Upset about the NFL's decision to penalize them a combined $46 million against the salary cap over the next two years for the way they conducted business during the 2010 season, the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins have filed a grievance against the NFL and the NFLPA. The grievance was first reported by ProFootballTalk.com.
The grievance will be heard by system arbitrator Stephen Burbank, and it's unclear what possible outcomes exist. It's conceivable that Burbank could alter the amount of the penalties imposed, even if he doesn't eliminate them entirely. Or he could find that the league was justified in imposing the penalties, in which case the only remaining option for the Cowboys and Redskins would be an antitrust lawsuit, which is an extremely unlikely course of action for either Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder to pursue against their fellow owners.
Nearly two weeks ago, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the league had stripped the Redskins of $36 million and the Cowboys of $10 million in cap space (half of each penalty to be taken this year and half next year) for the manner in which they structured contracts in 2010, which was the year in which there was no salary cap. That year, sources have told me, the league instructed teams not to front-load contracts or restructure contracts in such a way as to take significant 2010 hits in order to provide themselves with salary-cap relief down the road. There was no actual rule in place that prohibited this, but the people to whom I've spoken say the league issued multiple warnings and that the Redskins and Cowboys were the most egregious violators of those warnings.
Some of the other owners were upset at the way the Redskins and Cowboys ignored the warnings, and they pushed the league to impose punishments against them. The NFL Management Council, which is chaired by New York Giants owner John Mara, was the entity that officially imposed the penalties. The reason the NFLPA is named in the grievance is that the NFLPA had to sign off on the penalties before the league would establish the 2012 salary cap. As we reported on this blog on March 12, the league was threatening to reduce the salary cap by several million dollars this year if the union did not agree to the penalties against the Redskins and Cowboys. The union agreed in exchange for the league keeping the salary cap roughly the same as it was last year and redistributing the penalty money among the other teams. Every NFL team besides the Redskins, Cowboys, Saints and Raiders gets an additional $1.6 million added to its salary cap over the next two years.
Again, it's unclear what the Cowboys and Redskins can hope to gain from this grievance, but the arbitrator's ruling will be binding according to league rules. The fact that they filed the grievance with the arbitrator indicates that they don't plan to pursue what would be a costly and potentially very ugly antitrust suit.