The players union claimed Wednesday that the NFL imposed a secret salary cap during the uncapped 2010 season that cost the players at least $1 billion.
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, which oversees the Reggie White settlement covering NFL labor matters.
The complaint claims a "conspiracy" to set a $123 million salary cap for the 2010 season, when owners did not have the authority to do so. The Cowboys and Redskins have had their future salary caps lowered for overspending in 2010, Dallas by $10 million over two seasons, Washington by a whopping $36 million.
Both teams lost a grievance against those reductions on Tuesday.
"When the rules are broken in a way that hurts the game, we have an obligation to act. We cannot stand by when we now know that the owners conspired to collude," union chief DeMaurice Smith said Wednesday.
In response to the reopening of the Reggie White lawsuit, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, "There was no collusion. There was no agreement. These claims are totally unfounded."
A league statement said the collective bargaining agreement signed last August to end the 4 1/2-month lockout prohibited the filing of these claims, and that players' attorneys signed a separate agreement agreeing to the terms.
"The claims have absolutely no merit and we fully expect them to be dismissed," a statement from the NFL said. "On multiple occasions, the players and their representatives specifically dismissed all claims, known or unknown, whether pending or not, regarding alleged violations of the 2006 CBA and the related settlement agreement. We continue to look forward to focusing on the future of the game rather than grievances of a prior era that have already been resolved."
In other words, the NFL has considered the 2010 uncapped season a closed matter ever since the new labor deal was signed last summer. Clearly, the players do not.
"Our union recently learned that there was a secret salary cap agreement in an uncapped year," NFL Players Association President Domonique Foxworth said. "The complaint today is our effort to fulfill our duty to every NFL player. They deserve to know, above all, the facts and the truth about this conspiracy."
The 2006 CBA included an uncapped 2010 season as the final year of the deal. It was thought that neither the league nor the union would want the potential chaos of a season with no salary cap, but that proved false as negotiations on a new contract stagnated.
Just over two months after that uncapped season, the league locked out the players in March 2011. The salary cap was reinstated in the new, 10-year CBA finalized last August.
But on March 12, just before free agency began this year, the Redskins and Cowboys had their salary caps reduced over the next two seasons. The NFLPA was involved in determining how much each team would be penalized, with 28 other clubs getting a boost in their salary caps for 2012 and `13.
Oakland and New Orleans do not share in the redistributed salary cap space because they engaged in similar practices, but not to the degree of Washington and Dallas.
Now, the union has claimed a deeper conspiracy by the 32 teams and the league office, which the union says approved contracts enabling the Redskins, Cowboys, Raiders, and Saints to exceed "a secret, collusive salary cap." And the players say the real reason for the punishments was to penalize the four teams for not abiding by an agreement among all the teams to collude to keep salaries lower in 2010.
This is dangerous territory for any sport.
In baseball, the union filed collusion grievances following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons accusing management of conspiring against free agents. After arbitrators ruled in the union's favor, management agreed to a $280 million settlement. Among the players affected were Jack Morris, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Jack Clark and Lance Parrish.
A triple-damages provision was inserted into the sport's labor contract in 1990.