Team Report:

Posted Apr 14, 2003

The offseason's most complex off-field battle finally has been resolved. Mostly.

The Washington Redskins were awarded prized kick returner Chad Morton by an arbitrator after the New York Jets declined to match the void-clause provision in Morton's offer sheet, on the advice of the NFL Management Council.

The NFL Players Association argued on behalf of Morton, contending that void clauses should be a "principal term" that must be matched in offer-sheet situations.

Arbitrator Richard Bloch surprised most of the involved parties when he awarded Morton outright to the Redskins, rather than simply giving the Jets another chance to match the void clause. The Jets, after all, said they would have matched it if told to do so by the management council.

So Morton was a Redskin, right? Yes, but sleeping dogs immediately were re-awakened when reports surfaced that Bloch was a Redskins season-ticket holder. At least one of those reports directly questioned his integrity.

The NFL and the NFLPA both stood behind Bloch, the NFLPA vehemently criticizing any attempt to challenge Bloch's impartiality. A lengthy statement from the union Wednesday -- two days after Bloch's decision -- concluded "the Jets have only themselves to blame."

Here's why: New York never put into writing that it would match the void clause if it eventually were deemed to be a principal term. Unfortunately for the Jets, the NFLPA argued two cases in 1996 in which the matching teams made clear -- in writing -- that they would match the disputed clause if eventually told they had to.

The Jets effectively left themselves vulnerable to losing Morton, though most within the league seem to be saying it's a case of bad advice (from the management council) rather than a bone-headed move.

Still, it's been an extremely rough offseason for Jets general manager Terry Bradway, who also was criticized for his failure to put the first- and third-round tender on WR Laveranues Coles, whom Washington also snatched away. The Redskins also signed away a pair of high-profile unrestricted Jets, guard Randy Thomas and kicker John Hall.

The acrimony between the teams is genuine, particularly at the management level. Bradway ripped Redskins owner Dan Snyder after declining to match Coles' offer sheet, saying the Redskins had paid more to Coles and Thomas than even the players were seeking.

Snyder then did a jig on Bradway's grave after Bloch's decision, crowing about the acquisition of Morton and saying he wanted to "see how the Jets spin this one."

It was bad form on the part of the Redskins, but even worse seemed to be the desperation of Bradway as the arbitrator's decision loomed. He attempted to redo Morton's offer sheet and add more money to it, even though it already was ridiculously high for someone who only would return kickoffs (as Morton was slated to do in New York).

In the end, the Jets apparently are keeping their options open for recourse, though they're limited and seeming long shots.

New York could appeal to the "special master" -- a higher authority than Bloch within the collective bargaining agreement -- or take its case to an outside court, but the standard for overcoming binding arbitration is extremely high. Or the club could seek Bloch's dismissal, though the NFL, which stood up for Bloch, would have to take into consideration the feelings of all the other clubs.

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 -by  Apr 14, 2003
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