- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Another day, another legal filing in the NFL. This latest one is a whopper, too — bigger than two Albert Haynesworths put together. The Players Association is seeking damages of “up to $3 billion and more” from the league for having “a secret $123 million per-Club salary cap” during the uncapped 2010 year. For those of you scoring at home, the word “collusion” appears in the NFLPA’s suit 12 times (which also happens to be Tom Brady’s number).

I mention Haynesworth, of course, because his contract with the Washington Redskins is one of the reasons for all this commotion. The team got into trouble with the league — and had $36 million in cap space taken away — in part because Dan Snyder dumped much of the money he owed Albert into the uncapped year. The plan was to free up more dollars to spend after the lockout.

According to the union’s complaint, the Redskins and three other teams “refused, at least to some extent, to abide by their collusive conspiracy with the NFL and the other Owners, and exceeded the secret, collusive $123 million salary cap during the 2010 League Year.” And by how much did the Redskins exceed this “secret” cap? Oh, only $102,833,047, the Players Association says.

Who knew Snyder was such a hero, such a champion of the working class? I mean, he didn’t break with his fellow owners because he wanted to write off an Incredibly Bad Debt — and, in the process, gain a competitive advantage in the free agent marketplace. No, he did it because he “refused … to abide by their collusive conspiracy.” At least in part. (Cough, cough.)

That’s one of the more interesting aspects of the NFLPA’s suit. Another is the damages the players figure they’re owed: “$1 billion, if not substantially more,” which is tripled in antitrust cases. Talk about fuzzy math. By these calculations, each of the 28 clubs that stayed under the “secret cap” would have spent an average of $35.7 million more if the cap hadn’t existed. How do you come up with that number?

For starters, in the uncapped year — unlike previous years — there was no cap floor. A team, in other words, could have as low a payroll as it wanted. The Tampa Bay Bucs, among others, availed themselves of this opportunity to save tens of millions of bucks. So a “secret cap,” if one existed, wouldn’t have affected their budgeting at all.

As for the rest of the league, how many clubs would have spent significantly more in 2010 if it hadn’t been for this supposed “secret cap” of $123 million? Answer: Possibly none beyond the four (Dallas, Oakland and New Orleans were the other three) who exceeded it. After all, the NFL had had the same cap, $123 million, in ‘09 — and not every team had spent to the limit in that instance. Indeed, the cap will actually be lower this year ($120.6 million) than it was in the “secret cap” year. Why? Because the whole purpose of the lockout was to increase the owners’ profit margins, not their expenses.

So again, where are these damages of “up to $1 billion, if not substantially more”? Seems like there’s a fair amount of exaggeration there. (Especially since, with the free agent pool much shallower in the uncapped year, there were fewer players to throw money at.

Curious, as well, is the following paragraph in the suit: “the NFL forced the NFLPA to agree (i) to material, NFL-determined reductions in the Redskins‘ and Cowboys’ salary cap room for the 2012-2013 seasons, and (ii) to spread the corresponding amounts among all other Clubs, except for the Raiders and the Saints, as the take-it-or-leave-it ‘price’ for the NFL agreeing to the NFLPA’s request to defer certain player benefit costs to later years when there would be increased television revenues to cover those costs.”

Forced? What, Luca Brasi was holding a gun to DeMaurice Smith’s head while Roger Goodell said, “Either your brains or your signature will be on the CBA”? Please, we’re not talking about “The Godfather” here, we’re talking about labor negotiations between two powerful entities. Nobody’s forced to do anything.

What’s really amusing, though, is the neat bit of collusion that was added to the new CBA, one that took away virtually all of the rookies’ bargaining power. As a result, Cam Newton, the No. 1 pick in 2011, received a contract that included $28 million less in guarantees than Sam Bradford, the top pick the year before, got. Did the owners “force” that on the NFLPA — or did the union agree to it gladly, because it funneled more money to veterans?

Nobody’s going to come out of this looking very good. That’s why the NFLPA shouldn’t have opened this can of worms, just as the Redskins and Cowboys should have taken their medicine rather than file for arbitration (which went against them Tuesday). Alas, it looks like the two sides are headed to the courtroom. That’s almost as much fun as a lockout.