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News » Rulings could be bonus for Stallworth

Rulings could be bonus for Stallworth

Rulings could be bonus for Stallworth

In the NFL, a player can violate behavioral clauses in his contract, miss games because of league or team suspension and still be paid bonus money owed him.

That was the verdict delivered by NFL special master Stephen Burbank in rulings last week on grievances involving former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress and Kansas City running back Larry Johnson.

These rulings - lambasted by the NFL and the Giants - might greatly inhibit the Browns from withholding $4.5 million in bonus money "earned" by receiver Dont? Stallworth the day before his March 14 crash that police said killed pedestrian Mario Reyes, 59, on a Miami Beach causeway.

Stallworth is free on bond after being charged with DUI manslaughter by Florida prosecutors. Stallworth's arraignment is April 23.

Stallworth's playing contract, of course, is of small concern as the legal process plays out. One life has been lost and several have been severely altered. But if the receiver misses games because of the fatal auto accident, the contract issues become prominent.

At stake is close to $9 million. Here's the breakdown of total bonus money in Stallworth's contract the Browns could rightfully try to withhold or recoup. Figures are contained in a copy of the contract obtained by The Plain Dealer.

* $4.5 million in roster bonuses earned by being on the Browns' 80-player roster on March 13, 2009 - the day before the accident.

The bonus was payable in installments of $2.25 million on May 15 and Jan. 15.

* Bonuses of $23,437.50 for every game Stallworth is on the 45-player active list this season.

If he is active for 16 games, Stallworth would receive $375,000 on or before Feb. 15, 2010.

* $3.857 million of Stallworth's original signing bonus of $4.5 million.

The last installment was paid on Jan. 15. But Stallworth's contract stipulates the Browns can recover $3.857 million of the total if he defaults on his contract between Feb. 2, 2009 and Feb. 1, 2010.

The contract contains specific default language throughout.

But Burbank's rulings render such language as worthless as the paper on which it is printed.

Burress accidentally shot himself in the thigh in a nightclub on Nov. 29 and was suspended by the Giants. The Giants were trying to recoup the final $1 million payment of the player's signing bonus.

The players union's position was that the extension of the collective bargaining agreement in 2006 restricted forfeiture of signing bonuses to only cases of a player's holdout or retirement - no matter the language contained in individual contracts. Further, the Collective Bargaining Agreement limits any forfeiture to 25 percent of the total.

Burbank ruled that Burress could be docked 25 percent only if he "willfully" hurt his chances of playing again. And Burbank ruled, in essence, that Burress did not willfully shoot himself.

In Johnson's case, Burbank ruled the Chiefs could not recoup $521,000 of his previously paid signing bonus despite Johnson being suspended one game by the NFL for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

New NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith hailed the decisions as "a real win" for the players.

"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," Smith said in a statement.

In a statement, the Giants railed: "To think that a player could carry a loaded gun into a nightclub, shoot himself, miss the rest of the season but get to keep his entire signing bonus illustrates one of the serious flaws in the current system. We will have an opportunity in the upcoming negotiations to prevent such illogical results in the future."

In its own statement, the NFL complained, "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 language contained in the 2006 CBA extension was inserted when NFL owners were preoccupied with other things. Removing it will be a lightning rod issue in future CBA talks.

In the case of Stallworth, any bonus money recouped by the team is deducted from its salary cap.

Quick hits: The Bengals refused to consider trading disgruntled receiver Chad Ocho Cinco (nee Johnson) for two years, but now are said to be at least "pondering" it. . . . The signing of free-agent quarterback Patrick Ramsey by the Titans is seen by many as further evidence that Vince Young is not long for the team. . . . Forget the "best available player" mantra. The Falcons are one of the few teams that flatly state they will draft for need. "The philosophy of [GM] Thomas [Dimitroff] is to always be needs based," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "You're not going to see us taking the best available athlete. We've identified needs to be addressed." Atlanta lost five starters on defense to free agency. . . . Houston will not take an offensive player with the 15th pick.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: tgrossi@plaind.com, 216-999-4670

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 14, 2009

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