The man pictured to the right is former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.
If all is on schedule, there will be a hearing today on the grievance filed by the NFL Players Association against the Chiefs over guaranteed money in Larry Johnson’s contract.
What does Vick have to do with L.J.’s situation?
The history of the Falcons quarterback’s legal problems and guaranteed money in his contract are all part of the picture with what happened with the Chiefs running back.
It comes down to this: just how much personal responsibility is there for an NFL player to behave himself when he’s being paid multi-million dollars? The old saying is “buyer beware”, but shouldn’t their be a standard of behavior the buyer can expect for his investment? And if there is going to be a standard, why can’t the team get back some of its investment.
Let’s start with Vick and his situation and work forward from there to Johnson and his problems and contract.
Vick signed a 10-year, $130 million contract extension in December of 2004; it included a $37 million signing bonus. In July 2007, Vick was charged with federal crimes involving dog fighting. In August he pleaded guilty and he was suspended by the NFL. In November 2007, he entered prison even before he was sentenced, which came in December.
Immediately after Vick pleaded guilty, the Falcons sought to recoup some $20 million in bonus money that had already been paid to the quarterback. They filed a grievance and the special master/arbitrator who heard the case ruled in October 2007 that the Falcons were entitled to recover the bonus money. The Falcons argued that Vick used proceeds from a contract he signed in 2004 to finance his illicit activities.
But the NFL Players Association went to federal court in Minneapolis, before U.S. District Judge David Doty was involved in court proceedings between owners and players that brought free agency to the NFL in the early 1990s. Doty ruled that the special master’s decision on recovering the bonus money violated the NFL collective bargaining agreement with the players. The agreement does not allow signing bonuses to be forfeited for years a player has already performed.
Court arguments in front of Doty turned on interpretations of the collective bargaining agreement. A union attorney argued that Vick’s “roster bonus” should be treated the same as a “performance bonus,” which can’t be forfeited under the agreement. League attorneys maintained that the roster bonus should be treated like a “signing bonus allocation,” which could be forfeited.
Doty ruled that once Vick made the Falcons’ 80-man roster, he earned the roster bonuses and the team cannot demand their forfeiture. They could get back only a pro-rated portion of the signing bonus.
The NFL filed an appeal of that decision and it’s currently before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. That group includes circuit judge William Duane Benton of Kansas City. A decision is expected in June.
Johnson signed the six-year, $45.05 million deal in late August 2007, about the same time that Vick was being suspended and the Falcons were seeking redress from their quarterback.
Even before Judge Doty ruled against the NFL, league teams were seeking a way to protect themselves in the case of big-money contracts and players that ran into legal problems. The Chiefs created language for Johnson’s contract that outlined situations where the player’s actions would nullify the guaranteed portions of the deal. One of those was a league suspension.
When Johnson was suspended last November by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, that clause in Johnson’s contract lifted over $5 million out of the guaranteed column. Johnson can still receive those monies, but he would have to earn them. Reportedly, the biggest part of that is a guaranteed base salary of $4.55 million for the 2009 season.
In a nutshell, the players association says the clause in Johnson’s contract violates the collective bargaining agreement. They’ve filed a grievance against the Chiefs, and it’s scheduled to be heard on Wednesday along with a grievance against the Falcons involving former Atlanta defensive back Jimmy Williams. He was arrested last summer and the Falcons released him.
So that’s two degrees of separation between L.J. and Vick.
On Monday, ESPN reported that Vick and the Falcons have reached a settlement on the contract, no matter the ruling on the appeal. If the judgment goes against Vick, he’ll pay $7.5 million. If the court rules in Vick’s favor, he’ll play $6.5 million.
Vick is obviously pushing for this settlement as part of his bankruptcy proceedings so he can gain his freedom from the Falcons. This will make him a free agent once he’s done with his legal obligations and his NFL suspension is lifted. Papers filed in the bankruptcy say he believes he can earn $10 million per season on his return to the NFL. He wants to keep the first $750,000 and then use the rest to pay of his creditors, which are many.
He will appear at a bankruptcy hearing this week in Virginia.
BRONCOS WILL NOW TRADE QUARTERBACK IN AS THE CUTLER TURNS
Last night, the Broncos released this statement from owner Pat Bowlen:
“Numerous attempts to contact Jay Cutler in the last 10 days, both by Head Coach Josh McDaniels and myself, have been unsuccessful.
“A conversation with his agent earlier today clearly communicated and confirmed to us that Jay no longer has any desire to play for the Denver Broncos.
“We will begin discussions with other teams in an effort to accommodate his request to be traded.”
So now the clock ticks, with a deadline of the NFL Draft for this deal to get worked out. By announcing their intentions, Bowlen has put his team in a difficult position when it comes to getting any kind of value for Cutler. But at this point, getting value is probably a pipe dream.
THOUGHTS ON TODD HALEY
Veteran SI.com writer Don Banks came back from the NFL meetings and wrote a piece about the nine first-time head coaches in the NFL. His take on Chiefs head coach Todd Haley was interesting, so we repeat it here.
“The Chiefs’ head coach was the last guy to land a new gig on this year’s coaching carousel, and I still have to catch myself when I start typing the words “Arizona” or “Cardinals” in front of his name. Even after covering this year’s Super Bowl and seeing him all week in Tampa, I didn’t find Haley all that recognizable at the NFL annual meeting. He still has a bit of a look in his eyes that says, “I can’t believe all this has really happened.” But he seems to have a good handle on where he wants to take the Chiefs, and he’s open to any good idea that will help Kansas City improve upon its NFL-worst six wins over the past two years.
“Someone asked Haley how a guy from the Bill Parcells coaching tree could feature the spread offense, as Arizona did for much of last season. Parcells teams are known for being able to bludgeon a team with the running games when they have to, and the Cardinals, especially in the regular season, were never a threat to pound the ball against anyone last year.
“What I came out of it with Parcells is to play the way that gives you the best chance to win,” Haley said. “Don’t be so system-oriented that you’re trying to fit square pegs into round holes. Do what your players do best. These last two years [in Arizona], with no tight end, or a tight end who’s hurt, and a quarterback who clearly liked to see things spread out, it was a natural gravitation. We haven’t really conversed a whole bunch about the style of offense we’ll play (in Kansas City.) Intentionally.”
“That’s because Haley doesn’t know his Chiefs players and all their strengths and weaknesses just yet. But he knows enough to realize the best coaches aren’t the ones who walk in the door forcing their philosophy upon the roster. They’re the ones who learn what their roster can or cannot do, and then adapt and adjust their approach to what gives their players the best chance to win. Haley gets that, and believe it or not, that’s not all that common in the NFL.”
STAFFORD WORKOUT IN GEORGIA
Before the Chiefs can make the third pick, the Detroit Lions have to get the 2009 NFL Draft started with the first selection. As part of the Lions preparation, they had a private workout with Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford on Tuesday morning in Athens, Georgia.
Stafford, a prospect for the Lions’ No. 1 overall draft pick, performed “significantly better” than he did in his pro-day workout March 19, according to an SI.com report.
In attendance were all the important names in Detroit, from new GM Martin Mayhew, new head coach Jim Schwartz and new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and the team’s quarterback coach Jeff Horton.
Stafford worked with Georgia receivers Mohamed Massaquoi, Kenneth Harris, Demiko Goodman and tight end Tripp Chandler. Detroit coaches had him throw an assortment of passes and routes and Stafford missed only three of the nearly 40 passes.
Media was not allowed at the event, and the Lions people did not talk about the workout on Tuesday. But the Ann Arbor News was able to get comments from Stafford on Tuesday night.
“I think I did well,” Stafford said. “At this point I’m not going to say what I feel like my chances (of going No. 1) are. I feel like I’ve done everything I can. I feel like I’ve done well every time we’ve met together. Whether they go with me or with somebody else is not up to me, but I can rest easy at night knowing that I did everything I could.
“They had some inside comebacks almost you could call them,” Stafford said of what the Lions asked him to throw in the workout. “They had some over routes, some things that are just tough to simulate without a defender on them. He’d say, ‘Hey, shoot this in there like it was a Cover 2,’ and it was just kind of tough without a safety maybe coming over the top to understand what angle he wants you to put it on or how much air he wants on it. I just tried to do my best and then complete some balls.”
Stafford also spent 90 minutes diagramming plays during a chalkboard session for members of the Detroit coaching staff and front office. Schwartz talked last week about what the club hoped to get done in their day with Stafford.
“We can direct it,” Schwartz said. “We can tell him exactly what to do on a play. We can make him throw into the wind. We can say, ‘Hey, these are the throws we want to see.’ When somebody else is scripting it, they can accentuate a positive. I can’t sing, but probably a good producer could put me in a studio and at least hide it a little bit.”
ROSTER MOVEMENT AROUND THE LEAGUE
CARDINALS – restricted free agent DT Gabe Watson signed his tender offer.
COLTS – released LB Buster Davis.
EAGLES – restricted free agent OL Nick Cole signed his tender offer.
RAMS – sign TE Billy Bajema (49ers).
SAY HAPPY BIRTHDAY …
Born on April 1, 1984 in Bessemer, Alabama was LB Johnny Baldwin. He played three games with the Chiefs in 2007.