The 2010 NFL season was played without a salary cap. Everyone knew it, and everyone played under the same rules. But, everyone also knew that, when the new CBA was finally completed, the salary cap would return. Everyone treated the 2010 season just like any other season. Well, everyone other than the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, who quickly realized they could front load contracts into the uncapped year. Now, the league has stepped in and smacked both teams, stripping $10 million from the Cowboys' salary cap and $36 million from the Redskins. Both teams can spread the penalty over this year and next, in whatever ration they choose.
However, the two NFC East rivals have teamed together to file an official grievance, challenging the salary cap penalties. And, the teams have filed the petition under a provision in the collective bargaining agreement, including the NFL Players Association in the filing. This caused the grievance to be heard by University of Pittsburgh law professor Stephen Burbank, the league's "system arbitrator," rather than being an appeal to the Commissioner's office, where Rodger Goodell would most likely keep to his original ruling.
While neither team did anything illegal during the 2010 uncapped season, the league ruled, in a written statement released earlier this month, that the teams had, "created an unacceptable risk to future competitive balance." However, the league did approve all of the contracts as they were signed back in 2010, and did not bring this penalty up in 2011, after the new CBA was ratified.
The penalties will be distributed among the other teams in the league, granting more cap room to 28 of the league's other 30 teams (the New Orleans Saints and the Oakland Raiders are not in the redistribution due to their own use of the 2010 uncapped season).