If there's anything more preposterously stupid than the $36 million salary cap penalty imposed on the Redskins (and $10 million on the Cowboys) for breaking no rules and doing nothing wrong, it's the steady drumbeat of idiocy coming from the NFL owners meeting this week.
Let's recap. During the previous collective bargaining agreement, the players and owners agreed to a "poison pill" final year. For the players, the "poison" was delayed free agency -- something that affected hundreds of players, including Jason Campbell and Carlos Rogers. For the owners, the "poison" was an uncapped year -- a terrifying provision for franchises less flush with cash, who feared that deep-pocket teams (like the Redskins and Cowboys) would spend wildly in an effort to buy a championship.
The owners came up with a solution, though. Instead of having a collectively bargained salary cap, the owners made a "gentlemen's agreement" (in the words of Giants owner John Mara) to keep player salaries within reasonable parameters. Except, it wasn't really an "agreement" in the sense that everyone agreed. It was much more of a back-room dictate -- agreed upon between some owners and then imposed by the league, complete with "warnings" not to do anything in the uncapped year that would give team an "unfair advantage" when the new CBA went into effect.
Speaking from the owners meeting, Mara told ESPN, "I thought the penalties imposed were proper. What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap. They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole, and quite frankly, I think they’re lucky they didn’t lose draft picks. They attempted to take advantage of it knowing full well there would be consequences."
There's an Everest-sized hole in Mara's "logic" though. Namely, there was no salary cap. It was an uncapped year. Specifically because that's what the two sides agreed to. It was illegal for the owners to "agree" to keep player salaries lower than they might have been in a free and open market.
And there's another problem -- the hypocritical and unfair punishments doled out to the Redskins and Cowboys, but not other teams. See, the CBA included both a salary cap (a limit on player salaries), and a salary floor (a minimum required amount each team was required to spend). If there'd been a cap in that uncapped season, the salary floor would have been about $112 million.
Ten teams spent less. Why didn't they get docked salary cap space for saving cash that they're now able to spend on signing bonuses for free agents? Why aren't they "lucky" not to lose draft picks?
Consider the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the uncapped (and unfloored) season, they spent just $80.8 million -- saving themselves $31.2 million they otherwise would have been required to spend on players. Yet somehow, that saved money wasn't deemed an "unfair advantage." What's Tampa been doing this offseason? They signed offensive guard Carl Nicks and wide receiver Vincent Jackson -- two of the biggest prizes in this year's free agent class. Hmm.
Mara's "gentlemen's agreement" comment would have been idiocy enough for the week considering that he publicly admitted to elements of illegal collusion between owners to limit player salaries during the uncapped year. But, the rest of the owners decided to double down on stupid with their 29-0 vote to support the cap penalty against the Redskins and Cowboys.
Taking the vote was silliness since it was entirely unnecessary. The league office imposed the penalty, and the appeal of that penalty will be heard by an independent arbitrator who won't be influenced by an inane non-binding vote from the other owners. There was no reason for the owners to support the penalty, and many reasons not to.
But they did, and in doing so revealed additional layers of stupid. First, the vote was to send a message, but there's no audience. It only served to further inflame fans of the Skins and Cowboys. Fans of other teams really don't care. Second, the vote cements the perception of collusion. Wait, you mean all the owners who carried out illegal collusion voted to sanction the two owners who didn't go along with breaking the law? What's next in news of the weird? Dogs like food?
And third, it gives yet another push to the Skins and Cowboys to go nuclear and file a lawsuit that will tear apart the agreements that enable a small market team like Green Bay to compete with a big-market team like Washington, Dallas, New England or New York. It's as if the other 29 owners are double-dog daring Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones to sue.
For someone who likes things to make sense at least once in awhile, this entire situation is pure absurdity. I keep circling back to this: The Skins and Cowboys are being punished for doing nothing wrong and breaking no rules. Umm, what?
Fans of both teams are hoping the arbitrator brings some sense of reality back to this process. That will help -- at least until Goodell triples down on stupid and uses "Bounty Gate" to punish Washington anyway.