Despite the rhetoric of last summer promising “ten years of labor peace” the NFL and the NFLPA are once again at war. After a brief respite following the execution of the new CBA on August 4, 2011, tensions between the two sides began building (and some might say not so slowly). Recent issues the parties have clashed on include the implementation of HGH testing, penalties for the Saint’s alleged pay-to-injure bounty program and mandating the use of knee and thigh padding.
Wednesday morning’s filing of a lawsuit by the NFLPA charging the NFL, its teams and their owners with collusion during the 2010 NFL season moved the battle from the executive clubhouses to the courthouse.
The complaint details a conspiracy to violate the anti-collusion and anti-circumvention provisions in the White Settlement Agreement (SSA) by “imposing a secret $123 million per-Club salary cap for that uncapped 2010 season.”
In March 2012, it was disclosed that the Redskins spent nearly $103 million over the “cap” while the Cowboys exceeded it by nearly $53 million; the Oakland Raiders ($42 million) and New Orleans Saints ($36 million) were also cited for violating the artificial cap but were subject to minor cap consequences. The Cowboys and Redskins had their salary cap lowered by a total of $46 million over the 2012 and 2013 NFL seasons, with that sum allocated to the other 28 teams.
On a conference call with members of the media on Wednesday, Jeffrey Kessler, the NFLPA’s lead outside counsel said, “The union did not learn of collusion by NFL owners and teams until on or about March 12, when league officials publicly all but admitted to colluding as evidenced by various media reports.”
Kessler also clarified that the NFLPA had no role in determining the salary cap penalties that were imposed on the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys and that it was not aware that collusion had taken place when those two teams were issued salary cap reductions by the NFL.
The NFL has denied the allegations of collusion and issued a statement saying that, “The filing of these claims is prohibited by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and separately..more by an agreement signed by the players’ attorneys last August. The claims have absolutely no merit and we fully expect them to be dismissed. On multiple occasions, the players and their representatives specifically dismissed all claims, known or unknown, whether pending or not, regarding alleged violations of the 2006 CBA and the related settlement agreement.”
In its complaint, the union cites a statement from New York Giants owner John Mara as evidence of the collusion when he said: “What they (the Cowboys and Redskins) did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap. They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole and, quite frankly, I think they’re lucky they didn’t lose draft picks.
“They attempted to take advantage of it knowing full well there would be consequences. When you look at the overall scope of what they did, they were trying to take advantage and they were told not to.”
The league in its statement responded by saying, “There was no collusion. There was no agreement. These claims [by the NFLPA] are totally unfounded.
The filing was made with the United States District Court of Minnesota where it will be heard by Judge David Doty. Last year Doty’s ruling on the distribution of television revenues helped shift the tide of the lockout negotiations. His ruling reversed a lower court’s decisions which would have granted NFL owners access to $4 billion in television revenues during the lockout.
More details of the NFLPA conference call are found here.