I've never been happier to admit I was wrong. Yesterday, the Redskins and Cowboys dropped their appeals of the NFL's salary cap penalties after being ruled against by rubber-stamp arbitrator Stephen Burbank, and I thought that was the end of it. The bad guys won. But the NFLPA had been saving its secret weapon for just this day. This morning, the players' union filed a lawsuit against the NFL, claiming the league owners had conspired to set a secret $123 million salary cap in 2010, a final "uncapped" year before the CBA expired.
No more NFL panels and NFL owners ruling on the NFL on alleged NFL wrongdoings. This one's going to federal court, and a court where Judge David Doty has repeatedly shown himself sympathetic to the players. The lawsuit is embedded below.
First off, if the NFLPA's claims are true, it would be unreal that the NFL thought it could get away with this. (Notwithstanding the fact that they have, so far.) A secret agreement forged in smoky back rooms with the express intent of keeping salaries down? That's the damned definition of collusion, and pretty much exactly what lost MLB three lawsuits in the 1980s.
What's even more mind-blowing is how nonchalantly public the NFL has been about its little "agreement." Today's lawsuit doesn't cite any independently discovered evidence, but rather the owners' and commissioner's own words. From ESPN.com:
While there was no salary cap in 2010 and no rule prohibited teams from spending whatever they wanted to spend that year, Mara said the issue "came up several times in our meetings," and that there was an agreement not to engage in the kind of behavior in which the Redskins and Cowboys behaved by dumping big cap hits into the uncapped year in order to save against the cap in future seasons.
"The question was, 'Did any teams gain a competitive advantage?'" Goodell said. "And that was the focus that we and the NFLPA had in reaching our agreement — making sure that no team had a long-term competitive advantage."
Other than the fact that it's his job and he's paid handsomely to do it, I don't know how spokesman Greg Aiello can say with a straight face today that "there was no agreement." There fucking was! Your own commissioner said so!
Aiello goes on to give a preview of how the NFL is going to fight this suit: by claiming the players' can't legally file it, because they already signed off on the Redskins' and Cowboys' salary cap penalties. We're forced to remind you of the circumstances surrounding that: The league came to the players and said we're going to lower the salary cap, unless you let us punish these teams and redistribute that money. And now I'm wondering, holy shit, did De Smith sign off on the punishment just so he could turn around and file this lawsuit? If so, brilliant.
I don't know how the NFL defends itself. The sheer fact that they enforced monetary penalties on the Redskins and Cowboys is proof that they violated some kind of rule. And since there was no cap in place, that rule must have been secret. Hence, collusion.
The NFLPA is seeking monetary compensation for the wages lost by teams self-imposing a cap, as well as punitive damages. The numbers they're throwing around would be in the billions. The uncapped year may end up costing the league after all.