The Raiders seem to be tiring of the drama surrounding Antonio Brown. General manager Mike Mayock missing Sunday's practice because of an ongoing helmet issue during a brief impromptu meeting with the media. He issued an ultimatum to Brown for him to be all in or all out. before the Raiders broke training camp.
Brown previously left training camp for several days because of an inability to wear an outdated helmet, the Schutt AiR Advantage that's no longer approved for NFL use, and to continue recovering from a cryotherapy chamber mishap that happened before training camp opened that damaged his feet. Brown had been cleared for practice despite the foot issue.
The four-time All-Pro also filed a second grievance on Monday asserting that he wasn't given a full calendar year grace period to find a new helmet. Just over a week ago, an arbitrator denied Brown's request to use his old helmet, which he has worn for his entire NFL career.
Whether Brown is actually all in with the Raiders remains to be seen.
Whenever there is an issue in a business relationship, a natural tendency is for the parties to examine the contract between them. Let's take a look at Brown's contract.
The Raiders gave the Steelers third- and fifth-round picks in the 2019 draft to acquire Brown in March. As a part of the trade, Brown got an upgraded contract. He received an $11.2 million raise over the three remaining years of the four-year, $68 million contract extension he signed with the Steelers in 2017. He is scheduled to make $50.125 million over the three years, with the potential of an additional $4 million through incentives.
The adjusted contract has $30.125 million fully guaranteed. The guaranteed money is Brown's $14.625 million 2019 base salary, $14.5 million 2020 base salary and $500,000 workout bonuses in 2019 and 2020. The $1 million of workout bonuses are being treated like signing bonus for salary cap purposes and prorated over the three years due to being fully guaranteed at the signing of the adjusted deal.
It is standard for NFL contracts to contain language voiding salary guarantees for a laundry list of reasons. The conditions vary depending on team convention, the attention the agent pays to the language and his/her leverage in negotiations.
Brown's contract isn't any different than anybody else's. The default language in Brown's contract that controls the voiding of his guarantee reads as follows:
"Notwithstanding this Skill, Injury and Cap Guarantee, Player shall report to Club, practice with Club, play with Club, and honor all terms of the Contract, including all addenda thereto. If at any time Player does not report to Club; does not practice or play with Club; leaves Club without prior written approval (including, but not limited to retirement); does not honor any terms of the Contract (including any addenda thereto); is suspended by the NFL or Club for conduct detrimental, violation of the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy, violation of the NFL Policy on Substances of Abuse, or violation of the NFL Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances; violates any other agreements between Club and Player; or is injured as a result of a breach of Paragraph 3 of the Contract or as a result of participation in hazardous activities which involve a significant risk of personal injury and are non-football in nature (including but not limited to skydiving, hang gliding, mountain climbing, auto racing, motorcycling, scuba diving, skiing, and any other sports) then Player shall be in default ("Default") and the Skill, Injury and Cap Guarantee shall be null and void and Player shall be only eligible to earn his remaining stated Paragraph 5 salary on a weekly, non-guaranteed basis if Player is on Club's roster for the 2019 League Year and meets all ordinary criteria for earning Paragraph 5 Salary, subject to any applicable fines."
This exact language is a part of each salary component that is guaranteed, with a couple of differences. The main differences are "2020 League Year" replacing "2019 League Year" and "Workout Pay" replacing "Paragraph 5 salary" where applicable.
The effect of voiding guarantees
Brown's actions would seemingly give the Raiders grounds to enforce the voiding of his guarantees. With the guarantees remaining intact, it would be too salary cap prohibitive for the Raiders to release Brown until 2021, when he no longer has financial contract security.
For example, Brown's 2019 cap charge would increase by $14.5 million because of the 2020 salary guarantee accelerating onto Oakland's current cap with his release. The Raiders have approximately $17.2 million of 2019 cap space, according to NFLPA calculations. The only 2020 cap charge for Brown would be $666,667 relating to the proration of the workout bonuses. The guarantees have an offset so the Raiders would get cap relief from whatever deal Brown signed to play this season with another team.
The Raiders would have much more flexibility with Brown by voiding the guarantees. If released before the start of this regular season, the Raiders' only 2019 cap obligation would be $333,333 of bonus proration since Brown's now unsecured $14.625 million base salary wouldn't be paid. The 2020 cap charge would be likely $166,667, with Brown's $14.5 million 2020 base salary and $2.5 million game day active roster bonuses ($156,250 per game) coming off Oakland's books and a $500,000 cap credit from the unpaid previously guaranteed 2020 workout bonus.
Brown's 2019 base salary would become fully guaranteed through the NFL collective bargaining agreement's termination pay provisions with the guarantees voiding provided he was on Oakland's 53-man roster for the season opener against the Broncos on September 9. The Raiders would need to demonstrate that Brown failed to give a good faith effort after a written warning to try to invalidate any termination pay claim.
Practically speaking, the impact of voiding the guarantees probably wouldn't potentially come into play until next offseason since the Raiders have been expecting Brown to be their primary weapon in the passing game this season. A subpar performance or continued drama throughout this season would put his roster spot for 2020 in jeopardy. The Raiders' 2020 cap relief would be the same as if released this year.
Brown would surely file a grievance to collect the balance of the guarantees if released after the Raiders enforced voiding. This could be a dispute over as much as $29.625 million depending on the timing of Brown's release.
The Trent Richardson case
Grievances over the voiding of guarantees are a rarity. There was one involving 2012 third-overall pick Trent Richardson relating to less egregious conduct than Brown's. Richardson has been a disappointment since the Colts gave the Browns a 2014 first-round pick for him early in the 2013 season. He was a healthy scratch in the 2014 AFC divisional playoffs and was given a two-game conduct detrimental suspension for missing a walk through the day before the AFC Championship Game without alerting the team beforehand of his absence, which was due to a serious family emergency.
The Colts voided the guarantee for Richardson's $3,184,062 2015 base salary because of the suspension. Richardson promptly filed a grievance over the guarantee claiming that his actions didn't qualify as conduct detrimental after the Colts released him in March 2015. The grievance was eventually settled with Richardson receiving $561,893, which equaled three weeks of his 2015 salary.
The NFLPA lost a similar challenge in 2013 with cornerback Eric Wright over his $7.75 million 2013 contract guarantee voiding because of his performance enhancing drugs suspension during the 2012 season while with the Buccaneers.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Brown's latest grievance is a Hail Mary, which will likely fail. Ideally, Brown would accept a second unfavorable decision so he could focus on having his seventh straight 100-catch season.
The Raiders have been exercising restraint and patience with Brown. Highly productive players such as Brown are typically given more leeway than lesser talents. If Mayock is true to his word, the Raiders may be rapidly getting to the point where exercising contractual rights will be more important than pacifying Brown.