I was happy when the NFL came down on the Redskins and Cowboys, because it seemed like they gained an unfair advantage in the uncapped 2010 NFL season. It is a complex scenario though, and some of the people angry about the NFL penalizing the two teams make some good points. Still, I couldn’t help but think the Redskins and Cowboys were trying to get away with something and create an unfair advantage.
First of all, is it collusion? Absolutely. Of course it is collusion, but let’s not pretend like it isn’t a delicate balance between running a league with rules that everyone has to follow and a league that is so unique in terms of standard businesses that it requires special anti-trust exemption. That being the case, you can’t really compare it to any other kind of business. And with that being the case, it sometimes looks a bit messy if you don’t put it in the vacuum it normally lives in.
Therefore, it makes little sense to try and apply wide-sweeping legal standards and platitudes about right, wrong and technicalities. The NFL, in the end, is its very own ecosystem and it relies heavily on self-governing so that scoring points unfairly on technicalities in order to get around the rules isn’t allowed. Were the contracts that the Redskins used in 2010 legal, technically? Sure, but those legalities were determined based on an ecosystem that had salary caps.
This cap system punished teams fairly for signing players to bad contracts for the express purpose of making it so everyone competes on a somewhat level playing field. It is the anti-Yankee provision that people all over the country love about the NFL. The best thing about the NFL over the years has been competitive balance. The reason that the NFL is so popular is that J.D. Drew can’t sit on your bench making $14 million so he can have his only big hit in the playoffs.
The NFL still ends up with dynasties, but there ends up being a respect for GMs and coaches who achieve success because they’re viewed as doing their jobs better. Nobody looks at Yankees GM Brian Cashman with the same respect they look at Ozzie Newsome as far as I know. There’s a good reason for that. I hope someday people think of Tom Heckert the exact same way.
And with that, I can’t understand why so many NFL pundits want to obsess over this issue like attorneys and judges looking for technicalities to excuse anti-competitive behavior. This isn’t an actual legal issue involving laws or the U.S. Constitution. This is about preserving the entertainment value of a product that plays out on TVs and in stadiums around the country. They should be looking for ways to justify the penalties or say nothing at all.
Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones were trying to buy their way out of trouble so that they could set themselves up to be in a better position than other teams. What was good for them was decidedly worse for all the other teams with fans around the country. The NFL was right to step in and protect the many by regulating the few. As much as I hate the Ravens and Steelers I respect them for the way they operate. I’d prefer that to having a Brian Cashman type GM emerge in the NFL anytime soon. If collusion stops that and keeps the NFL on a level above the things I despise most about Major League Baseball, then there is no other conclusion than that collusion is a good thing.