San Francisco cheat
Niners lose two draft picks, $300,000 for violating cap
Updated: Friday December 01, 2000 6:38 PM
By Peter King, Sports Illustrated
The National Football League finally handed out the penalties stemming from its investigation of the San Francisco 49ers salary-cap situation. San Francisco was docked a fifth-round pick in the 2001 draft and a third-rounder in 2002. The 49ers were also fined $300,000 for violating the bylaws of the NFL salary-cap system.
In addition, Cleveland executive Dwight Clark was fined $200,000. Clark admitted in a deposition before league attorneys to making a side deal in the rookie-year contract of former 49ers quarterback Jim Druckenmiller. Clark's boss with the 49ers -- and current Browns president -- Carmen Policy was fined $400,000 because the violations occurred on his watch.
"Although there are many legal and factual differences of opinion over many of the issues, everyone connected with the matter agrees that this settlement is in the best interests of everyone involved, including the NFL," Policy said in a statement.
The announcement ended a nearly two-year ordeal. Current 49ers owners representative John York turned in the team for suspected violations more than a year ago centering around the contracts of Druckenmiller and tight end Brent Jones. Jones allegedly was promised a bonus outside the cap for offseason work the team had him do in conjunction with an effort to get a new football stadium built in San Francisco. And Clark made a verbal side deal with Druckenmiller's agent promising him that the first-round pick's contract would be renegotiated within three years if Druckenmiller were to become a starter during that time. The salary-cap bylaws prohibit verbal side deals to any contract.
In addition, the 49ers agreed to recognize a commitment of $483,000 that the club's prior ownership and management made to Jones.
York was pleased to end the case.
"This was a huge issue," York said. "We are glad that it is now completed and behind us. It was a very complex and difficult settlement that will probably always be unique due to the changes in ownership and management and the way it came about. The discussions with Paul Tagliabue, Harold Henderson and the league were very lengthy, very productive and, in the end, very fair."
Policy has steadfastly maintained his innocence through the investigation. But other owners, like Oakland's Al Davis, have called for Policy to be suspended for running a front office that fostered cap violations. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has come under fire for taking such a long time to impose these penalties and for going easy on the violators. For that reason, the league is considering a uniform, strict penalty for any team found guilty of any cap violations in the future.
The settlement, made with the agreement of the NFL Players Association, also calls for the player agents involved -- Leigh Steinberg, Jeff Moorad and Gary Wichard -- to contribute $350,000 to charities.
It also permits commissioner Paul Tagliabue to suspend for up to one year any club executive found to have entered into an undisclosed agreement or payment, and increases from $2 million to $3.5 million the amount clubs can be fined for entering into undisclosed payments or agreements.
The commissioner also may take two first-round draft choices from teams violating the Collective Bargaining Agreement with side deals.
The CBA also permits the commissioner to fine individual club personnel up to $250,000 each for their roles in any undisclosed agreements. Players and agents may be fined the same amount by the CBA Special Master.
In October, NBA commissioner David Stern took five No. 1 picks away from the Minnesota Timberwolves and fined the team $3.5 million for violating the NBA salary cap.
Policy defended his role in a statement issued by the Browns.
"I steadfastly maintain that I did not intend to violate any of the provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement nor do I feel that any of my actions amounted to a violation," he said. "I cannot envision myself as an adversary of the NFL, especially in a situation involving litigation. A courtroom victory against the league would be the equivalent of winning a battle but losing the war."
The principal issues involved allegations of an undisclosed agreement concerning duration and incentive provisions of Druckenmiller's rookie contract, undisclosed agreement concerning the duration of Woodall's contract, undisclosed commitments and payments made to Jones in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, and an agreement made between the agent for Young and the club regarding the quarterback's future compensation.
Steinberg, agent for Young and Jones, said, "We have no finding of liability. Our players get paid and worthy charities will benefit. This is the solution we advocated for some time."
There was no admission of liability by any of the agents or club personnel involved and the Players Association denied there were any undisclosed agreements that violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
"The NFLPA is pleased to resolve this matter," said Richard Berthelsen, general counsel for the Players Association. "What is important to us is that the players will retain or be paid all moneys that the team owed them. None of the players did anything wrong in this case, but further litigation would have been costly for everyone."
Harold Henderson, the NFL's executive vice president for labor relations, said the league was satisfied with the outcome.
"Under our new agreement with the Players Association for stiffer penalties and enforcement, future issues of cap violation will not be settled," he said.
"Such cases will be prosecuted to a conclusion before the Special Master, and a violation will be subject to discipline under the significantly increased sanctions authorized by today's agreement. This new agreement also eliminates the uncertainties and risks associated with litigating to a conclusion the types of complex issues raised in the 49ers case."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.