In docking the Washington Redskins $36 million in cap space for dumping large bonuses for DeAngelo Hall and Albert Haynesworth into the uncapped 2010 season, the NFL is essentially penalizing the team for driving 85 miles an hour in a zone with no speed limit signs. Should anyone ever drive 85 miles an hour? Probably not. But if there's no regulation in place, what can anyone really do about it?
As it turns out, the NFL feels it can make up the rules as it goes. Reports suggest the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys were warned several times that there would be "serious consequences" if they dumped salary into the uncapped year. But how can anyone impose serious consequences for a rule that isn't really a rule?
Dan Graziano of ESPN makes the operative point here: either a year is uncapped or it's not. If it's uncapped, then the Redskins did nothing wrong. If it's not uncapped, then someone should have stepped in and prevented the Redskins from giving Haynesworth $21 million and Hall $15 million in 2010. It's not like it was a secret what the Redskins were doing at the time. They were taking advantage of a loophole to clear up space in the future.
So why wait so long? Because this ruling wasn't about salary-cap circumvention at all. No, it was about something bigger.
I double as an NBA writer for SB Nation, and so much of this reminds me of what we saw immediately following the end of the NBA lockout. You may remember how Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote this famous comment when the league vetoed a proposed trade that would have sent New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers.
I cannot remember ever seeing a trade where a team got by far the best player in the trade and saved over $40 million in the process. And it doesn't appear that they would give up any draft picks, which might allow to later make a trade for Dwight Howard. (They would also get a large trade exception that would help them improve their team and/or eventually trade for Howard.) When the Lakers got Pau Gasol (at the time considered an extremely lopsided trade) they took on tens of millions in additional salary and luxury tax and they gave up a number of prospects (one in Marc Gasol who may become a max-salary player).
I just don't see how we can allow this trade to happen.
I know the vast majority of owners feel the same way that I do.
When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?
Now, compare that to the statement the NFL released on the matter (emphases mine).
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.
Strikingly similar, is it not? Think about it this way: why won't it affect spending on a league-wide basis? Because the money from the Redskins and Cowboys will be redistributed evenly across the rest of the league. And why will it be redistributed evenly across the rest of the league? Because that was a bargaining chip used to get the NFL Players Association to accept the unilateral ruling. Otherwise, the NFLPA would have appealed.
Now you see what this was really about. This ruling was about the other owners strong-arming the league to do something about two big-market teams exploiting a loophole that they did not exploit. As Andrew Brandt of National Football Post put it, the other owners pushed for these punishments. They couldn't accomplish what the Redskins and Cowboys were doing, so they decided to have their cake and eat it too. Now, both the Redskins and Cowboys have been made the sacrificial lambs in the name of an idea that only serves to reward cap management incompetence.
Granted, unlike the Lakers in the NBA, the Redskins make horrible personnel decisions with the cap space they always seem to create. But given that they always seem to have cap space to make more dumb signings, there's clearly someone working at Redskins Park that is ahead of the curve when it comes to cap management. Now, the Redskins' best-laid plans to trade multiple draft picks for their potential franchise quarterback and have the cap space needed to find pieces to help him in free agency has been put in serious jeopardy.