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Details About the Plax Grievance Ruling

Mike Garafolo of, does a great job of breaking down the Plax grievance ruling:

Just because the Giants had written the full signing bonus into the default portion of the contract doesn’t mean they were looking to get it all back. I haven’t seen the complaint, but it appears Mike Florio at has. All day long, he’s been citing $637,500 as the amount the Giants were attempting to recoup. .A look at Burress’ contract reveals the Giants had included a clause that stated the wide receiver would have to pay back his entire bonus if he was deemed to be in “default” of his contract during the 2008 season. So what happened today when Stephen Burbank, the NFL’s special master, ruled the Giants owe Plaxico Burress his full signing bonus – including the $1 million payment they had withheld in December – as well as the $93,750 of his $250,000 roster bonus they also withheld last year?

Well, basically, the Giants lost a face-off with the collective bargaining agreement, which overrules any specific language in a contract. The Giants took careful steps to protect themselves in the event of a misstep by Burress – or at least they thought they had.

Here’s a look at the exact language in Burress’ contract under Section II – Player Default/Failure to Perform:

In the event Player fails or refuses to report to Club, or fails or refuses to practice or play with Club at any time for any reason including, but not limited to, Player’s retirement, Player’s incarceration or detention by any law enforcement personnel; Player’s suspension by the NFL or Club for Conduct Detrimental or suspension for violating the Personal Conduct Policy, or if Player leaves Club without written consent by Head Coach or General Manager during the duration of the above contract years, then Player shall be in default. In the event of Player’s default, upon demand by Club, Player shall immediately return and refund to the Club any of the Bonus previously paid by Club and Player shall relinquish the right to receive any unpaid Bonus in the proportionate amount set forth below:

Contract Year Player Defaults; Amount of Bonus Player Must Return to Club

2008; $4,250,000

2009; $3,400,000

2010; $2,550,000

2011; $1,700,000

2012; $850,000

To the extent permissible under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Player shall also be in default if he is fined or suspended by the NFL and/or Club for conduct detrimental to Club and/or the NFL, provided that the first violation will result in a written warning and the second and any other subsequent violation will result in determining that Player is in default. Furthermore, Player shall also be in default is he is suspended for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse and the NFL Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances. In the event of Player’s default as a result of such suspension(s), upon demand by Club, Player shall immediately return and refund to the Club any of the Bonus previously paid by Club and Player shall relinquish the right to receive any unpaid Bonus in the proportionate amount set forth above.

Burress signed the document that included the above language. But this is America and the NFL, where said contract apparently isn’t binding. Here’s the section from the CBA that played into Burbank’s decision:

Section 9. Limitations on Salary Forfeitures (a) No forfeitures of signing bonuses shall be permitted, except that players and clubs may agree: (i) to proportionate forfeitures of a signing bonus is a player voluntarily retires or willfully withholds his services from one or more regular season games; and/or (ii) that if a player willfully takes action that has the effect of substantially undermining his ability to fully participate in either preseason training camp or the regular season (including by willfully withholding his services in either preseason training camp or during the regular season or willfully missing one or more games), the player may forfeit the greater of: (a) 25% of the prorated portion of his signing bonus for the applicable League Year for the first time such conduct occurs after the beginning of training camp until the end of the season for his Club, and the remaining 75% prorated portion of his signing bonus for the applicable year for the second time such conduct occurs during that period that year; or (b) the proportionate amount of his signing bonus allocation for each week missed (1/17th for each regular season week or game missed).

Now, if Burbank had agreed Burress “willfully” undermined his ability to play for the Giants, Burress would have owed the entire 2008 proration of his signing bonus ($850,000, which is 1/5th of the bonus on his 5-year deal). The Giants would have also been able to recoup the 2008 proration of the signing bonus on Burress’ original deal with the team he signed in 2005 ($960,000, which is 1/5th of the $5-million bonus on his original 6-year deal – because the proration was over the first 5 years – minus $40,000 for a portion of the bonus that was returned for his missing an undisclosed workout).

But as I’ve mentioned a few times, Burbank agreed with the union’s assessment Burress’ shooting himself wasn’t a willful action. So all that hard work and negotiating that went in to the behavioral clause in Burress’ contract was all for naught. As the judge said in “My Cousin Vinny” when Vinny finally made a solid point in court, “That is a lucid, intelligent, well thought out objection. … Overruled.”

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