You would think that as commissioner of the most watched, most popular and most profitable sports league in North America, Roger Goodell would make it a priority to be fair and equitable to his teams. And yet he has once again found a way to superimpose himself on the game, enough so that even with a healthy Robert Griffin III, making the playoffs will be a tough task for the Redskins.

The Redskins have $18 million less in salary cap space to work with this year than they should. With a cap of $123 million for 53 players, $18 million makes a huge difference.

Last offseason, Goodell docked the Redskins $36 million and the Cowboys $10 million in salary cap room to be spread out over the 2012 and 2013 offseasons. Why? The Redskins and Cowboys owners spent too much during an uncapped year.

Read that again. An uncapped year.
Please allow someone who spends way too much time reading about NFL contracts and labor deals to give a little background.

In 2006, the NFL and NFL Players Association extended their collective bargaining agreement through the 2010 season. One detail was that if the two sides didn’t agree to a new CBA before the 2010 offseason started, there would be no salary cap for 2010. During the 2010 season, the Redskins and Cowboys owners — Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones, respectively, possibly the two highest-spending league owners in NFL history — decided to make use of the lack of a salary cap and, logically, spend more money on better players to make their teams better.
And then they were penalized for it. The NFL explained the penalties by saying that the Cowboys’ and Redskins’ actions “created an unacceptable risk to future competitive balance.” In other words, if you use the rules in place to improve your team, make sure that you aren’t too much better than other teams, because that could get in the way of “parity.”

How in the world does that make sense? It’s not the teams’ jobs to make sure that the rest of the league has an equal shot, because a professional sports league doesn’t run the same as a tee-ball league for five-year-olds. When you’re kids, the losing team might be allowed eight outs in the final inning to make sure they tied the score so that both teams could be happy and enjoy Oreos and Gatorade after the game.
If the NFL didn’t like the fact that teams could spend more than the amount that they normally do, they shouldn’t have allowed that clause into the CBA. Don’t blame Snyder and Jones for caring more about their teams than they did about their balance sheets,
The NFL’s explanation doesn’t make sense in part because it’s a lie. Simply put, Roger Goodell and the NFL have a problem with the league’s owners paying the players more money than they are “supposed” to. Goodell worries that if there is a way that the players can make more money than expected in a given year, their expectations for future contracts will be heightened. The NFL wants to put a stop to this in order to control player salaries even if it comes at the expense of owners who are just trying to win, even if it’s the NFL’s job — not an individual team’s job — to keep bad clauses out of their CBA.
There is an even more recent example of the NFL trying to undermine clauses that the NFLPA has worked into the CBA. This year, the NFLPA inserted a three-day shopping weekend before the start of free agency, which could drive the players’ market prices up before anyone could actually get signed.Goodell sent all 32 teams a warning memo stating that tampering investigations could be launched into any deal that was hatched during the three-day period, scaring teams away from seriously talking with players. The teams realize the dictatorial and draconian ways that Goodell punished the Redskins and Cowboys for defying him, and they all stepped in line.

I have no idea how taking away cap space from the Cowboys and Redskins was legal; if either team were to actually take the NFL to court, the penalties might not actually hold up. But when looking at the lack of legal action combined with all 32 teams being scared away from signing free agents because of a memo, it seems that the all-controlling NFL is free to throw its weight around without worrying about whether its actions are completely moral — or even legal. During Goodell’s tenure, the NFL has also suspended players without proof (the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, for one), acted on concussions only when the mainstream popularity of football seemed threatened and preached player safety in a violent sport while trying to add two more games to the season. In a league where the commissioner and the owners seem to have complete power over their players and media members, it’s amazing that Goodell and the league office can also flex their muscles at owners who aren’t simply being the obedient foot soldiers that the NFL and its executives want them to be.

Tom Hoff is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. DOWN TO THE WIRE appears every Friday.

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