Agent's Take: Real costs behind the NFL's suspended stars of 2015
With three stars sitting out the Steelers-Patriots openers, Joel Corry examines the real costs for a player and a team for star NFL players who are missing time this season due to suspensions.
Forty three players have had suspensions take effect since rosters were reduced to 53 players at the final cut down on Sept. 5.
This doesn't even include Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon and Miami Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan, who were given one-year suspensions by the NFL earlier in the year for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Twenty two of the 43 suspended players are on NFL teams.
The other 21 will serve their suspensions as free agents.
The players under contract don't count against their respective teams’ 53-man rosters while suspended. Once the suspensions are over, roster moves will need to be made maintain roster limits.
Suspensions will affect Thursday night's NFL season opener between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots. Pittsburgh's high-powered offense will be without Le'Veon Bell, arguably the NFL's best dual-threat running back, for two games and wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who is expected to have a breakout season, for four games. Running back LeGarrette Blount will return to action for the Patriots after the opening game. The three suspensions are for substance abuse violations.
New England caught a break after Judge Richard Berman overturned quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL when the league didn't seek a stay to prevent him from playing during their appeal of the decision.
A brief explainer about suspensions
All suspensions are without pay.
The actual cost of a suspension of the same length for two players with the same offense is usually different because of salary and contract structure. For example, a player suspended four games for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) with a $1.7 million base salary costs twice as much as a player with the same PED suspension that has an $850,000 base salary. The first player will lose $400,000, or 4/17ths of his base salary. Whereas 4/17ths of the second player's base salary is $200,000.
The teams of the players will get a salary cap credit in the current season for the amount of the suspensions.
Other salary components can be at risk with suspensions. Teams can recoup the same proportion of the prorated amount of a player's signing bonus as he's losing in base salary. If the first player in the previous example had $1.275 million of signing bonus proration, he would be out an additional $300,000 because his team would also recover 4/17ths of the proration. The total cost of his suspension would be $700,000.
Teams are required under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to recoup signing bonuses for PED and substance-abuse suspensions.
Recapture is at the team's discretion for other contract breaches, such as holdouts (i.e., Kam Chancellor) and other types of suspensions. Unlike base salary, the cap credit will not begin until the following season with signing bonus that is recovered.
Roster, reporting and option bonuses can also be recouped but the standard under the CBA is different from signing bonuses. These types of bonuses are only forfeitable if a breach occurs in the contract year where money is earned. This means that a roster bonus in 2014 can't be recouped for a suspension taking place in 2015.
Get to know the T-Rich situation
Every NFL contract I've seen since the new CBA took effect in 2011 contains language voiding contract guarantees for an exhaustive list of defaults by the player.
PED usage, substance abuse, conduct detrimental and personal conduct suspensions are usually among the numerous defaults. Typically, any guarantees in current and future contract years immediately void with a default. The player will still have the opportunity to earn to the salary that is no longer guaranteed on a non-guaranteed basis.
Trent Richardson's situation with the Indianapolis Colts is a perfect illustration of how these clauses work. The 2012 third overall pick was given a two-game suspension by the Colts for missing a walkthrough the day before last season's AFC Championship Game without alerting the team beforehand of his absence, which was due to a serious family emergency.
Richardson's $3,184,062 2015 base salary had been fully guaranteed (without an offset) before the suspension. His salary remained the same but was no longer guaranteed because of the default language in his contract once he was suspended. This allowed the Colts to release Richardson without any salary cap consequences.
The NFLPA filed a grievance on Richardson's behalf challenging the voiding of the contract guarantee shortly after he was released. His grievance is still pending. The NFLPA lost a similar challenge in 2013 with Eric Wright over his $7.75 million 2013 contract guarantee voiding because of his PED suspension during the 2012 season.
Examining key suspended players
Here's a look at the on- and off-the-field ramifications of key 2015 suspensions, including the participants in the season opener.
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Bell will make $687,882 of his $779,600 base salary because of his two-game suspension. The Steelers will also recoup 2/17ths of the prorated amount of his signing bonus ($344,200). This amounts to $40,494. The suspension is costing Bell a total of $132,212. DeAngelo Williams, signed after the Carolina Panthers released him in March, is taking Bell's place while he is out. The suspensions combined with center Maurkice Pouncey's injury, which will keep him out of action for at least half the season, could jeopardize Pittsburgh's playoff chances.
Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: Bryant is out $145,836 due to his four-game suspension. That's $120,000 in base salary, which the Steelers will get as a cap credit this year, and $25,836 in signing bonus. Bryant's failed drug tests already impacted Pittsburgh's draft plans. Coach Mike Tomlin recently acknowledged that Sammie Coates was taken in the third round of this year's draft as insurance against Bryant's indiscretions.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, New England Patriots: Blount was scheduled to make $950,000 before his one-game suspension. He is losing $56,250. Most of the money is coming from his $750,000 base salary. A strong showing by the running game against Pittsburgh could keep Blount at the back of the depth chart once his suspension is over even though he is the team's most experienced ball carrier.
Sheldon Richardson, DE, New York Jets: Muhammad Wilkerson's long-term future was thought to be in jeopardy because of the selection of Leonard Williams with the sixth overall pick in this year's draft. That may no longer be the case after Richardson's tumultuous offseason. In addition to a four-game suspension under the substance abuse policy, Richardson recently pled not guilty to resisting arrest and high-speed racing charges in Missouri. He is fortunate prosecutors did not feel there was enough evidence to file drug possession or child endangerment charges against him.
The suspension is costing Richardson $310,353 of his $1.319 million base salary and $334,823 of his signing bonus, for a total $645,176. His current and $1.776 million 2016 base salary are no longer fully guaranteed, which makes it a lot easier for the Jets to release him if he continues to have missteps off the field. His problems probably won't prevent the Jets from exercising the fifth-year option for a 2017 contract with him after the season. It's conceivable that the Jets could look to trade Richardson in the offseason if Wilkerson signs a long-term deal and Williams quickly starts living up to his potential.
Greg Hardy, DE, Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys signed Hardy to a team friendly one-year deal with a base value of $8,822,629 (worth up to $10,627,029 through incentives) when his four-game suspension under the personal conduct policy is taken into account. Without the suspension, Hardy had a one-year deal with a base value of $11,311,600 (maximum of $13.116 million with incentives). $9.25 million of the deal is in 53-man roster bonuses ($578,125 per game) where $6,937,500 can be earned thanks to the suspension. Hardy is expected to give a boost to an anemic pass rush after he has served his suspension. Dallas ranked 28th in the NFL last season with 28 sacks. Hardy was named second team All-Pro in 2013 when his 15 sacks set the Carolina Panthers' single-season record.
Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills: A one-game suspension for a substance-abuse violation is costing Dareus $474,118 of his $8.06 million base salary. Off-the-field incidents, which include drug charges for possession of synthetic marijuana and a different arrest for drag racing, aren't stopping the Bills from making Dareus one of the NFL's highest-paid defensive players. His new six-year contract extension is reportedly worth $100 million with $60 million in guarantees.
Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers' security blanket is losing $1,388,235 of his $5.9 million base salary due to his four-game PED suspension. In all, the 35-year-old is out a little under $1.575 million because of signing bonus recapture. The suspension gives Ladarius Green, who is entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract, a tremendous opportunity to prove he is San Diego's tight end of the future.
Rolando McClain, LB, Dallas Cowboys: McClain received a one-year, $3 million deal (worth a maximum of $4 million with incentives) after being a finalist for the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award last season. He can earn $2,201,649 of the base value of the deal provided he remains healthy once he returns from his suspension. $1.125 million of his earnable compensation is in per-game roster bonuses. The $93,750 per-game amount is only payable if McClain is on the 46-man active roster for the week's game.
Sean Smith, CB, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs will be without their best cover cornerback for three games because of a substance-abuse violation. Smith has one of the more costly suspensions with him losing $1,323,529 because of how his contract is structured, which includes a $4.25 million base salary, $1 million reporting bonus and $2.25 million of signing bonus proration.
T.J. Ward, S, Denver Broncos: Ward is out one game for a personal conduct policy violation. His suspension is costing him $235,294 of his $4 million base salary. It could be as much as an additional $367,647 if the Broncos elect to recoup a portion of his signing and roster bonuses.
Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Before his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.
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