Cowboys/Redskins: Why the NFL got mad

Good and interesting insight in this story from Albert Breer on NFL.com about what, exactly, upset the other teams in the NFL about the way the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins spent their money in the uncapped 2010 season. The NFL stripped the Redskins of $36 million and the Cowboys of $10 million in salary cap space over the next two years, and those two teams have filed a grievance against the league and the NFLPA to dispute the punishment. But to this point, it has remained unclear what, exactly, the other teams felt they did wrong.

Albert writes that, by structuring the contracts of Miles Austin, Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall in such a way as to inflate 2010 base salaries and save money in future years, the Cowboys and Redskins inflated the franchise-player numbers for wide receivers, defensive tackles and cornerbacks. As a result, the Chargers had a hard time keeping Vincent Jackson, the Ravens were handcuffed by the contract they wanted to give Haloti Ngata and the Bengals were unable to keep Johnathan Joseph. For example:

Austin's contract was instrumental in pushing the receiver number from $9.5 million in 2010 to $11.3 million in 2011. San Diego franchised Vincent Jackson at the latter number in 2011. The leverage Jackson gained from having an $11.4 million tender made him difficult to sign to a long-term deal, and the resulting 2012 franchise figure -- by rule, 120 percent of the previous number, which came out to $13.7 million -- made it even harder to tag him again for the club.

So San Diego, which likely would've tagged Jackson again if the number had been more affordable, let Jackson walk. He signed a five-year, $55.6 million contract with the Buccaneers this offseason.

Many thanks to Albert for shining some light on what, exactly, the other owners found wrong with the way the Cowboys and the Redskins behaved in a year that was supposed to have no spending restrictions. The Cowboys and Redskins are arguing that there was no rule against what they did, and while that may be true, Giants owner and NFL management committee chairman John Mara said last month that all teams were warned that they could be punished if they did what these two teams did.

But for a couple of reasons, I continue to believe the teams that are complaining about this are full of it. First of all, commissioner Roger Goodell said at the owners' meetings last month that the reason for the penalties was that the teams in question had attempted to gain a competitive advantage in future years through their 2010 actions. But what Albert writes (on the league's own web site) is something quite different. Albert's reporting indicates that the reason the other teams got upset at the Cowboys and the Redskins was because their actions required them to spend more money than they wanted to spend to pay their own players. And if that's the case, then the artificial, unwritten guidelines the owners tried to put in place to control spending during the uncapped year were not an effort to maintain future competitive balance (as they have claimed publicly), but rather clearly an attempt to control player salaries.

Furthermore, it's important to remember that there never would have been an uncapped 2010 season -- or any reason to cut backroom deals to regulate spending therein -- if the owners hadn't decided to lock out the players in 2011 in an effort to restructure the CBA in a manner more favorable to themselves. Had they negotiated in good faith prior to 2010, they could have put a new CBA in place that would have imposed a salary cap and clear spending rules for that season. But because they had decided long before to impose a lockout strategy and not negotiate until they had the players backed up against the wall, the 2010 season arrived without a salary cap, as the prior CBA said it must if it were to be the final league year.

The entire concept of the uncapped 2010 season was an avoidable mess of the owners' own making. The lockout was an unnecessary act of pure greed, as evidenced by a new CBA that solved almost none of the competitive-balance issues raised by small-market owners. And the idea that the teams could whisper together behind closed doors about acting as though there was a cap when there wasn't and expect every owner to go along with the plan is (and always was) utterly foolish. The salary cap penalties against the Cowboys and Redskins are part of the fallout from the clumsy way in which the NFL's owners executed their negotiating strategy, and I continue to see no common-sense reason why those teams shouldn't expect to get some sort of restitution from the arbitrator.