Cowboys, Redskins could silence Mara’s lips

The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins haven’t accomplished much on the field the past 15 seasons or so, but they have an excellent chance at getting a win against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his minions. The Cowboys and Redskins have filed a grievance against the NFL, NFL Players Association and the NFL Management Council in response to the combined $46 million in salary-cap penalties the teams absorbed earlier this month.

You don’t have to be one of America’s top legal minds to realize the “adjustment” made to the Cowboys and Redskins’ salary-cap situation for the 2012 and 2013 seasons doesn’t make a lick of sense. The NFL Management Council, chaired by Giants co-owner John Mara, approved the contracts during the uncapped 2010 season that were later called into question. Apparently it’s hard to recognize a front-loaded contract at first blush.

Mara, who may be feeling his oats following another Super Bowl title, didn’t waste any time responding to the grievance. He doesn’t have any sympathy for his NFC East brethren.

“I thought the penalties imposed were proper,” said Mara. “What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap. They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole, and quite frankly, I think they’re lucky they didn’t lose draft picks.”

The NFL Management Council, which apparently has more power than most of us realized, is hiding behind this ridiculous notion the Cowboys and Redskins gained a competitive advantage. Have any of these people actually watched these two teams? If so, they wouldn’t waste their time imposing penalties that could likely be overturned.

The “competitive advantage” argument is a not-so-creative phrase being used to disguise their actual beef with the Cowboys and Redskins. Most of the owners believed there was an agreement, written or not, to restrict spending (and apparently front-loaded contracts) during the uncapped season. That the Redskins and Cowboys didn’t follow along shouldn’t come as a shock. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been thumbing his nose at the league for years, and Redskins owner Dan Snyder thinks of him as a mentor and close friend.

The only thing Jones may want to re-think on this grievance is that Washington would benefit from a favorable ruling much more than the Cowboys, who should be able to absorb the $10 million hit over two years with relative ease.

Jones has long said that you should never let your “money get mad,” but it’s understandable that he would challenge a ruling that the league has yet to justify. The league has a problem with two teams trying to gain a competitive advantage, but it apparently sees nothing wrong with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers using the uncapped season as an excuse for becoming outright miserly.

“I don’t want to make our case here,” Jones told the Dallas Morning News on Friday at a charity event. “But all of our contracts were approved by the league, and you can’t approve a contract that is in violation of league rules. You can’t even get it on the books if it isn’t in sync with league rules.”

Jones and Snyder have nothing to lose except some lawyer fees in pursuing this grievance. If they lose, no one’s going to blame for the Cowboys and Redskins for aggressively defending a strategy they believed to be sound at the time. If the NFL special master, Stephen Burbank, rules in favor of the two teams, the other owners (and Goodell) will have egg on their faces.

Judging by how aggressive the Redskins and Cowboys were in free agency, they have to feel pretty good about their cases. And the more Mara tries to defend his council’s decision with petty comments, the worse he’ll look in the end.

It’s not like Jones and Snyder needed any more resolve in this fight. Surely Goodell realized that targeting these two organizations might end up exposing some of the backroom agreements that were made during the uncapped season. Since buying the Cowboys in 1989, Jones has never been afraid to take on an NFL commissioner. Some of that came natural, but he also learned a lot from his close friend, Al Davis.

If Mara was looking for a fight, it looks like he came to the right place. And if he thought Jones would take this lying down, he’s more naïve than anyone could’ve predicted.

Jones has been on the wrong side of a lot of football decisions over the past 23 years, but he’s on firm ground with this grievance. If only Tom Landry and George Allen were here to see the Cowboys and Redskins playing on the same team.