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Redskins Deserved Their Cap Penalty? What?


There's a fine line between taking a contrarian view and trolling, and in today's Washington Post, Mike Wise crossed it. According to Wise, the Redskins deserve the $36 million salary cap penalty imposed on them because of "organizational hubris."

Writes Wise:

Reality Refresher: Three years ago NFL owners agreed that teams would not be allowed to exploit the uncapped year to gain a competitive advantage. There was not a written edict violated or a binding contract broken. There were simply a few teams who made a mockery of a negotiated solution to preserve competitive NFL balance, and the most conniving and manipulative among those teams, the Redskins and the Cowboys (who suffered lesser penalties), basically got voted off the island by their peer group.

End of story.

No. Not the end. Not even close.

There's a term for that unwritten agreement among some NFL owners that teams would not "exploit the uncapped year to gain a competitive advantage" -- collusion. The previous collective bargaining agreement was clear that 2010 would be an uncapped year. There was nothing in the CBA that permitted owners to reach a side agreement among themselves to limit spending. There was nothing in the CBA that made it okay for owners to get together and decide on their own to operate within "the spirit of the salary cap."

For that season, there was NO SALARY CAP.

It's also worth mentioning that "competitive advantage" is a preposterously loose term. In 2010, there was no cap, but there was also no floor. Several teams spent far less in 2010 than they'd have been permitted to spend in a capped year. Those savings gave each of those teams substantial cash, which could later be used to pay signing bonuses, which would be...a competitive advantage.

EDIT to add: I went and looked up how many teams had player salaries below what would have been the league's salary floor in 2010, if there'd been a salary cap. The floor would have landed at approximately $112 million.

Strictly speaking, 10 teams fell below the cut line, but I'm using nine as the number because the Carolina Panthers salaries totaled to $110.9 million -- which is so close that they could have easily reached the floor.

The nine teams that fell below the "woulda been" $112 million salary floor:

  • St. Louis Rams -- $109.1 million
  • San Diego Chargers -- $108.0 million
  • Buffalo Bills -- $105.3 million
  • Denver Broncos -- $102.9 million
  • Cincinnati Bengals -- $100.8 million
  • Arizona Cardinals -- $97.8 million
  • Jacksonville Jaguars -- $89.5 million
  • Kansas City Chiefs -- $84.5 million
  • Tampa Buccaneers -- $80.8 million 

Jacksonville, Kansas City and Tampa were each more than $22 million below the salary floor. The Chiefs were $27.5 million under; the Bucs $31.2 million. Only in the bizarre logic of NFL owners and Mike Wise could this kind of cash hoarding not constitute using the uncapped year to gain competitive advantage in future seasons.

Reality Refresher II: In 2010 the team employed a deceptive loophole that allowed them to distribute all of Albert Haynesworth's $21 million signing bonus and make it count against the 2010 salary cap, instead of rationing it over the length of his deal. This is doable in years the NFL imposes a salary cap. But it was forbidden that particular year, when the Redskins used it to create future flexibility, so they could spend like crazy in a year they happened to acquire Griffin.

Hall's deal was similarly front-loaded, and suddenly a roughly $142 million payroll became $170 million, enabling the team to reap the benefits of more than $30 million as soon as the new collective bargaining agreement was signed between owners and players — far exceeding other team's ability to spend.

Look, when rules aren't merely bent but all but obliterated, something had to be done. That's the reason they can't afford to procure the talent upgrade they want at significant positions until next offseason. All the legalese and semantics won't change that.

Here's a quick and easy test for whether or not loading money for Haynesworth and Hall into 2010 was a violation of league rules: Were the revised contracts approved by the league office? Answer: the league office did approve those contracts. And the reason why is that Wise's "Reality Refresher" is fiction. There was no rule against what the Redskins did because there was no salary cap.

It's fitting in a karmic way: The reverberations of Snyder's unchecked shopping addiction over the years, which culminated in the just-past-midnight flight to wine and dine Big Al — only the worst free agent signing in the history of the NFL — are keeping it from hitting the market this time around.

In Ashburn World, this is a "travesty of fairness." In real world, it's called paying the piper.

There may be some karmic justice in all this: the Redskins and Dan Snyder have wasted a preposterous amount of money in free agency. But, in the real world, it's not paying the piper, it's an arbitrary, unfair punishment even though the Redskins broke no rules and did nothing wrong -- other than not going along with an illegal side agreement to limit player salaries.