Antonio Brown and (not-so) Guaranteed Money

Ab frustrated

The Antonio Brown saga has taken yet another turn in recent days as his brief stint with the Patriots ended in an abrupt release. For the Patriots’ part, they had apparently become uncomfortable with the texts Brown sent to a second sexual assault accuser, prompting them to part ways with the wide receiver. On Brown’s end, he again took to social media to express his frustration, and in a series of tweets seem to criticize what he viewed to be a double standard of his treatment, versus that of team owner Robert Kraft, who faced heat earlier this year for soliciting the services of a prostitute. Brown’s tweet, now deleted, reportedly burned any potential bridge for reunion of the two parties, but more importantly may have further implications regarding Brown’s contract.

As you might remember just two weeks ago, the former Steeler griped his way out of Oakland, and in doing so, forfeited 30 million dollars of seemingly “guaranteed” money. However, there were two stipulations in the agreed upon contract that gave the Raiders certain avenues to relieve themselves of their commitment to Brown. The first was a clause relating to his $1 million signing bonus that required him to show up to at least 85% of  the team’s offseason programs. Of course, Brown failed to do so, in large part due to the helmet fiasco, giving the team the right to not only void this piece of the contract, but to also fine him over $50,000.

The second deals with the guarantee itself, and the language in the contract gave the Raiders significant discretion in deciding whether or not to fulfill it. The crucial portion states, “If at any time player does not honor any terms of the Contract (including any addenda thereto), then player shall be in default…and the Skill, Injury, and Cap guarantee shall be null and void…” It continues to state that the remaining can only be earned through a weekly, non-guaranteed basis, and this is exactly what the Raiders elected to do in light of Brown’s heated dispute with GM Mike Mayock, the same person responsible for granting him the contract in the first place.

What followed is now old news. Oakland released AB, he infamously celebrated on Instagram, and then “settled” on a 10 million dollar contract with the New England Patriots – $9 million of which was purportedly guaranteed through a signing bonus and another million as base salary. The agreement angered fans around the NFL, seemingly shifting the league’s balance lopsidedly to the defending champion’s favor. However, news of a second accuser, followed by threatening texts sent to her by Brown, led to the Patriots to release him on Friday – again putting his guaranteed money in question.

The star wideout was set to receive the first installment of the signing bonus today, with the remaining to be paid out in January. However, the Patriots reportedly have yet to pay that, and it does not seem like they will be doing so any time soon. Again, contract language could play a decisive role in determining what Brown is owed. It states, “any action that materially undermines the public’s respect for, or is materially critical of, the Club, the Player’s teammates or the Club’s ownership, coaches, management, operations of policies then, upon election of the Club, the guarantees set forth in this section… will be null and void.” This wording is vague, likely intentionally so, but seems to provide grounds which could protect New England from paying Brown.

Accordingly, upon his release, the free agent wide receiver filed a grievance against the team, which will undoubtedly stir up a legal battle that is made more fierce given Brown’s twitter jab at Robert Kraft. In fact, NFL insider, Adam Schefter, cited one source that said Kraft will “never write that check,” meaning that this case is like to go beyond just money-related motives. In any case, Brown’s money is again in jeopardy and estimates show that he is set to collect just under $160,000 in 2019, despite agreeing to two multi-million dollar contracts.

So, if you’re keeping score at home, Brown has lost around a total of $40 million in what was thought to be guaranteed money, and is now a free agent with a high unlikelihood of landing another deal. What’s more, is that although no team has the wide receiver under contract, he will nevertheless account for salary cap money for all three of his former teams. This is referred to as “dead money” and it exists to protect a player’s roster spot and for salary cap accounting purposes. The Steelers are stuck with the shortest end of the stick as Brown holds $21,120,000 of the $188.2 million that has been set as the salary cap for this season. Meanwhile, both the Raiders and Patriots will have dead money in their cap for the next two seasons as it relates to Brown. Oakland will carry a $2 million cap restriction over this year and next, while New England has a hold of roughly $5.5 million for this season and $4.5 million the following, although they will be attempting to recoup that money.

All in all, the Antonio Brown experiment has been a mess for those involved. It appears that he will be out of a job for a while as he claims he has “quit” the NFL. However, after losing his endorsement deal with Nike and another from the helmet manufacturer, Xenith, it would seem that Brown will need another stream of income. While he could presumably land a deal with the CFL or XFL, interestingly enough, Brown announced today that he is re-enrolling at Central Michigan and is taking online courses. The rest of the sports world can only speculate at what Brown will do next, but it is certain that his saga is still far from over.

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Oliver Green

Oliver Green is a J.D Candidate at New York University School of Law and SEO Law Fellow. He is a first-year representative at NYU's Sports Law Association.

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