Dan Snyder, Redskins learn that in NFL, punishment doesn’t fit crime

Good for you, Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones!

Did I just write that? Have my fingers decided to operate outside the rules of my brain? Or rather, the implied, wink-wink nudge-nudge agreement with my brain? Are my fingers, in fact, 10 little Dan Snyders, working naughtily and independently of their overlord?

Help!

It is seldom, if ever, that I find myself on the opposite side of law and order. (That’s law and order, lowercase. I’m so over “Law and Order,” uppercase.) I’m big on rules, and doing the right thing. I tip well. On highways, I let people merge. I give courtesy waves the one time a year someone else lets me merge.

Yet I find myself on Snyder’s side. It’s a really strange place to be. It’s not crowded. Good seats still available. No waiting list. Plenty of parking.

What, I have to pay for parking? Good grief.

Well, you can hardly blame Snyder for trying to make a few more bucks. The NFL will take $36 million in salary cap space from his Washington Redskins over the next two seasons, reducing their free agent budget this year from an expected $30 million or so to about $17 million, after fiddling around with some contracts to give them a little more breathing room. (Salary cap numbers, of course, are open to incredible manipulation. The $36 million, though? That’s firm.)

Before the 2010 season — which was uncapped under a provision of the previous collective bargaining agreement — teams were warned not to restructure contracts to take a competitive advantage once a cap was back in place. The owners, including Snyder and Jones, were in meetings where they were cautioned that the labor battle could get ugly and that they needed to show a unified front. That’s exactly what happened as the owners locked out the players and the fight wound up in court.

Snyder and Jones, however, took a different message from those meetings. They saw a chance to restructure some contracts so that when the salary cap was back in place, they’d have some cash. They did it without violating any salary cap rules, and those deals were all approved by the league. Because they didn’t violate any rules. See how that works? But taken as a whole, they violated a rule. An unwritten rule, more of a suggestion, really. A gentlemen’s agreement.

But Snyder and Jones aren’t exactly old-school gentlemen. They are hard-nosed businessmen with a track record of making large sums of money, and they saw a way to get a leg up on the competition. That’s like waving a red flag at a bull. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say it was a set-up. I’m not, however. I just think for Snyder and Jones, it was hard to resist the urge to get ahead.

Picture the NFL’s old guard sitting around in red leather club chairs and looking down at the upstarts who have the audacity to see the teams as cash cows. Beloved franchises, life-long dreams, sure, but also cash cows. Because if that cow isn’t producing, the herd doesn’t grow.

No one has been better or more unabashed at wringing money out of their franchises than Snyder and Jones, whose teams are consistently judged among the most valuable in pro sports — not just in the NFL, but in all of sport. And why should the NFL expect anything less? Jones and Snyder did not inherit their teams, or the money to buy their teams. They made it, often by taking advantage of their competitors. Snyder in particular had a lot of contract mistakes to rectify and knew the team would need some serious money to play with in free agency this year because the cupboard was pretty bare. He made the smart business move.

And on the first day of free agency, the Redskins did exactly what you’d expect them to do after receiving the NFL’s version of a timeout: They ran right to the Learjet and signed two wide receivers. That’s just so . . . Snyder-y.

Was it a smart or safe thing to do? No, probably not. The smart and safe thing to do would have been to be good little gentlemen and try not to take advantage of your competitors who, when it comes to making money, aren’t really your competitors at all.

But I’m sure Snyder feels he did nothing wrong, and technically, he didn’t. The problem is, there may not be much of a basis for legal action here — although this smacks of collusion from an ethical point of view, it probably isn’t going to meet the requirements from a legal standpoint, because the alleged victims would be the players, and the union signed off on the punishment (under duress, but still). So it’s going to cost the Redskins dearly. And the timing, coming after the trade for the second overall pick in the draft, doesn’t help. Now the Redskins are short on picks and short on cash.

And yet, somehow, I find myself admiring Snyder’s moxie, even though it wasn’t smart or safe. That’s why I’ll never be a billionaire — not even my 10 little fingers.

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