Tuesday, October 31, 2000
Al Davis: Policy, Bowlen should be suspended
By John Clayton
When it comes to past violations of the salary cap, the NFL isn't a stern league.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue isn't like the NBA's David Stern, who extracted five first-rounders from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Tagliabue has taken the position he is powerless to do much more than take two future mid-round draft choices -- a fifth and a third in consecutive years -- from the 49ers and a total of $500,000 from former 49ers executives Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark.
Instead of imposing sanctions, Tagliabue is reaching a settlement on the punishment because the terms of the collective bargaining agreement force the NFL Players Association to sign off cap violations. It's the 49ers' get-out-of-cap-jail-almost-free card.
"The question to me is the integrity of the game on the field," Raiders owner Al Davis said. "These people broke the rules. They circumvented the cap. And they are owners and they cheated. Both Pat Bowlen and Carmen Policy. I said four months ago when I wrote the owners and I wrote the commissioner and I stood up in the meeting that I thought the penalty should be severe and immediately, prompt and severe. He put it off for a long way with hopes he could find a way out not to make it severe.
"A fine or just a draft choice was not enough for me. They should be suspended from football for one year. It's worse than gambling. It's worse than other things that other people are suspended for."
On Tuesday, there was no open discussion on the subject at the two-day owners meeting in Atlanta. Davis, Art Modell of the Cleveland Browns, Tom Benson of the New Orleans Saints, Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals and other owners are steaming over the subject.
In the mid-1990s, the 49ers were found guilty of manipulating the cap involving contracts of quarterback Steve Young and tight end Brent Jones. Davis feels that Bowlen, owner of the Broncos, manipulated the cap by not funding signing bonuses of quarterback John Elway and halfback Terrell Davis. Tagliabue, backed up by NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw, says the Broncos did not manipulate the cap in those two instances.
Regardless, terms of the settlement of the 49ers case are expected to be announced as early as next week.
"I've spoken to David Stern about it and it's quite fundamentally a different situation with the 49ers," Tagliabue said. "It's one of the things we are discussing with Gene Upshaw. We discussed ground rules for future cap circumvention. We have to get to the point where future first-round picks can be part of the discipline. That's not our current system. The draft pick discipline is limited even under the system we presented to the club on the Sept. 26 meeting. We hope to wrap up something with the players association."
The NFL's salary cap, which started in 1993, only allowed for a $250,000 maximum fine. No language was present about suspension of individuals involved or draft choice penalties.
"The real reason is that we set certain limits that we would allow for salary cap circumvention," Upshaw said. "Under our set of rules, the commissioner or the arbitrators don't have the leeway the commissioner has in the NBA. Whatever we do will be to go forward. From the time we get an agreement going forward, we are looking for stricter rules. We are not going to go back and accept the 49ers under the new set of rules. When we talked about this in 1993, we didn't think we'd talk about it in the year 2000."
Upshaw only allows the increase above $250,000 to an individual and a couple of throw-in draft choices if it's part of a settlement. If there is no settlement, the position is that Tagliabue will have to stick to a $250,000 fine and no draft choices.
"It should be substantial to make sure individuals and the clubs don't do this again," Benson said. "We don't need people cheating on their partners. It's very disappointing."
Benson thought Stern's discipline was pretty strong but he always thought it was pretty good.
"That was pretty strong, but the NFL has pretty much been a leader in everything," Benson said.
Upshaw said he would never allow a Timberwolves type of punishment because it decimates a team too much.
"What we are working toward is a settlement that resolves the issue," Upshaw said. "It's long overdue. I really do believe at this point in time, everybody has acted rationally. Everybody wants closure now."
But this wasn't the type of closure a lot of NFL owners like.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.