A fair number of sports fans in the Washington, D.C. area do not care for Post sports columnist Mike Wise. They didn't like his short-lived and now-defunct radio show and they don't like his columns. When they really want to twist the knife, Wise's detractors point to his Twitter-hoax -- posting an intentionally false report about Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger on the social media site -- that earned him a suspension from the Post. I don't really have strong opinions about Wise. I ignored his radio show and find his columnis predictably inconsistent -- basically average for a big city sports columnist in the United States. I'd like to see the Post hire a better columnist than Wise, but understand they're just as likely to hire someone worse, so I don't have a problem with him in his current position.
But Mike Wise is seriously out of his depth with today's column in the Post, in which he declares the Redskins are to blame for the salary cap penalty of $36 million imposed by the NFL a year ago -- the penalty that cost the team the chance to upgrade the secondary last year and probably this year, too, as well as leading to the loss of LB Lorenzo Alexander and perhaps Fred Davis, as well.
Let's review the facts. The NFL had an uncapped year in 2010, the final year of the previous collective bargaining agreement. The league asserts that there was an unwritten rule among the teams that no team would "take advantage" of the uncapped year to improve their salary cap situation in 2011 and beyond. The Redskins and Cowboys decided to "take advantage" of the uncapped year by dumping money into 2010, thus freeing up more cap space in the following years. They did this on the contracts of DL Albert Haynesworth and CB DeAngelo Hall. The Cowboys also did it, to a lesser extent, particularly with the contract for WR Miles Austin.
However, because there is nothing in writing about that we have to take them at their word. The league asserts that teams were warned of future punishment if they "took advantage" of the uncapped year, but, again, there is nothing in writing about this so you have to take the league's word for it.
[Are you one of those persons who believes it's a good idea to take 32 millionaires/billionaires at their word. If you are, good for you! What a sweetie-pie you must be.]
That's essentially what Mike Wise does in this column -- well, he takes 30 of them at their word, not Redskins owner Dan Snyder or Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. But Wise goes further than that. Earlier this week Redskins GM Bruce Allen called a press conference to announce that the Redskins would not be suing the NFL over the salary cap penalty and to denounce, in fairly harsh terms, the league for the penalty and the NFL Player's Association for not preventing the penalty from happening. Wise says the Redskins are entirely at fault for the penalty because they were too arrogant and tricky for their own good, attempting to destroy the league's competitive balance.
Three years ago NFL owners agreed that teams would not be allowed to exploit the uncapped year to gain a competitive advantage. There was not a written edict violated or a binding contract broken. There were simply a few teams who made a mockery of a negotiated solution to preserve competitive NFL balance, and the most conniving and manipulative among those teams, the Redskins and the Cowboys (who suffered lesser penalties), basically got voted off the island by their peer group.
First of all, if the NFL owners argreed that teams would not be allowed to exploit the uncapped year to gain a competitive advantage, why isn't that agreement in writing? If this is so important that the NFL owners went out of their way to create a policy about it, why is it relegated to the status of a "gentleman's agreement."
The reason, of course, is that such a "gentleman's agreement" is almost certainly illegal. As ESPN NFC East blogger Dan Graziano wrote a year ago:
NFL owners agreed, in secret, to limit spending in 2010 even though there was no cap — to continue to structure contracts as though there were a cap, because the lockout they were about to impose was basically a thinly veiled attempt at union-busting.
So, let's say the NFL told the 32 owners not to exceed the previous year's salary cap [that would be the 2009 cap] in 2010 and warned of punishment if they did. Snyder and Jones [and to a far lesser extent, the Saints and Raiders] did not do as they were told. They used the uncapped year to improve their salary cap situation and, in so doing, clearly exceeded the 2009 cap. However, it's important to point out: They broke no rules.
Let's re-state that: The Redskins and Cowboys broke no rules when they exceeded the 2009 salary cap in 2010 because 2010 was an uncapped year and THERE WERE NO RULES about the salary cap! That's the point of an uncapped season!
Remember: the Redskins and Cowboys were penalized for "overspending" on player contracts in a year in which no salary cap existed. The NFL is punishing the two teams for exceeding a salary cap THAT DID NOT EXIST.
It's important to remember that all NFL contracts have to be approved by the NFL before they become official. The NFL approved all the contracts that later became the source of the penalties imposed on the Redskins and Cowboys. A sensible person might wonder why contracts that were deemed perfectly acceptable in 2010 became unacceptable in March 2012. What changed between those two years?
The answer is obvious -- a collective bargaining agreement. The league could not dismiss the contracts in 2010 because they were perfectly correct under the league rules at that time because [say it with me] THERE WAS NO SALARY CAP. If the contracts had not been approved by the NFL in 2010 the Redskins, Cowboys and NFL Players Association would have demanded an explanation. The only correct explanation the NFL could give -- that they had unspoken "gentleman's agreement" forcing every team to abide by a rule that did not exist and had not been collectively bargained for -- would open them up to an immediate lawsuit for antitrust violations. So the league said nothing. The league approved the contracts and waited for a new CBA, in which they would bargain with the hapless and clueless union for the right to impose these penalties after the fact -- thus getting union approval -- after the fact -- for actions clearly against the best interests of, not only the Redskins and Cowboys, but also against the players -- the very people the union is supposed to protect.
There is a second point that Wise raises and that the NFL used to justify this chicanery -- competitive balance. To the league "competitive balance" is a holy talisman and they wield it like a weapon and a shield depending on their needs at that moment. The NFL is famously concerned with maintaining fan interest by making it possible for the fans of almost every team to imagine their favorite club making a run at the Super Bowl in the immediate or near future. This competitive balance is regarded by many as the key to the success of the league and thus the league believes anything it does to preserve that balance is justifiable.
But that's a bunch of nonsense in this case. The Redskins and Cowboys were punished for exceeding a non-existing salary cap and thereby damaging the league's "competitive balance." However, other teams -- the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills, for example -- cut spending sharply in the uncapped year, falling below the minimum spending requirements in the previous year's salary cap. If "overspending" affects the league's competitive balance, surely "underspending" does, as well. But if you're about to start searching Google for some record of league penalties imposed on the Bengals and Bills, don't bother. There were no penalties. Apparently, "overspending" was a sin, "underspending" was not.
And this lays bare the lie at the heart of this entire sorry affair -- the lie that a credulous Mike Wise swallows in its entirety. These penalties had nothing to do with "competitive balance." The league wanted to control salary costs in a year in which they did not have the right to do so. The league did not mind if some teams drove down salary costs by spending far less than they had in the past. They only cared that a couple of teams drove costs up by ignoring the league's collusion scheme and operating according to the letter of the law and NFL rules.
Mr Wise's final point -- that the Redskins and Cowboys "exceeded" an non-existent salary cap in order to gain competitive advantage is irrelevant. Of course they did. Isn't that what teams are supposed to do? What is the point of hiring good coaches, training players, researching college stars, signing free agents, etc -- EVERYTHING AN NFL TEAM DOES -- if not to gain a competitive advantage. Gaining a competitive advantage is the central goal of everyone involved in sports. That's how you win -- by gaining a competitive advantage. Of course, we want everyone to gain a competitive advantage by playing by the rules. And since no rules existed to prevent the Redskins and Cowboys from gaining a competitive advantage in this way, that point is, as I wrote above, irrelevant.
How any intelligent person can fail to understand all of this is almost literally incomprehensible. Some might suggest that Mr Wise, who has a beef with the team over the Redskins name [an issue on which I agree with Mr Wise], has had one too many run-ins with the club and is now trying to stick it to them any way he can. Even if he has to embarrass himself and damage his own reputation -- such as it is -- in the process.
Perhaps that is so, but I prefer to go with the simplest explanation for Mr Wise's ridiculous column -- he simply has no idea what he's writing about.