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Redskins May Fight Cap Penalty

Redskins could take the league to court if they decide to fight the $36 million cap penalty. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The Washington Redskins plan to be active in signing players when free agency begins today at 4:00 p.m. despite being slapped with a $36 million salary cap penalty for the way they used the uncapped 2010 season to front-load contracts. 

In a written statement, the team's General Manager Bruce Allen said, "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."

The league's contention is that clubs were warned not to do anything in the uncapped season that would give them a competitive advantage when the new collective bargaining agreement went into effect. And, the league deemed several contracts the Skins executed to be a blatant violation of that warning.

Here's the problem: such warnings could be construed as collusion between owners to limit the amount paid to players. In effect, the warning imposed a kind of salary cap on teams -- but the previous collective bargaining agreement specifically called for an uncapped season at the end of that deal.

If every contract agreement the Redskins reached with players during that uncapped season complied with that CBA, and was approved by the league office, the Skins may have a compelling argument to overturn the league's penalty.

The league office sought to mitigate against a possible move to contest their ruling by getting the NFL Players Association to agree. Instead of just docking cap space from the Skins and Cowboys, the league and NFLPA agreed to spread that cap space among the other teams. Each other team (except the Raiders and Saints, which also used the uncapped season to front-load some contracts, but not as aggressively as Washington and Dallas) will get an additional $1.6 million in cap space to use in the next two years.

The NFLPA blundered by agreeing to this cockamamie scheme. Some teams will use that additional space, but many will not. The Redskins and Cowboys are the big spenders -- they're the teams that would almost certainly use that cap space.

That said, even with the NFLPA rubber stamping the cap penalty, Washington could still fight the ruling. The trouble, of course, is what kind of remedy they might seek. Free agency is scheduled to begin this afternoon, and an appeal would likely take weeks. If Washington wins an appeal three weeks from now, they'll be damaged because many top free agents will already have signed.

So, the issue confronting the Redskins is how aggressive they want to be in fighting this penalty. To remain in the good graces of the owners club, they could opt to eat the plate of manure they've been served. Divide the cap hit over the next couple seasons, sign a free free agents and move on. This is what Commissioner Roger Goodell is hoping they'll do.

Or, they could file a lawsuit, scream collusion, and argue that retroactive punishment for made-up rules that were not part of the previous collective bargaining agreement unfairly put the team at a competitive disadvantage. And then go to court, argue irreparable damages if free agency is allowed to commence, and seek an injunction that will halt the opening of free agency until the Redskins case is resolved.

As a Skins fan, I'm honestly not sure which I would prefer. If we're looking at it from a "good of the league" perspective, the Skins should probably just take their medicine and move on. But, maybe it's time someone rocked the NFL boat a bit. Maybe what's best for the Redskins is to fight.