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The rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins has been well-documented. However, this time they are playing for the same team. The Cowboys and Redskins were both penalized by the NFL in mid-March for overloading contracts in the 2010 uncapped season. (Notice the word “uncapped.”) The Redskins were given a $36 million salary cap reduction to be spread out over two years, while the Cowboys received a $10 million salary cap reduction. Needless to say, they are not happy about it and are teaming up to file a case with an arbitrator challenging the salary cap reductions.
While the NFL’s decision has raised the ire of many fans across the NFL, it also invokes complicated legal questions. First, the two teams did not actually violate any salary cap rules because 2010 was an uncapped season, meaning they could spend as much money as they desired. As Peter Schaffer, an attorney and NFL agent, notes in the Washington Post, “If you have an uncapped year, you can’t have cap penalties…The definition of uncapped is no cap.” The NFL claims that the Redskins and Cowboys gained an unfair competitive advantage by dumping salary in an uncapped season. However, others see the teams’ actions as clever cap maneuvering. Not surprisingly, the cap penalty was approved by the other NFL owners. Some suggest that the Redskins and Cowboys were warned not to do anything during the uncapped season to gain a competitive advantage in future seasons. Schaffer believes this may be an indication that the owners improperly colluded. According to Schaffer, the salary cap is a “per-se violation of antitrust laws” unless labor agrees to it. Therefore, a secret agreement between the owners and the NFL to restrict players’ salaries without the NFLPA’s consent could be problematic. However, this concern is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the NFLPA agreed to the salary cap reductions.
While collusion is one legal argument the Redskins and Cowboys are certain to make, they will also likely heavily rely on the fact that the NFL actually approved all of the contracts now in dispute, leaving the impression that the NFL is making up rules as they go. I would not want to be the lawyer arguing in front of the arbitrator that the Cowboys and Redskins deserved to be penalized for entering into contracts that my client approved.
While Cowboys’ and Redskins’ fans are fuming over their teams being penalized for overloading contracts that were approved by the NFL during an uncapped season, the NFL decided to throw fuel on the fire. First, the NFL announced its decision right before the start of free agency, dramatically altering the teams’ plans for free agency. Second, the salary cap taken from the Cowboys and Redskins was redistributed to the other NFL teams. Overall, as one ESPN blogger writes, the NFL should be ashamed of itself.
- R.L. Florance
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