The NFL on Friday was handed its second legal setback of the week as the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision that had closed the door on a collusion claim by the NFL Players Assn.
The players union had accused the league of colluding during the uncapped year of 2010 in order to keep salaries in check, and, in effect, secretly treat that season as if a salary cap of $123 million per team were in place. The NFLPA sued in May 2012, nine months after the new collective bargaining agreement had been signed.
Why did the players believe there was an unspoken pact? Because after that season, Dallas and Washington were handed $46 million in future cap reductions, even though they ostensibly stayed within the rules of the collective bargaining agreement at the time and their player contracts were approved by the league.
Judge David Doty, normally seen as sympathetic to the players, dismissed the players’ collusion claim. Doty concluded it was too late for the players to make that argument because a feature of the new CBA was a settlement of all outstanding legal claims that had been made or could be made.
But the reversal by the 8th Circuit reopens the issue and potentially exposes the league to significant damages that could be awarded to the players. The NFLPA had claimed the league had imposed a secret salary cap that cost players at least $1 billion.
The legal reversal paves the way for a discovery phase that would force the NFL to disclose information about whether it told teams to treat the uncapped 2010 season as if a salary cap were in place.
“Our union will always pursue and protect the rights of its players,” the NFLPA said Friday in a written statement. “We are pleased that the 8th Circuit ruled that players have the opportunity to proceed with their claims. Through discovery and a hearing, we can understand how collusion took place. We have notified the NFL of its obligations to preserve all relevant documents and communications.”
The NFL, which on Wednesday learned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the trademark registration of the Washington Redskins, called Friday’s ruling “entirely procedural.”
“Far from validating the Union’s claims, the Court specifically highlighted the heavy burden that the NFLPA faces in establishing this claim,” the league said in a written statement, “and we remain highly confident that the claim will be dismissed yet again.”