Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder got no love from arbitrator Stephen Burbank who remorselessly rejected their appeal for justice. The owners of the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins, the NFL's two wealthiest franchises, appealed the league's salary cap sanction for their rejection a gentlemen's agreement on treatment of the cap during the "no cap" 2010 season.
The NFL Management Council reduced the Redskins' salary cap by $36 million and the Cowboys' by $10 million to be spread over two seasons. The Redskins were sanctioned for pushing salaries for Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall into the no cap year. Haynesworth's contract was the killer since it raised the franchise tag salary for defensive tackles from $7 million to $12.5 million.
The Baltimore Ravens franchised DT Halati Ngata and were forced to pay the higher amount. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was vocal behind the scenes to push for sanctions.
Burbank is a University of Pennsylvania law professor who served as arbitrator in the dispute. The NFL asked that he dismiss the case citing the matter as a labor issue. The NFL Players Association agreed to the action by the owners. Burbank apparently bought the argument, although no specific reason was given in the story posted on NFL.com.
It might have been worse
While the leagues sanction was stunning for both its size and timing right before the 2012 NFL Draft, it did not handcuff Dallas or Washington from restocking the team with new talent. The teams were "lucky" not to have lost Draft picks, according to a statement by John Mara, chairman of the NFL Management Council. "What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap," said Mara in a May 22, 2012 New York Post story.
The loss of a first-round pick would have hindered the Redskins spectacular trade with the St. Louis Rams to position their grasp for QB Robert Griffin III. Unlike most seasons of the Daniel Snyder era, the Redskins were in a healthy salary cap position, close to $50 million by some estimates, and could absorb the hit. The sanction complicated negotiations to re-sign LB London Fletcher and RB Tim Hightower.
The Cowboys moved up in the Draft to select CB Morris Claiborne in the first round and six other players in later rounds. WR Laurent Robinson, who was lost in free agency to Jacksonville, may have been a casualty of the sanction against Dallas.
Silence of the players' union
The NFL PA's position is puzzling. The salary cap process worked perfectly, especially for Ngata. The union reportedly took no issue with Dallas' and Washington's contract treatment, but went along with the sanctions when the owners spread the penalties to 28 other franchises as salary credit.
The league sweetened the move by agreeing to a higher 2012 salary cap than would otherwise have occurred, thus the sparing the union to explain why the cap would have been lower this year than last year. The deal may come back to haunt them.
Former agent Andrew Brandt suspected last March that the owners borrowed from the future to pay players now. The salary increases players expect when new 2014 broadcast revenue kicks in may be less than players expect, says Brandt.
Life in the NFL is short, so today's players may not share Brandt's concern for income some are unlikely to receive anyway.
What would Gene Upshaw say?
The owners' views about 2010 no cap contracts were based on salary treatment upon the return of the cap. Fortunate for them, former NFL PA executive director Gene Upshaw was dead.
Upshaw sensed shortly after the 2006 CBA Extension that the owners would opt out of the deal and lock the players out to force a completely new agreement. Upshaw said that, if the owners locked the players out, the union would never agree to a new salary cap.
Upshaw passed away in August 2008 and new union leadership never made good on the threat. Without Upshaw, owners may have been more certain that there would be a salary cap in 2011 and cap dollars to assess in 2012.