Every time you think NFL teams have exhausted every avenue in their never-ending quest to keep from paying players their contractually obligated money, they go ahead and change the definition of “guaranteed.”
This offseason has already shone a light on the increasing proliferation of injury splits, per-game roster bonuses, a profusion of one-year deals, and guarantees that somehow void themselves automatically. These techniques are all being used during negotiations with veterans, some of whom have ample room to bargain. At the same time, it’s been widely assumed that the current collective bargaining agreement, with its slotted pay scale for all draft picks, had effectively eliminated any bargaining position for most younger players, though there has been at least one notable outlier.
But Andrew Brandt of The MMQB now says a “sinister trend” is starting to take shape:
[T]eams are negotiating language that voids—erases—future guarantees not only for suspensions, but also for a fine! Think about this scenario: a player is late to a meeting (perhaps because his car broke down or he had an accident) and is fined for being late, triggering the void of millions, or even tens of millions of future guarantees!
This is messed up!
Signing bonuses have long been ways for players to get guaranteed money—and to get it right away, since in most instances the entirety of the bonus is payable at signing. Deferred payments started becoming a thing because of archaic league rules mandating that all fully guaranteed money be placed into escrow. By staggering the bonus payments, teams could collect interest while also keeping tabs on players’ behavior.
Specific language about suspensions protected teams against players who might fuck up in ways that keep them from playing. But fines? Fines have no tangible impact on team performance, and they can be issued if a player dares to shake his hips too much after scoring a touchdown. Also, teams—rather than the league office—are empowered with issuing fines for in-house infractions such as missed meetings, which means contract language like this is an obvious conflict of interest waiting to happen. “Teams are forging terms that increasingly protect them from any and all future risk with the player,” Brandt wrote. “Why? Because they can.” A source told me no rookie deals have yet been filed this year with a provision that voids a guarantee because of a fine. Dear agents: Don’t let this happen.