It seems there’s a bit of angst in the ranks at NFL meetings

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / March 27, 2012
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PALM BEACH, Fla. - Business might be booming for the NFL since the lockout, but that doesn’t mean everybody is happy.

Far from it.

While the league goes about its annual meetings at The Breakers resort, there’s an undercurrent of angst in the ranks.

The Saints continue to reel from the recent bounty scandal penalties - with player discipline still to be handed out - and the Redskins and Cowboys are fighting back against the NFL over salary cap penalties that were announced just before free agency began.

The NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed to redistribute $46 million in cap room from the Redskins and Cowboys to 28 other teams this season and next. The Raiders and Saints were charged with minor salary cap violations and were not allowed to recoup money this year.

Both the Redskins and Cowboys violated a side agreement among clubs not to use the 2010 uncapped year - which was written into the previous collective bargaining agreement - as a place to dump unwanted contracts or to offset future cap hits.

Even though the contracts were approved by the NFL management council when they were signed, the league still came after the Redskins and Cowboys.

Both teams thought it a little more than a coincidence that the chairman of the management council - which initiated the penalties - is John Mara, the co-owner of the NFC East-rival Giants.

“I thought the penalties imposed were proper,’’ Mara said during the league meetings. “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 Redskins were required to remove $18 million from their salary cap this year and next. The Cowboys were docked $5 million each year.

The teams have fought back by filing a grievance that will be heard by NFL special master Stephen Burbank, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. No date has been set for the hearing.

On Monday, teams heard a presentation from the Cowboys and Redskins as to why they should not be penalized. Representatives from both teams then were excused while the remaining 30 teams debated the issue. The league decided to continue on with arbitration.

In a statement released by the league, the NFL contended “the allocation aspect of the agreement is intended to address competitive issues arising from contract practices by those clubs in the 2010 league year intended to avoid certain salary cap charges in 2011 and later years.’’

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he wouldn’t comment further on the issue.

If the Redskins and Cowboys aren’t satisfied with arbitration, they could take the issue to court.

As for the Saints, owner Tom Benson, general manager Mickey Loomis, and coach Sean Payton have not spoken publicly about the unprecedented penalties that were leveled as a result of the league’s investigation into bounties that rewarded New Orleans players for hits that knocked opposing players out of the game.

The Saints were fined $500,000 and docked second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013. Loomis was suspended for eight games. Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (now with the Rams) was suspended indefinitely, and current assistant head coach Joe Vitt will sit out the first six games.

Benson did, however, speak to league owners.

“He was very open with the clubs,’’ Goodell said. “I think he expressed his disappointment that this occurred and it was not what he’s all about. He expects to take whatever steps necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’’

Loomis is attending the league meetings, and Payton is expected to talk with reporters Wednesday morning.

Reports surfaced that Payton has talked with his mentor and former NFL coach Bill Parcells about becoming interim coach. Goodell said that’s within the Saints’ rights, but they would have to interview at least one minority candidate if they hire anyone outside the organization.

Parcells told the Associated Press he has spoken to Payton about how to handle the season - but nothing more. Asked if anyone in the Saints organization had talked to him about coaching the team in 2012, he said, “No.’’

The former Patriots coach, who hired Payton as an offensive assistant in Dallas in 2003, was in Florida for spring training and spoke before the Mets’ game against the Cardinals.

Goodell elaborated on the penalties and indicated that Payton continued to deceive the league on the bounty allegations recently.

“It’s a violation of a very serious rule,’’ Goodell said. “We have made player health and safety very clear as a priority. I have addressed it with owners, head coaches, general managers, and all of our personnel several times a year.

“During the process of when this first was raised over two years ago there were denials. They, frankly, were not forthright with what was happening and that continued, and that continued even through our investigation into the past several weeks. So it’s a serious violation of our policy. It’s something that has zero tolerance in the NFL and it is not acceptable to hide the issues, continue to violate NFL policy, put our players at risk. That’s going to be dealt with very harshly.’’

Goodell, who started his investigation after the 2009 season, said the Saints were confronted again on the issue on the night before this season’s wild-card game against the Lions.

“Our point was, if there is [a bounty system], you better make sure it’s not in effect because we are continuing our investigation,’’ Goodell said.

As for former defensive tackle and current NFL Network commentator Warren Sapp labeling former Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey a “snitch’’ for being a whistleblower in the bounty case - something Shockey has denied - Goodell didn’t publicly reprimand Sapp.

“I think I would say to NFL Network staff, as well as anybody else, you better be sure of your information before you report it,’’ Goodell said. “I didn’t see his comment, but he’s inaccurate so let’s start with that.’’

An NFL source said the Sapp situation is still being dealt with and discipline could be coming.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at

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