The decisions handed down in the grievances filed by the NFL Players Association against the league that involved the contracts and payments to Larry Johnson and Plaxico Burress will reverberate for a long time in the league.
Special Master Richard Burbank’s rulings that were announced on Monday basically made it impossible for teams to seek paybacks from players who are not available to play because of their actions off the field.
Get arrested, get suspended, make yourself unavailable for the team that paid you millions of dollars and that’s OK, according to Burbank’s decision. His ruling basically means that once a player receives a bonus, there’s no way for the team to get that money back, even if the player is not around to hold up his end of the bargain by playing.
The only reason the Chiefs were able to win the bigger part of their situation with Johnson was two-fold. One, the money had not yet been paid. It was tied up in guaranteed portions of his base salary in 2009 and 2010 and Burbank ruled that was different than money already paid. Plus, Johnson’s contract contained specific language that he would forfeit the guaranteed money if he were unavailable because of a league suspension.
Johnson did get back the pro-rata portion of his signing bonus that he lost for missing four games (three on team suspension/one on league suspension.) Burbank again ruled that the money was already paid, so Johnson could not be penalized.
Ultimately, Burbank ruling means that once a team pays, it has no way to redress a player’s absence for something other than injury.
If that sounds cockeyed, if that sounds like it’s not fair, if that sounds just wrong, then join the club. Not surprisingly, the NFLPA celebrated the ruling.
“This decision is a real win for the players,” said the NFLPA’s new executive director DeMaurice Smith.Â “It means that clubs can’t impose additional discipline by claiming back signing or roster bonus monies after a suspension, either by a club or the league.Â The CBA clause they argued from in this case was not intended to apply to suspensions, but instead to cases where a player is holding out from training camp or otherwise refusing to perform.Â We are very pleased that Mr. Burbank agreed with our position.”
So a team can go after bonus money paid to a holdout, but not to someone who is suspended and can’t play. Either way, the team loses out on the performance of the player. Why there should be a difference is something that’s hard to understand.
Certainly the league was having that problem on Monday.
“Today’s decision by Professor Burbank again underscores a serious flaw in the current system,” read a statement that was released by the league. “It continues an unfortunate trend of permitting players who are suspended due to serious misconduct to nonetheless retain large bonus payments from their NFL teams.Â When clubs pay upfront bonuses as part of a long-term deal, they do it on the assumption that the player’s ability to play will not be limited by his own unlawful activities.
“For that reason, the Plaxico Burress and Larry Johnson contracts expressly provided that a portion of their bonuses would be repaid if the player was unable to perform due to his own misconduct, as was the case for both players last year.Â Today’s decision incorrectly holds that the current CBA bars such provisions.Â To permit players in these circumstances to retain the entirety of their bonuses, representing millions of dollars, is unfair to both clubs and other players, especially under the current salary cap system.”
The league can appeal this decision, but the appeal would be heard by Judge David Doty, who in the past has shown he favors the NFLPA view of things. It was Doty who overturned the ruling by a special master on Michael Vick’s signing bonus. The NFL did appeal that case and it’s infront of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
You can bet that the NFL owners will not rest in the coming collective bargaining agreements until they have some way to get back money from players who fail to show up due to their own off-field actions.
SO WHAT’S NEXT FOR L.J.
The question now is just what are the Chiefs plans are for Johnson?
There have been published reports that if the Chiefs prevailed in the grievance they would release the running back.Â As of last night, he was still on the roster.
Releasing Johnson is not necessarily the next logical step.Â Releasing him now wouldn’t accomplish anything but get him out of the building.Â If that’s what Pioli/Haley want, then he will be released fairly quickly.
But there’s really no reason to make that move at this time. It would also seem to go against some of the things that Pioli/Haley have said since arriving in the building. They want players who want to be with the Chiefs. Johnson has wavered on his desire to be gone, asking to be released earlier in the year, but no supposedly changing his mind according to his new agent Peter Schaeffer. Haley has also said that players have a clean slate with the new regime.
There’s nothing to be gained for the Chiefs to release Johnson at this time.
There’s likely more to come with Johnson. After his guilty pleas in two charges against him, it seems likely that Commissioner Roger Goodell will re-visit his situation and is likely to hand down further sanctions. That’s something Goodell said he would do when he gave Johnson a one-game NFL suspension last November.
SIGNINGS & MOVEMENTS IN THE LEAGUE
FALCONS – traded WR Laurent Robinson to the Rams for a swap of drafting positions in the fifth and sixth rounds.
LIONS – re-signed OT George Foster and signed C Dylan Gandy.
RAIDERS – signed QB Jeff Garcia (Tampa Bay).
RAVENS – re-signed CB Samari Rolle.
STEELERS – re-signed LB Keyaron Fox.
VIKINGS - restricted free agent DT Fred Evans signed his tender offer.
SAY HAPPY BIRTHDAY …
Born on April 7, 1954 in Thomasville, Georgia was S Herb Christopher. He played four seasons with the Chiefs (1979-82) out of Morris Brown College. Christopher appeared in 50 games with 24 starts at strong safety during the 1979-80 seasons. He had four interceptions.