NFL sacks Cowboys and Redskins for $46 million salary cap loss

The NFL threw the Washington Redskins and the Dallas for a combined $46 million salary cap loss at the start of the new NFL League Year. The league took the action because the two teams were the most aggressive in pushing player income into the 2010 uncapped year to create more cap room under the new, post-lockout CBA.

The practice broke the gentlemen’s agreement among owners for how to treat player compensation under the cap although the teams violated no written rule under the labor agreement. The NFL issued its cryptic statement late this afternoon.

“The Management Council Executive Committee determined that the contract practices of a small number of clubs during the 2010 league year created an unacceptable risk to future competitive balance, particularly in light of the relatively modest salary cap growth projected for the new agreement’s early years.

“To remedy these effects and preserve competitive balance throughout the league, the parties to the CBA agreed to adjustments to team salary for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. These agreed-upon adjustments were structured in a manner that will not affect the salary cap or player spending on a league-wide basis.”

The Cowboys and the Redskins protest their innocence.

Dallas, who will be docked $10 million, issued its response Monday evening.

“The Dallas Cowboys were in compliance with all league salary cap rules during the uncapped year. We look forward to the start of the free agency period where our commitment to improving our team remains unchanged.”

The NFL penalized Washington $36 million. Redskins GM Bruce Allen responded to the report.

“The Washington Redskins have received no written documentation from the NFL concerning adjustments to the team salary cap in 2012 as reported in various media outlets. Every contract entered into by the club during the applicable periods complied with the 2010 and 2011 collective bargaining agreements and, in fact, were approved by the NFL commissioner’s office. We look forward to free agency, the draft and the coming football season.”

The NFL based the assessments on the team’s accounting of compensation for Miles Austin, Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall.

The Cowboys and the Redskins are the two most valuable NFL franchises according to Forbes Magazine.

John Mara is the chairman of the NFL Management Council. Mara is the co-owner of the New York Giants, division rival of the ‘Boys and ‘Skins. I’m sure that’s a pure coincidence. 

ESPN’s Adam Shefter and’s Jason LaCanfora report that the NFL warned teams “on numerous occasions” verbally, that the practice followed by Dallas and Washington could result in penalties.

Why that amount and why now? Has the Occupy the NFL movement come to pro football? Did the owners turn on fellow owners Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder, the two owners fans love to hate?

Salary cap consultant J.I. Halsell dropped a mini bombshell in a radio interview with ESPN 980 radio Monday afternoon. Halsell’s sources informed him that the NFL calculated the 2012 salary cap to be $5 million less than last season’s cap based on the new CBA. The NFL Players’ Association found that to be an untenable position to take to the players.

The league proposed to assess the cap dollars of Dallas and Washington and redistribute to other teams. The union agreed to the redistribution of cap dollars, since it would go to players. The union’s agreement is important for providing legal cover for the NFL’s action. The NFL announced the 2012 salary cap to be $120.6 million.

You can hear the seven-minute podcast of Halsell’s interview at the ESPN 980 Audio Vault here.

The assessments need not be crippling says Halsell. Washington created cap room by releasing FB Mike Sellers and S Oshiomogho Atogwe. The cap savings is between $3 and $5 million depending on the source. The teams may restructure player contracts. Both Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder are renowned for that. Still, though, after sacrificing so much draft capital in pursuit of Robert Griffin III, the Redskins were widely expected to make a big push in free agency to fill gaps, particularly at much-needed skill positions. 

The league gave the teams the option to spread the hit over two years in any proportion they wished. Some or most of the impact can be pushed to 2013. Unused 2012 cap can be rolled into 2013.

The league’s main intent may have been to tamp down Dallas’ and especially Washington’s aggressive free agent spending spree by way of a haircut to their cap room — that “preserve competitive balance” thing.

The next NFL owners’ meeting is March 26-28, in Palm Beach, Florida. Until today, penalties to be assessed against New Orleans for Bountygate figured to be the most controversial item on the agenda.

The war between small market and big market teams continues. 

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.