Cowboys, Redskins must think they can win

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A couple of us tried to stop Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder a few minutes ago during a break in the NFL owners meetings to ask him about the salary cap penalties against his team and the Dallas Cowboys, and the comments New York Giants owner John Mara made about the issue Sunday. Snyder declined to comment, saying he might do so at some point this week, but not right now.

This follows similar no-comments Sunday from Redskins GM Bruce Allen and coach Mike Shanahan, as well as a subdued and minimal response to Mara by Cowboys player personnel director Stephen Jones. While Mara came out with an impassioned, defiant defense of the penalties, those being penalized are staying very quiet.

That tells me they think they can win.

If the Cowboys and the Redskins filed their grievance against the league and the NFLPA just for show -- just to make it look to their fans and the rest of the general public as if they're fighting back -- then they'd be out in front of this, barking about it as loudly as they wanted to bark. Instead, they're keeping quiet, in spite of ample opportunity to respond, as they prepare to make their case in front of an arbitrator.

That's the way you act if you have confidence that you're right and can win, as the Cowboys and Redskins do and should. The penalties came from the NFL Management Council -- a group headed by Mara and determined to act in what it believes is the best interest of the league. The NFL's owners decided, among themselves and in the absence of consultation with the players, to attempt to restrict spending during a 2010 season that did not have a salary cap. They are angry at the Redskins and Cowboys for not going along with that.

But arbitrator Stephen Burbank isn't going to be beholden to what Mara and the majority of the NFL's owners believe is in their best interest. He's most likely to rule in favor of common sense. And common sense is on the side of the Cowboys and Redskins here.

If this penalty was rooted in common sense, the NFL's owners would be mad at teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who spent well below the level where the salary floor would have been. If this were really an issue of future competitive balance, as the ruling establishing the punishments claims it is, then teams that didn't spend enough in 2010 would be punished as well. But the fact that they're only going after the two teams that overspent in 2010 -- or restructured contracts to take short-term hits in an effort to allow them to spend more down the road -- indicates that this is not a competitive balance issue. It's a salary restriction issue.

The NFL's owners don't care as much about competitive balance as they do about keeping player salaries at as reasonable a level as possible. Every team in the league could have behaved exactly as the Cowboys and Redskins did in 2010, but they'd all agreed not to. There was no rule prohibiting them from doing so -- they just all agreed. It was a sketchy arrangement that I'm frankly surprised Mara is so aggressively willing to defend. And the fact that he's the one talking freely about this while the Cowboys and Redskins are keeping mum indicates to me that they know they're right, and he knows he's wrong, and that everybody knows the ultimate decision might end up reflecting just that.