Chasing the $39 million man

The long-running miniseries continues about the $39.4-million man, JaMarcus Russell.

According to a report by Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports, the Raiders have filed a grievance to get back some of that money. The Raiders, of course, did not explain their legal position, only saying that they’re trying to retrieve some of their former quarterback’s windfall. As for Russell’s representatives, they have said there’s no basis for recovery. Thus, the lines have been drawn.

I have documented the money in this contract a few times, starting in December when Russell was benched in favor or Charlie Frye. He is, of course, the poster child for what’s wrong with the rookie compensation system, a system that will be altered in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement since neither the union nor the NFL will be advocating for the continued disproportionate rewarding of top picks.

Knowing nothing more than what I read in Jason Cole’s article and the confident statements of the two sides, here are my thoughts:

The change in contract

The Raiders superseded Russell’s contract in February 2009, not changing the total amounts but changing the structure slightly. They had paid him a $19.9M salary advance prior to the supersede and paid out a $3.44M signing bonus following the supersede. Russell also earned a $1.865 roster bonus in March 2009 via the superseded contract, which was paid in March 2010. This $1.865M was deducted from his 2010-2012 salary amounts, so the total amounts did not change.

Following the supersede, Russell’s annual amounts were as follows:

2009: $7.8M (fully guaranteed for skill, injury and cap)
2010: $9.45M ($3M fully guaranteed for skill, injury and cap)
2011: $9.35M
2012: $5.835M

The Raiders’ position

My sense is that the Raiders are trying to interpret the change made in 2009 as a change that did not bring the guarantees with it. They probably feel the renewed structure of a salary advance and supersede allows them some recovery now that the player has been released. With a supersede structure of a salary advance, they were, in effect, paying out a guarantee on future years’ salaries.

This salary advance structure will now come under great scrutiny. With the problem for recovery using option bonuses – resulting from a grievance involving Ashley Lelie – teams have started opting for the advance structure, which puts the team in better position for recovery of money. The question becomes whether the Raiders are claiming they simply can get money back due to the advance structure or whether there was an accompanying default involved.

The Raiders cannot get money back for poor performance on the field, or that Russell failed to maintain a first-class physical condition as required by the contract. If that were the case, there would be grievances filed against players every week of the year and contracts would not be worth the paper they’re printed on. And while that would be certainly sweet from a management perspective, it’s hardly realistic.

Ultimately, their position comes down to an interpretation of the language.

Russell’s position

Ethan Locke and Eric Metz are solid and respected agents. They engaged in a long and drawn-out negotiation with the Raiders over Russell, to the point of holding him out for the majority of training camp and making his rookie year a washout.

I was negotiating halfway down the round with the 16th pick, Justin Harrell with the Packers, at the time, but my memory is hearing that Russell got a strong deal despite – or maybe because of – the holdout.

Locke and Metz felt at that time and feel today that the guarantee, and all of the guarantee, was and is rock solid. With the leverage of the top pick in the draft – and that’s considerable leverage – the guarantee should be impenetrable. We’ll see.

It’s noteworthy that the NFL Players Association is representing Russell in the grievance. This will be an important one since it will set precedent on how these salary advance guarantees are treated in the future.

There’s one thing for certain here: This grievance is about an interpretation of language.

The $3M

In any grievance between a player and a team, the key fact I look for is: Has the money been paid? If it has, then good luck to the team trying to get it back.

Earlier this year, the Lions won a large grievance award against the former second pick in the draft, Charles Rogers, money that was paid out long ago. To the Lions, I would say: Good luck with that.

What is remaining on the guarantee is $3M of the $9.45M 2010 salary that is guaranteed. That amount is also without an offset, meaning Russell would make that on top of whatever he might make from another team.

As part of their dispute and grievance, my sense is that the Raiders will not make payments on that $3M, resulting in Russell filing his own grievance to recover it. Perhaps this will be the Raiders’ way of trying to forge a settlement of somewhere between zero and the $9.55M they are requesting.

Stay tuned for another chapter of the never-ending saga of JaMarcus Russell.

The end of the Diner

Finally, a note about our colleague and friend Michael Lombardi, who filed his final Diner Morning News today. We are disappointed to lose him but understand the breadth of opportunity he has with the NFL Network and We wish him all the best, and we'll continue our mission of unique content about football from all angles.

Enjoy the holiday weekend.

Follow me on Twitter: adbrandt

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