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NFLPA files collusion complaint against NFL, owners

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By PFW staff

Updated 4:25 p.m ET on Wednesday, May 23

The NFLPA class counsel under the Reggie White settlement agreement filed a complaint on Wednesday charging the NFL, its clubs and their owners of collusion during the uncapped 2010 season.

The complaint states that the league violated the anti-collusion and anti-circumvention provisions in the White Settlement Agreement by “imposing a secret $123 million per-Club salary cap for that uncapped 2010 season.”

“When the rules are broken in a way that hurts the game, we have an obligation to act. We cannot stand by when we now know that the owners conspired to collude,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement.

“Our union recently learned that there was a secret salary-cap agreement in an uncapped year. The complaint today is our effort to fulfill our duty to every NFL player. They deserve to know, above all, the facts and the truth about this conspiracy,” NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth said in the NFLPA's statement.

In a conference call Wednesday afternoon, NFLPA lead outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler explained why the NFLPA agreed to the penalties, and then later filed the collusion charge. He said the two sides were working on the 2012 salary cap and it was a condition to agree upon the penalties.

"The NFL never told us these were for "cap" violations," Kessler said. "Just the opposite. … We had no clue about any mythical salary cap. We only learned of that after the agreement was signed."

"Any time you enter into a situation with the NFL where you want something that is not necessarily, easy to get, let's put it that way, the smoothing of the cap, the cap number we wanted, it was tied to the penalties," NFLPA lead outside counsel David Barrett said. "What we're learning and trying to express is that as a result of that deal, of that agreement to make sure that cap would be where we needed it to be, we were forced to agree to those penalties. It was a take it or leave it."

Kessler affirmed the fact that the union believed it had no choice but to agree to the penalties at that time.

"The league expressed their view that they thought that those teams had gotten a competitive advantage. If we wanted other salary-cap advantages for the clubs … the price of doing that was salary-cap reallocation," he said. "We had a proposal on what the cap should be. The NFL said OK, but only if you agree to this reallocation of cap room which we think is important for competitive balance."

Kessler said that the media reports following the announcement of the penalties for the Cowboys and Redskins, which included statements from NFL owners, gave the union the notion that collusion had taken place.

"After the agreement signed about the cap adjustments for 2012, media reports surfaced the next day and thereafter in which, remarkably, NFL owners and NFL spokespeople and executives started to spill their guts that the reason for this is because there had been a directive by the league to the teams to obey a fantasy salary cap," he said. "We were frankly stunned when that spilled out."

The NFLPA’s complaint cited Giants owner John Mara, the chair of the league’s management council executive committee. When Mara was asked about the penalties for the Cowboys and Redskins, he said, “What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap. They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole … full well knowing there would be consequences.”

The league handed out salary-cap penalties to the Redskins ($36 million) and the Cowboys ($10 million) for front-loading contracts during the uncapped 2010 season. Arbitrator Stephen Burbank upheld those penalties on Tuesday. The money was to be split evenly among 28 teams, but not the Saints and Raiders, who also overspent but were not fined.

Kessler said that the timing of the collusion complaint — which took place one day after Burbank's ruling — was "pure coincidence."

"The action actually is unaffected by what Professor Burbank did yesterday. What we are seeking is remedies for the collusion that took place in 2010," he said. "Not about the penalties on the Redskins and Cowboys in 2012." Kessler also maintained that the teams have not assisted the union in its preparation for the complaint.

According to the NFLPA, Mara’s quote publicly confirmed that the NFL directed teams to restrict player salaries, and that “such a scheme breaches express anti-collusion and anti-circumvention provisions of the SSA and the owners’ duty of good faith in implementing the SSA”

The NFL and owners approved the player contracts that “enabled the Redskins, Cowboys, Raiders and Saints to exceed the secret, collusive salary cap.” The collusion and other claims are “entirely new and were previously unknown to the players and the NFLPA,” the union stated.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello released the following statement on Twitter:

“Regarding the NFLPA’s latest complaint: The filing of these claims is prohibited by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and separately, by an agreement signed by the players’ attorneys last August. The claims have absolutely no merit and 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. We continue to look forward to focusing on the future of the game rather than grievances of a prior era that have already been resolved.”

The NFLPA refuted that in their conference call.

"The stipulation that they are referring to, which has to do with the Brady case, was not accepted by the district court of Minnesota," Kessler said. "That was not entered. What was entered by the judge was simply an order dismissing claims that were pending. He rejected any broader disimissal." Kessler went on to say that the collusion claims were never "asserted" because there was no knowledge of it until March, when the penalties were announced.

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