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News » Browns do have some options if Stallworth is unable to play


Browns do have some options if Stallworth is unable to play


Browns do have some options if Stallworth is unable to play
NFL OWNERS MEETINGS


Dana Point, Calif. - The Browns protected themselves with specific language in receiver Dont? Stallworth's contract that allows them to recover the roster bonus he earned one day before his car struck and killed a pedestrian on March 14.

But sources at the NFL owners meetings said the team likely will have to wage a legal fight to recoup the money if Stallworth is unable to perform for the Browns in 2009.

A copy of the contract obtained by The Plain Dealer shows that Stallworth earned a $4.5 million bonus by being on the team's 80-player roster on the 15th day of the 2009 league year, which was March 13.

The bonus is payable in installments of $2.25 million on May 15, 2009, and $2.25 million on Jan. 15, 2010.

Contract language states that if Stallworth fails to play because of, among other things, a league or team suspension, "he shall forfeit and immediately return" the bonus previously paid.

The contract states Stallworth would be liable to repay the full $4.5 million if he breaches the contract on or before Feb. 1, 2010.

The 2009 roster bonus was guaranteed whether or not the Browns released Stallworth. He also has a $1 million roster bonus for 2010.

Stallworth has not been charged in the Miami Beach, Fla., accident, pending further investigation by authorities.

The contract language does not automatically guarantee repayment. The last league collective bargaining agreement extension in 2006 greatly limited teams' abilities to recoup bonus money from players.

"We lost all that stuff [in the extension]," a league source said.

Correcting that huge oversight is just one reason the owners opted out of the CBA, setting up a future labor fight.

Based on precedent, the Browns probably would be entitled to a prorated portion of Stallworth's original signing bonus, which was $4.5 million, if he breaches his contract. The contract calls for a payback of $3.857 million if Stallworth is in default between Feb. 2, 2009, and Feb. 1, 2010.

The union's position on a roster bonus, based on similar cases, would be that Stallworth earned it by being on the 80-man roster on the date of deadline.

A few recent precedents in the NFL had mixed results. The Denver Broncos had to go to federal court to recoup $600,000 in bonus money from Ashley Lelie in 2007. But that was signing-bonus money.

In 2008, a federal judge ruled that Michael Vick could keep $20 million in bonuses from the Atlanta Falcons after he was imprisoned for running an illegal dog fighting operation. Vick already had performed for the Falcons to earn that money, the judge ruled.

The next major legal fight being watched by clubs will be the Giants' attempt to withhold the final $1 million payment of a signing bonus owed Plaxico Burress. The Giants had specific language allowing them to recoup the money in the event of "incarceration or detention by any law enforcement personnel."

Burress is facing two felony weapons charges. A grievance hearing on the Giants' case is scheduled for April 1. The difference, again, is that the Giants are trying to recoup a signing bonus - not a roster bonus.

On Monday, Browns General Manager George Kokinis said he would not comment on "hypotheticals" regarding Stallworth while the legal process plays out.

Comeback Patten: The Browns will sign veteran receiver David Patten, Kokinis said.

Patten will be 35 on Aug. 19. He played for the Browns in the 2000 season and then enjoyed three Super Bowl championships with the New England Patriots. Patten spent the past two seasons with New Orleans. He has 324 catches in his 13-year NFL career.

Kokinis said Patten visited the Browns before the Stallworth incident.

"That signing wasn't really triggered by that," the GM said.

Browns open hearts: The Browns for the second year will host the American Heart Association's Kids at Heart-Healthy Family Training Camp today from 5:30-8 p.m. at the team's training facility, 76 Lou Groza Blvd., Berea.

For more information, go to clevelandbrowns.com.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

tgrossi@plaind.com, 216-999-4670



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 26, 2009

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