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Union expected to file collusion case this week

By Mark Maske

UPDATED (4:41 p.m.)...

The NFL Players Association is likely to file a collusion case against the league's franchise owners in the coming days, sources said Sunday.

The case must be filed by midweek to meet a deadline under the sport's collective bargaining agreement. The labor deal says that a collusion case must be filed within 90 days "of the time when the player knows or reasonably should have known with the exercise of due diligence that he had a claim" or within 90 days of the first game of the season, whichever is later. This season began Sept. 9.

The case will accuse teams of conspiring improperly to restrict players' salaries last offseason, sources have said. It is not clear how many teams will be named in the union's case, how many players the case will cite as being affected or the amount of the damages the case will seek.

The labor deal between the league and the union prohibits a team from entering "into any agreement, express or implied" with the NFL or another team "to restrict or limit" contract negotiations with players or players' salaries.

The filing of the collusion case by the union would come with the league and union attempting to negotiate an extension of their labor agreement, which expires in March.

League and union officials declined to comment publicly Sunday.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at an owners' meeting in October in Chicago when asked about the possibility of the union filing a collusion case: "That's not my decision. Their litigation strategy is their litigation strategy. We're focused on trying to get a collective bargaining agreement and negotiating. If I've said it once, I've said it 100 times: This will be resolved at the collective bargaining table. Our issue is to get there sooner rather than later, get an agreement and bargain in good faith so we can continue to play football. That's our issue."

Players and union officials have said they expect the owners to lock out the players next year. Goodell and others on the management side of the negotiations have said the owners want to reach an agreement with the players that addresses what they consider the sport's economic problems.

It also is possible that the players could vote to decertify the union, a tactic that could prevent a lockout and potentially expose the owners to a possible antitrust lawsuit by the players.

The union's collusion case would be filed with Stephen B. Burbank, the University of Pennsylvania law professor who serves as the NFL's special master, putting him in charge of resolving disputes between the league and union arising from their collective bargaining agreement. Any ruling by Burbank could be appealed by Minneapolis-based U.S. District Judge David S. Doty, who oversees the sport's labor deal.

Specific details of what the union will cite in the case were not available Sunday. People familiar with the deliberations while the case was being researched said in recent months that the union was expected to cite a lack of activity on the restricted free agent market last offseason.

Sources said during the formation of the case that it also might cite trades before the season between the Washington Redskins and St. Louis Rams, questioning whether those trades were made to avoid releasing rookies that the teams had drafted and circumvent a rule requiring a team to allocate 85 percent of the $320,000 rookie minimum salary to other rookies on its roster if it releases a drafted rookie; and comments by Cincinnati Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis on a conference call with reporters, reportedly asserting that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers overpaid rookie wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe when they signed Briscoe, who was drafted by the Bengals and then released, to their practice squad.

For a collusion claim to be successful, the union would have to demonstrate "by a clear preponderance of the evidence" that teams conspired improperly in violation of the collective bargaining agreement and a player or players suffered economic harm as a result, the labor deal says.

The collective bargaining agreement says that "the failure by a Club or Clubs to negotiate, to submit Offer Sheets, or to sign contracts with Restricted Free Agents or Transition Players, or to negotiate, make offers, or sign contracts for the playing services of such players or Unrestricted Free Agents, shall not, by itself or in combination only with evidence about the playing skills of the player(s) not receiving any such offer or contract, satisfy the burden of proof" for a successful collusion claim.

The labor deal includes provisions for setting the amount of damages if a successful collusion claim is made, and gives the union the right to terminate the collective bargaining agreement under certain conditions after a successful collusion case.

This NFL season is being played without a salary cap. The salary cap system expired after last season.

By Mark Maske  |  December 5, 2010; 2:32 PM ET  | Category:  League , Union Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It is hard to see where the union has any case here. They agreed to the terms of the free agency under an uncapped year.

The unrestricted free agents saw record contracts (as well as some players that were extended early).

None of the restricted free agents were signed (which is typical)because no none was willing to give up draft picks.

If anything the players should be blaming the union for agreeing to stipulations in an uncapped year that was going to lead to hundreds of players becoming restricted free agents rather than unrestricted....history should have made it clear that restricted free agents almost always end up playing under their team assigned tender.

Posted by: guinness4health | December 6, 2010 2:18 PM

I'm guessing the Redskins-Rams trades in the last week of preseason will be cited in the compaint.

Posted by: csh2000 | December 5, 2010 2:41 PM

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