The appeal of NFL-imposed cap reductions to the Washington Redskins ($36 million) and Dallas Cowboys ($10 million) has ended. Arbitrator Stephen Burbank dismissed their claims today -- for reasons described below -- and the teams have raised the white flag, issuing a joint statement accepting the decision. Interestingly, the two NFL owners who enjoy a good fight the most -- Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder -- have decided to go quietly here, choosing to use this as a chip for political capital down the road.
The NFL claimed the teams gained competitive advantage by maneuvering cap money into the uncapped 2010 year, clearing the deck for future spending without encumbrances from bloated contracts of Albert Haynesworth, DeAngelo Hall, Miles Austin and others. Were the teams given a chance to argue, they would have emphasized that there were no written warnings against their conduct, and that the contracts were approved upon submission to the NFL management council (NFLMC). However, they will have no such chance, as the case was dismissed.
Burbank rejected the teams’ arguments that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was not authorized to act on behalf of the NFLMC, the unit of the NFL that gave strident verbal warnings about their cap maneuvers and suggested discipline. Burbank intimated -- but did not expressly hold -- that the articles and bylaws of the NFLMC contemplate the commissioner acting as an agent for them. Thus, the commissioner’s powers may extend past the playing field into the contract and cap decisions made by teams and their ownership.
NFLPA on board
The March 11 letter announcing the reduction (reallocation letter) was executed by both Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith. Smith was agreeable as long as league-wide cap room remained the same, with the $46 million reallocated to the other 28 teams (the Saints and Raiders were denied reallocation because of similar, but lesser violations). The union’s buy-in -- forged with assurances from the NFL that the team cap number in 2012 would not dip below that of 2011 -- was a factor in Burbank’s dismissal.
Teams on board
With the NFLPA signing off, the March 27 resolution by 29 NFL teams (the Bucs abstained) to ratify the reallocation letter became, in Burbank’s eyes, a valid amendment to the collective bargaining agreement. Therefore, the Cowboys’ and Redskins’ claims of unilateral changes in the cap and collusion by other teams were denied. The key line from the decision reads in part: “the March 27th Resolution effectively ratified the Reallocation Letter, which therefore is binding on the Redskins and Cowboys as an amendment to the CBA.”
Thus, Burbank essentially gave his blessing to two agreements that served to bind and penalize the Redskins and Cowboys without them being a party to either. Commissioner power is strengthened again, 28 teams have additional cap room, and the NFLPA protects its players’ cap room league-wide. Everyone is satisfied except, of course, those two owners.
Something tells me that -- although they are accepting the decision -- they won’t soon forget this episode.