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NFLPA alleges collusion, seeks $3B in lawsuit

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The NFL Players Association on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit charging the NFL with colluding to impose "a secret $123 million per-Club salary cap" for the 2010 season. That season was to have no salary cap, as stipulated by the collective bargaining agreement between the sides.

The lawsuit followed by one day an arbitrator's dismissal of the Redskins' grievance challenging a $36 million salary cap penalty the league imposed in March.

The intent of the lawsuit is not to restore the Redskins' salary cap space. Rather, the Redskins' case served to elicit what the union considers to be evidence of collusion two years earlier.

"NFL owners, NFL spokespeople, NFL executives all started to spill their guts and say, well, that the reason for all this is because there had been a directive by the league to the teams to obey to a fantasy salary cap and that the teams knew there would be consequences," said Jeffrey Kessler, NFLPA lead outside counsel. "We were, frankly, stunned when that spilled out on the record, but spill it did."

The union is seeking approximately $3 billion in damages.

Kessler insisted filing the lawsuit so soon after Tuesday's arbitration ruling was coincidental. Evidence to support the suit was gathered without the Redskins' direct cooperation, he said.

It's unclear whether Washington's salary cap space could be restored if the suit is successful. The Redskins were penalized $18 million in cap space in 2012 and are scheduled to lose another $18 million next season.

A Redskins spokesman declined to comment.

The league in March penalized Washington for shifting expensive contracts to the uncapped 2010 season with intent to gain a competitive advantage. It docked the Dallas Cowboys $10 million for the same reason.

The NFL redistributed that $46 million among 28 other teams. New Orleans and Oakland were excluded because the league determined they engaged in similar contract-shifting practices to a lesser extent.

The NFLPA agreed March 11 to amend the existing CBA to include the Redskins' and Cowboys' cap penalties and the reallocation of cap space. It filed suit Wednesday claiming it has since acquired new evidence of collusion.

"Had the union known about prior collusion, the union never would have agreed to these cap reallocations," Kessler said.

The NFLPA's lawsuit claims the union was "forced" to agree to the league's plan of penalizing Washington and Dallas and reallocating the cap space.

The agreement was a "take-it-or-leave-it 'price'" for the NFL agreeing to the union's request for certain concessions involving deferral of player benefit costs to future years when TV revenue is expected to be greater, the suit claims.

Union officials also have said the league threatened to reduce the 2012 per-club salary cap amount if the union did not agree to the reallocation plan.

"At no time did the league indicate there was any type of secret agreement or secret cap — or anything else that would have put the union in an entirely different frame of mind," Kessler said. "All I can tell you is we trusted the league at its word."

The aftermath of the reallocation plan produced evidence of past collusion, the union asserts.

Specifically, the lawsuit cites as evidence comments John Mara, owner of the New York Giants and chair of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee, made at the league's annual meetings March 25.

"It has to do with teams attempting to gain a competitive advantage through a loophole in the system," the lawsuit quotes Mara as telling reporters. "They attempted to take advantage of it knowing full well there would be consequences. [W]hen you look at the overall scope of what they did, they were trying to take advantage and they were told not to."

The suit also cites NFL commissioner Roger Goodell saying in late March: "[T]he rules were articulated. [T]he rules were quite clear."

The NFL rejected the union's claim.

"The filing of these claims is prohibited by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and separately by an agreement signed by the players' attorneys last August," NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello wrote on Twitter. "The claims have absolutely no merit & 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."

Kessler, however, disputed that.

"The document they are referring to was not accepted by the district court in Minnesota," he said. "It was rejected, and the court entered an order that only dismissed claims that were pending."

The NFLPA plans to present more evidence than the quotes included in the lawsuit, Kessler said.

"The challenge here for the NFLPA is gathering enough evidence to show that the fact that these teams seem to have had players sign all up to the same level was a result of an actual agreement, whether it be a written agreement or a tacit understanding between the parties involved," said Marc Edelman, a sports law expert and professor of law at Barry University School of Law. "That will be very heavily fact-intensive."

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