Union leader says facts prove NFL collusion claim

WASHINGTON (AP) - NFL players union chief DeMaurice Smith says his group's claim of collusion will stand up in court.

The NFL Players Association claimed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota on Wednesday that the 32 teams had a secret salary cap in place during the uncapped 2010 season, and that it cost players at least $1 billion in wages.

"Cartels do what cartels will do when left unchecked," Smith said Thursday outside union headquarters. "The facts justify the complaint."

On Wednesday, hours after the court action, the NFL issued a statement saying "the union's claims have absolutely no merit and we fully expect them to be dismissed."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello also said: "There was no collusion. There was no agreement. These claims are totally unfounded."

The union has spent much of the offseason challenging the league on a variety of issues - from punishment handed down by Commissioner Roger Goodell for the alleged roles of four players in the Saints' bounties program to appeals in drug-related discipline. Now comes the court action in Minnesota, filed one day after the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys had grievances dismissed after having their salary caps reduced for this season and next.

The Redskins are losing $36 million and the Cowboys $10 million for overspending during the uncapped season - a revelation that, in part, spurred the union's claim of collusion.

"When we feel those rules are violated, we will, on behalf of our players, always act in their best interest," Smith said.

"The 32 teams are defendants of the action right now. If there is evidence that is developed later on that would demonstrate that any one of those teams did not abide by the conspiracy, then my guess is those teams will make the appropriate assertions, and we'll see where we end up."

The complaint claims that "conspiracy" set a $123 million salary cap for the 2010 season, when owners did not have the authority to do so.

According to the league, the CBA signed last August to end the 4 1-2 month lockout had clauses precluding the union from filing such a complaint. But NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler disputed that Wednesday, saying a portion of those clauses was rejected by the court.

"It doesn't sound like you're denying the existence of collusion, does it?" Smith said.

As for the discord between the union and the league, Smith said it shouldn't be surprising.

"We all got along, and the league locked us out," Smith said. "We certainly had players across history who left every bit of blood, sweat and tears on the field. And yet, the National Football League continues to fight us on a number of workers' comp cases."

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