MINNEAPOLIS -- In probably his last NFL-related ruling, U.S. District Judge David Doty sided with the league this time.
The NFL Players Association's claim of collusion by league owners was rejected on Monday by Doty, who has previously sided with the players during more than two decades of judging NFL labor matters. The league lost enough key decisions under Doty's jurisdiction that it twice tried to have him removed from his role as the sport's legal referee, alleging impartiality.
But as Doty heard arguments in his Minneapolis federal courtroom in September, the league expressed no concern with the judge and confidence it would win this case. Doty even asked attorneys during the hearing if they had a problem with his presence in the process.
That faith was rewarded. NFL spokesman Greg Aielllo said Doty's decision "speaks for itself."
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said the players respect Doty's order, but "it does not mean that the owners didn't collude." Atallah said the union will "pursue the facts and the law to protect players regardless of any outcome" and said it will "consider any and all other options in light of this decision."
The players filed their lawsuit in May, claiming the NFL imposed a secret salary cap during the uncapped 2010 season that cost the players at least $1 billion. Four teams were punished for overspending and undermining competitive balance, with Dallas and Washington hit most severely with future-cap reductions. The union alleged owners conspired to set a covert cap to hold down salaries in 2010, but the league denied doing so.
The NFL also argued the collusion claim was a moot point, citing a clause in the current collective bargaining agreement in which the players relinquished the right to sue and all pending claims related to the 1993 Reggie White settlement were thrown out. They sought at least $4 billion in damages, but Doty wrote in his ruling that because the union "released the claims it attempts to assert" he is "without jurisdiction" to further enforce the White settlement. That's the class-action lawsuit that paved the way for the modern unrestricted free agency system and served as the backbone of the previous CBA.
Because Doty oversaw that case, he stayed in the role until the new CBA was reached in August 2011, trumping the prior agreement. But the players, in their collusion claim, asked to reopen the White settlement because their allegation stemmed from 2010, before the lockout.
In March 2011, Doty issued a key order favoring the players in a dispute over $4 billion in television revenue they contended the league held back to survive a long lockout. The claim was ultimately resolved as part of the new CBA.
Doty also ruled in 2008 that Michael Vick could keep more than $16 million in signing bonus money that the Atlanta Falcons sought to recover after the quarterback pleaded guilty to dogfighting charges.