First Cowboys/Redskins hearing set for May

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.