The cost of Cushing's suspension

The impending four-game suspension of 2009 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl participant Brian Cushing has some potentially dramatic consequences to his reputation despite his retaining the prestigious award. However, from a financial point of view, the consequences for Cushing are very moderate.

The first-round contract model

The structure of first-round contracts is dictated by the application of the rookie pool. Yes, the 2010 NFL does not have a salary cap, but it does have a rookie pool (cap).

There are limited cap and cash amounts in year one. The bulk of the bonus comes in the offseason of year two, and the remaining “guarantee” usually in the form of a one-time NLTBE (not likely to be earned) incentive, a minimum-performance standard that shields large amounts from the cap.

Cushing’s contract

As the 15th pick in the 2009 draft (and the seventh of nine picks in the top 19 represented by CAA), Cushing received the following guarantee:

Salary: $310,000
Roster Bonus: $1.206M
One-Time NLTBE: $2.919M
Option Bonus: $6M

The total guarantee is $10.435 million, and the total pre-escalator package is $14M. Compared to the 15th pick in the 2008 draft, tackle Branden Albert of the Chiefs, Cushing received an increase of 13.5 percent on the guarantee and 10.7 percent on the total package.

The Houston linebacker has already earned most of this guarantee. He earned the roster bonus as of Aug. 7 of last year and the salary throughout the 2009 season. And having played in 35 percent of the Texans’ defensive plays last year, he earned the $2.919M one-time incentive, to be paid within 15 days of the opening of training camp this season.

The $6M option bonus has also been earned, with half paid. The Texans exercised the option in March, triggering a $3M payment to Cushing on the 20th day of the 2010 league year (March 25), with the other $3M due March 15, 2011.

As for any forfeiture recovery option for the Texans, the lack of a signing bonus makes that difficult. With the favorable treatment of option bonuses for players due to the Ashley Lelie decision, that money appear to be safe for Cushing.

The $93,000 penalty

So what is Cushing’s financial penalty for the four-game suspension? He will lose 4/17ths of his second-year salary of $395,000, or $93,000.

Had he accepted his suspension last season, he would have lost 4/17ths of his rookie salary of $310,000, or $73,000. The appeal was worth $20,000 to him.

Cushing obviously has other issues to deal with besides money, but with nearly $11M in earnings by the end of this season, his bank account can withstand the loss of $93,000 for his violation of the NFL policy for steroids and related substances.

The 2013 escalator

The fifth-year (2013) escalator in his contract is an area where this could get interesting. Cushing has a potential $800,000 tied to Pro Bowls. The qualifiers are:

• If he participates in 70 percent of defensive plays in two of his first four seasons and makes one Pro Bowl (which he now has), 2013 escalates by $250,000;

• Or if he participates in 70 percent of defensive plays in three of his first four seasons and makes two Pro Bowls, 2013 escalates by $450,000;

• Or if he participates in 70 percent of defensive plays in all four seasons prior to 2013 and makes three Pro Bowls, 2013 escalates by $800,000.

Having made one Pro Bowl, there’s now debate as to whether he will be selected again in light of this week’s news (he will not be eligible for next season's Pro Bowl).

In theory, that could work to harm him. In practice, however, should he continue to progress as a player, the Texans will likely extend his contract before the 2013 amount becomes an issue.

A new contract clause?

The potential revocation of his rookie of the year honor could open up new language in the drafting of honors incentives. Teams may look to draft language that a rookie of the year or Pro Bowl escalator or bonus can be forfeited in the event the honor is revoked resulting from a violation of the Policy, adding another layer in negotiations.

The decision to play the Pro Bowl one week before the Super Bowl has already caused some new wording added to Pro Bowl incentive and escalator language, adding another excuse beyond injury to not participating in the game. Now there may be another clause added in light of Cushing.

Cushing’s situation – in addition to all the levels of intrigue that have already been discussed – may be one to be discussed in contract negotiations for years to come.

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