Are the Redskins about to take the drastic step of suing their partners?
According to the Washington Post, the Redskins have let it be known to some around the league that they are considering taking the league to court in order to have all or part of their $18 million salary cap penalty overturned. They may ask a judge for an injunction to block the scheduled May 12 start of free agency until the salary cap matter has been settled.
Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen have let it be known in recent months that the team still intended to fight the cap penalty but no details were given. Until today, there was no indication that they would take the most drastic measure available, to use amounts to the nuclear option.
There are pitfalls in suing a league of which you are a member. In 1980 Al Davis sued the NFL to move his Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. He won the antitrust suit and moved the team to the LA Coliseum in 1982. He spent the rest of his years as an outcast among NFL owners. When he wanted improvements to the LA Coliseum and, after he moved the team back to Oakland in 1995, the Oakland Coliseum, he got precious little support from the league.
The possibility of strained relations with the other owners would be the risk the Redskins would be taking by going to court against the league. Even if they win there could be ramifications that last for decades and end up being more costly than what might be gained by winning the ability to spend an additional $18 million in player salary.
At this stage this appears to be a trial balloon the Redskins are floating around the league to see what the reaction might be. Undoubtedly, their hope is to avoid going to court altogether. The best possible outcome would be for them to convince the league that they have a real shot at winning an injunction and that it would be best to settle and restore all or part of the Redskins’ cap money rather than having free agency delayed indefinitely.
What kind of chance would the Redskins have? It’s hard to say. On the one hand it’s pretty clear that by spending freely during the uncapped 2010 season the Redskins chose not to be bound by a “secret” salary cap that was illegal and amounted to collusion by the other NFL owners. If the judge agrees, an injunction stopping player signings could be issued on the basis that the Redskins would be irreparably harmed by the start of free agency while their case was under adjudication.
On the other hand, the players’ union agreed to the sanctions and the Redskins may not have a legal right to do anything about it.
The truth of the matter is that when you go to court you never really know what is going to happen. If the case does go to trial, the only guaranteed winners are the lawyers for both sides, who will be putting in hundreds, if not thousands, of billable hours into the case.
It’s expense and fear of the unknown that causes all kinds of cases, both criminal and civil, are settled before going to trial. That is why the league may want to make a settlement offer to the Redskins and why the team might be willing to accept getting, say, half of its cap space back.
The Redskins may not yet have directly threatened to take the league to court just yet. But if they do say they are going to do it, they had better not be bluffing. If they cave quickly they would look weak and their credibility and standing in the league would be seriously and irreparably damaged.
It doesn’t look like they have crossed the point of no return. But if they do, there will be no going back. They will have to be prepared to take the case to its conclusion no matter how unpleasant things might get along the way.