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NFLPA Alleges Collusion Charge Against NFL In District Court Filing

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

The NFL Players’ Association filed a collusion complaint against the NFL and team owners on Wednesday, alleging that the league tried to suppress player salaries in 2010 when there was no salary cap.

The 20-page written claim, filed with the United States District Court of Minnesota, alleges the owners imposed “a secret $123 million per-club salary cap for that uncapped 2010 season” and that the league and owners acted “solely by self-interest,” disregarding a settlement agreement from 1993 that served as the basis for the previous collective bargaining agreement.

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

The filing comes a day after the league announced an arbitrator dismissed an appeal by the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys regarding penalties they were assessed for circumventing league recommendations on a salary cap in that season.

“Our union recently learned that there was a secret salary cap agreement in an uncapped year,” said Domonique Foxworth, the recently elected NFLPA president who played last season for Baltimore, in that statement. “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.”

According to the players’ association, four teams – the Redskins and Cowboys, in addition to the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders – did not follow the owners’ guidelines for the $123 million salary cap. Washington violated that figure by an additional $102.8 million, while Dallas was $52.9 million over, Oakland was $41.9 million over and New Orleans was $36.3 million over.

“On information and belief, each of the other 28 [clubs] fully or materially honored the conspiracy, which violated the [settlement agreement], including its anti-collusion and anticircumvention provisions, and resulted in actual damages to the players of up to $1 billion, if not substantially more,” the filing read.

The filing takes specific issue with the terms of the agreed-upon 1993 settlement, wherein both the league and union decided 2010, the final year of that agreement, would be played without a salary cap.

The players’ association maintains it was misled on the existence of such a salary cap, either formally or informally, and was not made aware of such an unspoken agreement to restrict salaries in that year until New York Giants owner John Mara, the chairman of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee, spoke of its existence at the owners’ meetings in West Palm Beach, Fla. in March.

Mara said the contracts were “in violation of the spirit of the salary cap” and that the teams “attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole … full well knowing there would be consequences.”

The Redskins were penalized $36 million – the amount of the bonuses paid to cornerback DeAngelo Hall and former defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, now a free agent – on March 12, a day before free agency and the new league year was set to begin. The Cowboys were docked $10 million because of a front-loaded contract for receiver Miles Austin; New Orleans and Oakland were not penalized, but were not recipients of the pool of money that was then evenly distributed to the other 28 teams.

NFL senior vice president Greg Aiello released a statement on behalf of the league in response, noting the claims in the filing “are totally unfounded.”

“The filing of these claims is prohibited by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and separately by an agreement signed by the players’ attorneys last August,” Aiello said. “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.”

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