How could the arbitrator rule against the Redskins when the collusion was so obvious?

gavel

The Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys lost their arbitration case because the loss of their combined $46 million of salary cap was written into the Collective Bargaining Agreement itself.

Mmm, WHAT?

That was the case made by the NFL when it asked the arbitrator, University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Stephen Burbank, to dismiss the Redskins-Cowboys appeal. Prof. Burbank looked at the documents and agreed with the league. Voila! Case dismissed.

That’s everything you need to know.

We read Burbank’s findings (H/T Rich Campbell, Washington Times) so that you would not have to. Like any legal document, it is replete with multi-syllable words and jargon. We give you a sports fan’s superficial summary below, but first some key dates.

May 2008 – NFL owners chose to opt out of the 1993 Collective Bargaining Agreement that was extended in 2006.

March 2011 – The NFL Players’ Association decertified as a union in advance of the owners’ lockout of players.

July-August 2011 – Owners and players resolve their differences. Players recertify the NFL PA as a union and ratify a new CBA. Training camps open for the 2011 season.

March 2012 – NFL owners “reallocate” $46 million of salary cap from the Redskins and Cowboys for failure to follow guidelines on treatment of player salaries during the 2010 no cap year.

The Redskins and Cowboys, working together (I found it odd to write that), challenged the sanction as a violation of the CBA’s salary cap terms. The Agreement spells out in painful detail how salary caps are calculated. It specifies that the cap it to be applied equitably to all teams. Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones both pointed out that the offending behavior was approved by the NFL Management Council when they occurred and that the owners colluded on the matter.

The league presented two documents to the arbitrator: a March 11, 2012 “reallocation letter” signed by the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL PA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and Resolution MC-3 adopted on March 27, 2012 that directed the Management Council to confirm that the March 11 reallocation letter was valid and ratified the reallocation as an amendment to the CBA itself.

The resolution passed by a vote of 29 in favor, 2 (Redskins and Cowboys) against and one abstain.

The arbitrator wrote that the teams’ case “must fail as a matter of law” if the March 11 reallocation letter or the March 27 Resolution were found to be valid. Burbank then found that they were indeed valid.

Redskins fans’ sense of outrage stemmed from the appearance of collusion by the owners. As we (should have) learned from the lockout, both case law and federal labor law changes the treatment of collusion in labor deals between owners and unionized workers.

The definition of collusion is written in the CBA. The clubs raised that point. The arbitrator ruled that any collusion by owners, if it occurred, would have violated the 2006 CBA Extension that no longer applies. The current CBA shields the owners from collusion. Thus, the teams may not go down that path to make their case.

After thoughts

Roger Goodell is a very sharp lawyer. The NFL is full of very sharp lawyers. Whether it’s salary cap sanctions, player suspensions for bounties or violations of the personal conduct clause, those guys don’t move unless they are on a solid legal footing. I am guessing that Jonathan Vilma’s lawsuit for defamation is more for public consumption than for release of documents. This is one of those be careful what you wish for moments. Vilma may merely want to know who ratted him out. He ought not to want Goodell to release the goods. He surely has them.

Our old friend David Donovan represented the Redskins and the Cowboys. Donovan represented Snyder in infamous lawsuits against grandma and against the Washington City Paper.

The Redskins took a huge p.r. hit for suing elderly season ticket holders fallen on hard times. Donovan took the arrows for Snyder on that one. Snyder named him team COO in gratitude. Donovan could not talk Snyder out of an ill-considered defamation suit against the City Paper over a story that cataloged Snyder’s blunders as team owner and business executive. It made Snyder even more of a laughing stock, especially after he admitted that he never read the story.

Snyder wisely dropped the suit before the 2011 season. Donovan moved on to his old law firm Wilmer-Hale, one of Washington, DC’s high power law firms.

Covington & Burling, another of Washington’s high voltage law firms represented the NFL. This case was a battle giants. Offices of both Covington & Burling and Wilmer-Hale are within blocks of the White House. I have a mental picture of the combatants meeting for drinks after the hearing. It’s how it’s done with the DC elites.

The Redskins’ case was always low odds, as Burbank’s ruling made clear. But, I’m glad Mr. Snyder pressed the case. Hog Heaven said yesterday that Washington had to fix the Haynesworth and the DeAngelo Hall contracts in order to move forward. Now we can put this heartburn behind us.DeMaurice Smith

DeMaurice Smith was known to be a Redskins fan before he took the job with the NFL PA. I get it that he must be impartial and that his
interest rests with players, not with teams. The no cap treatment by the Redskins worked especially well for the players involved. I am perplexed at why he went along with the league. I wonder if the late Gene Upshaw would have done so. This is a question, not an accusation.

The Redskins and the Cowboys issued a joint statement that the matter ends here. They will not sue the NFL. That would be a similar low odds case (see the Roger Goodell comment above). It would be catastrophic if the teams actually won the case based on collusion. Collusion is good for sports leagues. It’s how we have an order for signing players to compensation, game rules and scheduling. When it comes to leagues, I like collusion, although it hurt the Redskins in this case.

The Redskins are now a well run organization. Their management moves, including adjusting contract, positioned the team with cap room to absorb the hit. Lets marvel at that.

The Redskins were a poorly run organization for most of Dan Snyder’s ownership. It showed on the field, though it was hard for fans to connect the dots between poor management and poor results. (That’s why we are here.) Good management leads to better on field performance. It’s inevitable. It’s also a factor in a keep or kick decision about Mike Shanahan.

UPDATE: Owners cannot charge collusion, but players can. It seems that the owners neglected to tell the players that there was an unofficial salary cap of $123 million during the 2010 no cap year, the figure the Redskins, Cowboys, Raiders and Saints are accused of exceeding. The NFL PA filed a complaint of collusion with the U.S. District Court in Minnesota for violation of the terms of the Reggie White Settlement Agreement.  

Oh, there you are, Mr. Smith. 

Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.

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