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On Cowboys/Redskins cap issue, NFL and NFLPA revised CBA without a vote


The NFL’s decision to remove $46 million in cap space from two teams that love to spend and to redistribute it to 28 other teams, several of whom hate to spend, continues to receive plenty of attention, despite the launch of free agency.

Of course, the fact that the news hit the day before the start of free agency, when the Cowboys and Redskins typically spend lots of cap dollars, has given the story far more traction than it would have had at any other time of the year.

Surely, the league would have preferred to slip this one through the media/fan five hole on Christmas Eve or the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Indeed, of all 366 days on the 2012 calendar, the worst day to have this kind of news break was the day that it broke -- the day before the opening of the annual free-agency marketplace.

But it came out now because the league needed leverage in order to get the NFLPA to agree to it. And the NFLPA agreed because the league in exchange helped pump the salary cap from $116 million to $120.6 million for 2012, which may have helped NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith save his job, given that his contract expires this month.

Last year’s cap was $120.375 million; a drop less than eight months after the signing of a new CBA would have potentially triggered a mutiny.

So, fine, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to this. But here’s the thing. To the extent that the league and the union were agreeing to a fairly significant modification of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it happened without formal approval being obtained by the league (via 24 of 32 owners) or the union (via its Executive Committee and Board of Player Representatives, at a minimum).

If pushed, the league and the union surely would claim that so-called “side letter agreements” routinely are executed between the parties, without membership votes. Still, under that device, any proposed term that would be unpopular with either or both side’s membership during “normal” CBA negotiations could be deferred until after the ink dries on the deal, and then reduced to a “side letter” that is negotiated without a vote.

On something this important, shouldn’t there have been a discussion with ownership and an opportunity to vote? Four teams (the Redskins, Cowboys, Saints, and Raiders) likely would have voted against the move; if five more would have agreed that it was wrong to punish teams for refusing to engage in collusion, the measure would have died.

More importantly, even if the player-leadership of the NFLPA had decided that it made sense to agree to the reallocation of the cap space in order to get the cap number for 2012 higher than the number in 2011, the exercise of educating the Executive Committee and the Board of Player Representatives could have sparked the same mutiny that would have happened if the NFL had simply dropped a $116 million cap bomb on the players.

That mutiny could still be looming when the union heads to Hawaii this month. (Or Florida. Or wherever they’ll be having their tax-deductible working vacation in 2012.)