is the union doing this now? Didn't they sign off on the cap penalties against the Redskins and Cowboys when the league decided to impose them?

A: Technically, yes, but they weren't happy about it. The NFLPA believes the NFL strong-armed them into agreeing to those penalties by threatening to reduce the 2012 salary cap by about $7 million per team if they did not agree. Faced with that alternative, the union believes it chose the lesser of two evils by agreeing that two teams lose $46 million over the next two years (and have that money redistributed to the other teams) rather than have more than $220 million taken out of the overall pool, which is what a $7 million-per-team cap reduction would have meant. As I've written several times, this was not a shining moment for the union, and they're angry that the NFL forced them into that decision. This may well be revenge for that tactic.

Q: Can they win?

A: I don't think so, since as a condition of the end of the lockout last year, the players agreed to drop all pending litigation against the league, and the league claims the agreement clearly covered litigation for offenses both "known and unknown." The union will argue that the impositions of the penalties against the Redskins and Cowboys brought previously unknown information to light, and that they never agreed not to sue over this specific behavior. But if that "known and unknown" clause is legit, it's hard to see how they have a case. One point to note, however: This suit has been filed in the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, under the jurisdiction of Judge David Doty, who has leaned so heavily in favor of the players in past disputes that the owners made it a point to remove arbitration matters from his jurisdiction in the new collective bargaining agreement. It was arbitrator Stephen Burbank, historically more friendly to the owners, who threw out the Redskins' and Cowboys' complaint Tuesday.

Q: Will this help the Redskins and Cowboys get their money back?

A: I can't imagine how. The teams agreed to abide by Burbank's ruling Tuesday, and if the union were to succeed here, the players would be awarded damages. It's possible, if it's determined that there was collusion and the Redskins and Cowboys did not engage in it, that those two teams could be exempted somehow from having to pay the damages. But I don't see how they get their cap money back as a result of this.

I'll keep on top of this as far as it affects the division, but as you can see by the last answer there, the part about which most Redskins and Cowboys fans care is almost certainly settled. As always, I welcome any questions you have on this on Twitter, in the mailbag or in the weekly chat, and I'll do the best I can to help you understand it as far as I do myself.

'See no evil, hear no evil' NFL justice

May, 22, 2012
5/22/12
3:15
PM ET
I don't know. Maybe this is for the best.

The effort by the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins to recover a combined $46 million in salary-cap penalties won't even get off the ground. Stephen Burbank, the NFL's independent arbitrator, granted the league's request to dismiss the complaint. And the teams released a joint statement saying they would respect the decision, so that's that. The Redskins lost a total of $36 million and the Cowboys $10 million in cap room over the next two seasons, and they're just going to have to deal with it because it's what the other NFL owners think is fair and the arbitrator found their argument that the complaint not be heard to be a persuasive one.

There's no way that any sensible, thinking person who's not an NFL owner can honestly feel that the league acted justly in penalizing the Cowboys and the Redskins for spending their money and structuring their contracts the way they did during the uncapped 2010 season. But it doesn't matter, because the NFL plays by its own rules and no one else's, and that's the lesson for today.

But in the end, maybe it's for the best. Maybe Burbank is doing everyone a favor. There's no one on any side of this dispute who can feel good about the way they've conducted themselves. It's a badge of shame for the league and the union, and it's not even really a badge of honor for the two aggrieved parties. So maybe, even though it's not fair, Burbank is being nice by telling everyone to just stop.

This all started because NFL owners agreed, in secret, to limit spending in 2010 even though there was no cap -- to continue to structure contracts as though there were a cap, because the lockout they were about to impose was basically a thinly veiled attempt at union-busting. They knew all along they'd ultimately have a new agreement with a new cap and they didn't want anyone to have gamed the system to their advantage in the meantime. In the real world, we call this collusion -- all of the business owners in a given industry agreeing among themselves to impose restrictions on wages. But in the NFL, it's OK, because the collective bargaining agreement the owners have with the players spells out which types of collusion are allowed and which aren't.

The Redskins and Cowboys got in trouble because they didn't go along with this game, instead using the lack of a salary cap in 2010 to structure contracts in such a way as to spare themselves from salary-cap trouble in future years. The sense is that many, if not all, teams did this, and that the Redskins and Cowboys just did it to such an egregious extent that some of the other owners insisted they be punished. They'd been warned, after all, that anyone who failed to honor the secret agreement discussed in the last paragraph would be punished. Giants owner John Mara, the chairman of the management council, said at the owners meetings in March that the Cowboys and Redskins got off easy -- that they were lucky they didn't lose draft picks.

Which is baloney, of course, because you can't break rules when there aren't any. But let's not go too far in letting our hearts break for Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder, who weren't exactly acting on charitable impulses here. They didn't break with the rest of the owners because they felt the policy was unfair to players. They did it because they thought it would give them an advantage, and that they could get away with it.

And then there's the NFLPA, for which this is anything but a shining moment. The players' union, which should be fighting such collusive behavior, instead capitulated and agreed to the sanctions against the Redskins and Cowboys because the owners threatened to reduce this year's salary cap if they did not. The union believes that was the right decision for its membership, and in the end it may well have been. But it is not a decision of which the union can be proud, and the fact the NFLPA allowed itself to be outmaneuvered by the league on this matter likely contributed to Burbank's decision to dismiss the complaint. The league's argument was based, largely, on the fact the sanctions were agreed upon by the league and the union. And jeez, if those two agree on something, how can it not be OK? Right?

It's all just plain ridiculous, the whole thing, and it's probably for the best that it all goes away. Everybody associated with it should be ashamed of themselves (though, sadly, no one seems to be). And while it's unfair that only the Cowboys and Redskins suffer for the arrogance of a group of people who continue to play its paying customers for willing patsies, the truly sad part is that anyone in this situation gets to walk away feeling as though he was in the right.
GRAPEVINE, Texas – Jerry Jones believes his franchise is well prepared for the first step in the arbitration process for the salary-cap sanctions leveled against the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins by the NFL management council.

The first hearing is Thursday in front of arbitrator Stephen Burbank, who will determine whether the NFL and NFLPA had the authority to impose the sanctions against the Cowboys and Redskins. If Burbank rules in favor of the teams, a second hearing would be scheduled to determine how the $10 million stripped from the Cowboys’ salary cap and $36 million stripped from the Redskins’ salary cap over a two-year period should be handled.

“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.”

The teams opted to have half of the penalties assessed this offseason, costing the Cowboys $5 million and the Redskins $18 million in salary-cap space during this free agency period. Jones, whose team signed seven free agents from other teams, said the penalty did not prevent the Cowboys from making any acquisitions they would have otherwise but could create future complications.

“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 was very meaningful to us because we are usually always looking for room under our cap, so it was very meaningful for us to have to make that adjustment. But I can tell you that as we stand here right now, we didn’t not do anything that we wanted to do.

“What we’ve had to do though, because they’ve reduced the amount of dollars that we had this year, we’ve had to go into the future and get some of those dollars that we wouldn’t have had to do if we had not had to make those adjustments. That’ll just create a challenge for us in the future.”

First Cowboys/Redskins hearing set for May

April, 18, 2012
4/18/12
10:35
AM ET
Hey, so I sort of have an answer for those of you who keep asking when the arbitration hearing will be on the issue of the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins and the salary-cap sanctions leveled against them by the NFL management council. The hearing, according to a source close to the situation, is going to be sometime in May, though there's no firm date set and it's only a first hearing -- not the one for which you're all so eager.

My source tells me this first hearing, in front of arbitrator Stephen Burbank, will be solely for the purpose of determining whether the NFL and the NFLPA had the authority to impose the sanctions against the Cowboys and the Redskins. There will be no determination made at the first hearing on how much, if any, money the teams get back. If Burbank finds that the league and the union did not have the authority to strip the Redskins of $36 million and the Cowboys of $10 million in cap room over the next two years, then a second hearing will be scheduled to determine how to make those teams whole. If he finds that the league and the union did have such authority, then it's possible a second hearing would be scheduled to rule on whether the punishments were appropriate or should be adjusted.

Remember, the Redskins and Cowboys filed the grievance last month against the league, the management council and the NFLPA, which signed off on the sanctions as part of an arrangement in which the league agreed not to reduce this year's salary cap. The Redskins lost $18 million in cap space this year and next year, and the Cowboys lost $5 million in cap space this year and next year because the other owners didn't like the way they structured certain contracts during the uncapped 2010 season. Giants owner John Mara, the chairman of the NFL management council, said last month at the owners meetings that the punishments were justified and in fact that he believed the Redskins and Cowboys were "lucky they didn't lose draft picks" as a result of their violating a secret verbal agreement among teams to watch spending during that uncapped year.

The Redskins and Cowboys contend they did nothing wrong, that the contracts were all approved by the league and should be allowed to stand. They also believe the league acted unfairly in imposing the penalties on the day before the start of free agency without prior warning. All of this will surely be raised in front of Burbank at the hearing in May, though that won't be the end of this matter regardless of how it comes out.

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