WASHINGTON (AFP) –
The National Football League Players Association charged the league, its clubs and team owners with collusion during the 2010 season in a complaint filed on Wednesday.
The NFL players union, which settled a bitter money dispute with owners last July to avoid reducing or wiping out the 2011 season, claims owners violated provisions of a prior deal by imposing a “secret $123 million per club” salary cap in 2010.
“When the rules are broken in a way that hurts the game, we have an obligation to act,” NFL players union executive director DeMaurice Smith said. “We cannot stand by when we now know that the owners conspired to collude.”
The 2010 season was played without teams suffering a salary cap as a condition of NFL owners voting to terminate their union deal early in order to start the renegotiation that led to last July’s new contract.
But the claim, filed in US District Court at Minneapolis, alleges the NFL and team owners colluded by agreeing not to spend beyond a certain level “solely by self-interest, unconstrained by their clear and unambiguous obligations.”
The complaint said New York Giants owner John Mara, chairman of the NFL’s management council executive committee, confirmed that the NFL direct teams to limit salaries during the uncapped season.
The union cited comments made by Mara regarding penalties given the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys for front-loading contracts into the uncapped year to contravene rules.
“What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap,” Mara said. “They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole — full well knowing there would be consequences.”
That, the union contends, was a public admission that teams were expected to limit their spending even without salary cap rules in place.
“Our union recently learned that there was a secret salary cap agreement in an uncapped year,” NFL players union president Domonique Foxworth said.
“The complaint 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.”
The union said the “secret cap” was previously unknown to union leaders and therefore not part of the legal actions they took ahead of last year’s lockout.
The complaint alleges NFL owners and league officials concealed the cap’s existence by “approving the very player contracts that enabled the Redskins, Cowboys, (Oakland) Raiders and (New Orleans) Saints to exceed the secret, collusive salary cap.”