The players union claimed Wednesday that the NFL imposed a secret salary cap during the uncapped 2010 season that cost the players at least $1 billion.
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, which oversees the Reggie White settlement covering NFL labor matters. But the league says the union has no grounds for the action and is prohibited from filing it by the collective bargaining agreement.
The complaint claims a "conspiracy" to set a $123 million salary cap for the 2010 season, when owners did not have the authority to do so. The Cowboys and Redskins have had their future salary caps lowered for overspending in 2010, Dallas by $10 million over two seasons, Washington by a whopping $36 million.
Both teams lost a grievance against those reductions on Tuesday.
"When the rules are broken in a way that hurts the game, we have an obligation to act. We cannot stand by when we now know that the owners conspired to collude," union chief DeMaurice Smith said Wednesday.
In response to the reopening of the Reggie White lawsuit, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, "There was no collusion. There was no agreement. These claims are totally unfounded."
A league statement said the collective bargaining agreement signed last August to end the 4 1/2-month lockout prohibited the filing of these claims, and that players' attorneys signed a separate agreement agreeing to the terms.
But NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler said that agreement was rejected by the court.
"The document they are referring to was not accepted by the district court in Minnesota," he said Wednesday. "It was rejected and the court entered an order which only dismissed claims under White that were pending."
The NFL also points to a clause in the latest labor contract in which the union gives up the right to sue over "collusion with respect to any League Year prior to 2011."
Thus, the NFL has considered the 2010 uncapped season a closed matter ever since the new labor deal was signed last summer. Clearly, the players do not, and now are seeking compensation for lost wages caused by collusion among the teams.
"Our union recently learned that there was a secret salary cap agreement in an uncapped year," NFL Players Association President Domonique Foxworth said. "The complaint today is our effort to fulfill our duty to every NFL player. They deserve to know, above all, the facts and the truth about this conspiracy."
The 2006 CBA included an uncapped 2010 season as the final year of the deal. It was thought that neither the league nor the union would want the potential chaos of a season with no salary cap, but that proved false as negotiations on a new contract stagnated.