Several people familiar with the case said in recent days they thought it was unlikely that Stephen Burbank, the sport’s system arbitrator, would make an immediate ruling.
The hearing is to take place at the University of Pennsylvania law school in Philadelphia. Burbank, who is in charge of resolving disputes arising from the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, is a law professor at the school.
Attorneys are scheduled to argue the case before Burbank without testimony from any witnesses on Thursday, according to several people familiar with the case. One of those people said Thursday’s hearing is likely to focus primarily on jurisdictional issues, specifically whether the Redskins and Cowboys have the right to bring such a case before Burbank given that the league and the NFL Players Association agreed to the salary cap reductions given to the teams.
A person familiar with the matter previously said that the league had asked Burbank to dismiss the case because of that agreement on the cap reductions between the league and the players’ union.
It is not clear when Burbank will make a decision about whether the case will be dismissed. It also is not clear if another hearing would be required if Burbank allows the case to continue. But a person familiar with the proceedings said it was not expected that other aspects of the case would be addressed during Thursday’s hearing.
Redskins officials, including Coach Mike Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen, consistently have refused to comment on the details of the case.
The league imposed a $36 million salary cap reduction over two years on the Redskins, at least half of which must be absorbed by the team this season. The Cowboys were given a $10 million cap reduction over two years. The reductions were imposed for the manner in which the two teams structured players’ contracts during the sport’s season without a salary cap in 2010.
According to several people familiar with the case, the league found that the Redskins and Cowboys technically violated no salary cap rules but sought to gain an unfair competitive advantage when the salary cap went back into effect. The two teams, according to those people familiar with the case, paid money to players during the uncapped year that otherwise would have been paid in subsequent years with the salary cap back in place. That way, the money never counted against the cap and the teams cleared salary cap space in future seasons.
The 2010 season was played without a salary cap under a provision in the sport’s previous labor agreement. It went back into effect last year with the ratification of a new CBA by the league and union.
The teams voted, 29-2, at the annual league meeting in Palm Beach, Fla., in late March to endorse the salary cap reductions. The Redskins and Cowboys voted against that resolution and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers abstained.
The salary cap reductions were imposed as part of an agreement between the league and union. A person familiar with the union’s view of the case said previously that the union believed the Redskins and Cowboys did nothing wrong, but agreed to the reductions to avoid having the salary cap set lower for all teams. The $46 million in salary cap reductions was redistributed to 28 of the other 30 NFL teams and this season’s salary cap was set at $120.6 million per team.
According to several people familiar with the case, the owners of some teams were angry enough at the Redskins’ actions that they urged NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to strip draft choices from them. The league imposed the salary cap reduction instead.
The Redskins and Cowboys have denied wrongdoing in the case and have pointed out that all of the contracts were approved by the league at the time. The teams filed their case against both the league and the union.
Under the CBA, a ruling by Burbank could be appealed to an appeals panel. It also is possible for the parties to reach a settlement prior to a ruling by Burbank, although several people familiar with the case said they don’t see any indication at this point that a compromise is within reach or even is being considered.
Legal experts have said the case is complex and it is not clear which way Burbank will rule. According to those legal experts, Burbank must weigh the NFL’s right to act as it sees fit to maintain competitive balance against the teams’ claim that they acted within the stated rules of the salary cap.