So, people are asking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell if there was as snowball's chance in hell that he would reduce the salary cap penalty assessed last season on the Washington Redskins.
Redskins GM Bruce Allen and Executive VP Mike Shanahan railed against the penalty, and they seemed genuinely shocked that they could not talk the league into cap relief this year. Shanahan said that the NFL never explained why the Redskins (and Cowboys) were penalized in the first place. A legion of 'Skins fans agree.
Let me break the code for you.
NFL owners – not Commissioner Goodell, mind you – are determined that the Redskins, read that as Daniel Snyder, face the full consequences of the foolish 2009 free agent contract for Albert Haynesworth.
Haynesworth's seven-year, $100 million contract has been panned by, well, by everyone, as the most foolish free agent signing in league history. He was a bust in the '09 season, then, he spent the entire 2010 season in Shanahan's doghouse.
What incensed team owners is that the deal inflated the going rate for defensive players in 2009. Other teams were hurt by it. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was particularly unhappy about what Snyder did to his salary structure. Small market owners must have been equally incensed.
Haynesworth says the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offered more, but that he wanted to play in the Washington market. Lucky us. We landed the big fish.
NFL contracts do not last their full term. Under normal circumstances, either Haynesworth, or the dead cap cost of his departure would be on the books through the 2013 season. That's the impact the owners are imposing on the Redskins, and why they won't budge.
The Haynesworth deal could not have come at a worse time for team owners.
In 2009, small market owners were still at war with big market owners and all of them were unhappy with the 2006 CBA Extension. By 2009, the owners were plotting to reduce the salary cap. That would please those pesky small market teams. The owners planned to lock out the players, and that entailed "managing" (ahem) the cap-free year in 2010.
The Redskins were under new management in 2010, although Shanahan made a valiant effort to run by the Snyderrato playbook – trade for proven talent Donovan McNabb and get productivity out of Haynesworth. They admitted defeat by the end of the season.
Allen and Shanahan set out to fix Washington's cap structure by taking advantage of the no-cap clauses of the 2006 Extension to pull most of Haynesworth's and DeAngelo Hall's salary into the 2010 season. The owner's took note as the pulled the trigger on the lockout.
The accounting maneuver led to a $36 million cap windfall for the Redskins who entered the 2012 offseason $40-odd million under that salary cap. Then, the NFL Management Council busted the team for that windfall. Washington had to take at least half the penalty last season, with the remainder this year.
The alternate scenarios that could have played out
1. The management council might have required the Redskins to take the entire cap hit in 2012.
2. The management council might have docked the Redskins' first-round Draft picks in 2012 and 2013.
Robert Griffin III would be in Cleveland if the owners chose either of these scenarios. For all we know, it might have been Goodell who convinced owners not to take those paths. John Mara, Giants owner and chairman of the Management Council hints that both options were considered.
3. Gene Upshaw might have lived
Upshaw saw the lockout coming. He said that, if the owners locked out the players, the Players' Association would never again agree to a salary cap. That negotiation play died with Upshaw in 2008. The union went in a different direction and they chose litigator DeMaurice Smith to sue the owners in court and to win the fans with a myopic "Let Them Play" campaign.
If there were no salary cap in the current CBA, there would be no cap penalty on the Redskins now.
Upshaw liked the way the Mr. Snyder paid his players. He would have liked the way the Redskins used the no cap year. The post-Upshaw Players' Association were not staunch defenders of Washington's approach until it was way too late. That's important because the owners needed the union's concurrence to the sanction, which DeMaurice Smith gave.
R.I.P., Gene Upshaw. I miss you.
Collusion, in a good way
I like collusion in sports leagues. It's how schedules are made. It's why "our" players have a hard time moving to new teams at will. It's why team relocations are rare. Collusion helps make a league a league. But, it's contrary to federal anti-trust laws.
The owner agreements on things like treatment of the no cap year is partly why leagues work. It's partly how the NFL keeps competitive balance. Money cannot trump good management in football. I like that. And so do you, brother.
The cap hit is an owner-against-owner action directed at Jerry Jones and especially at Daniel Snyder. It is pointless to ask Roger Goodell about it. It's out of his hands.
Mr. Snyder's only recourse is to attack the collusion by the suing the NFL for conspiracy in restraint of trade under the Sherman Anti-Trust act. But Snyder could lose by winning if it means the owners cannot work together on things that make "our team" ours. That's too big a step, even for a daring owner like Snyder.
Meanwhile, the players' union, like Capt. Renault in the old Casablanca movie, seems shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that collusion is going on in this establishment.
The silver lining
The cap hit forced the front office to be shrewd about the 2012 Draft. Rookies led the team to a ten-win season, the best Redskins finish since 1999. Whatever the front office did last year, they have to do it again this year. Maybe it was a fluke, but I think they can do it.