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SNYDER: NFL to blame in salary-cap dispute

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Upon further review, the NFL has decided to penalize the New York Giants for trading two first-round draft picks, a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick to the San Diego Chargers in 2004 for the rights to quarterback Eli Manning.

When the deal was approved, the league was uncertain of the effect on competitive balance. The Giants didn't break any rules but, in hindsight, they clearly took advantage of San Diego to win two Super Bowls with Manning.

The late Al Davis smirked when he heard the news, which merely reaffirmed his long-held belief that the NFL is drunk with power and above the legal limit in operating its business.

OK, none of the aforementioned actually happened. But the concept is similar to the NFL retroactively penalizing the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys for league-approved contracts in 2010 that apparently violated no provisions in the NFL's labor agreement. It's beyond me how teams can be sanctioned for breaking an unwritten rule or gentlemen's agreement.

My esteemed colleague Dan Daly took the Redskins to task for apparently ignoring the league's warnings and front-loading contracts for Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall in 2010, a season without a salary cap because the collective bargaining agreement had expired. But I think the NFL is guilty of gross arrogance in this case, not the Redskins and Cowboys.

According to a statement from the NFL Management Council Executive Committee, "the contract practices of a small number of clubs during the 2010 league year created an unacceptable risk to future competitive balance." So the league has penalized Washington a total of $36 million in salary-cap space over the next two years, while deducting $10 million from Dallas's cap room.

It doesn't make sense to suggest a team overspent in a season with no spending limit. That so-called competitive advantage in going all-out was available to every team. Failure to utilize it would be negligence in my book, a team disregarding its duty (at least in the fans' view) to field the most competitive team possible ... within the rules.

The Cowboys and Redskins are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on Forbes' list of most valuable NFL franchises. But I'm sure that had nothing to do with other teams agreeing to stay within unspoken limits, or the decision to spank Dallas and Washington for not following suit. Owners Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder will find little sympathy and less support for their grievances.

I'm not a judge or a lawyer. But the Redskins and Cowboys would have me leaning in their direction if I was a juror listening to their arguments.

"Every contract entered into by the club during the applicable periods complied with the 2010 and 2011 collective bargaining agreements and, in fact, were approved by the NFL commissioner's office," the Redskins said in a statement.

"The Dallas Cowboys were in compliance with all league salary cap rules during the uncapped year," the Cowboys said in a statement.

Look, antitrust exemptions give entities such as the NFL and Major League Baseball virtual licenses to collude. But even with the wide leeway permitted by Congress, leagues can exceed the limits of acceptable behavior. MLB found out the hard way, three times, paying a combined $280 million in damages for conspiring to restrain salaries and restrict player movement in the late 1980s.

I don't know about you, but wink-wink agreements to not go crazy in uncapped years is collusion to me. Davis would file a lawsuit before the end of this sentence if his Oakland Raiders were hit with salary-cap reductions like Washington and Dallas.

It's bad enough that the teams (illegally?) colluded to keep spending down in 2010. But for the NFL to punish dissenters, two years after it OK'd the contracts now deemed offensive, that's taking arrogance to a new level.

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About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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