Antonio Brown famously celebrated when the Raiders released him two weeks ago, shouting he was “free” of a team he believed had wronged him by voiding $29.125 million in contract guarantees over a reported run-in with general manager Mike Mayock.
Brown was released again Friday, when the Patriots decided enough was enough, but the wide receiver was much kinder to Bill Belichick and Co. in the aftermath. He tweeted a thank-you message to Belichick, and his appreciative Instagram post to Tom Brady even drew a three-hearts response from the quarterback.
All love likely will be lost, however, if the Patriots follow the Raiders’ lead and try to void the money it once guaranteed Brown. And, as ESPN’s Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler pointed out, that’s quite possible.
When Brown joined the Patriots, he received a $1 million fully guaranteed salary and a $9 million signing bonus. By ESPN’s calculation, Brown was paid $158,333 in salary and roster bonuses by the Patriots, who now can argue that the personal-conduct nature of his release allows them to void the remaining $850,000 or so in guaranteed money. It’s the same argument the Raiders made when they wiped Brown’s guarantees off their books, which angered the receiver.
Now, here’s where the Patriots likely went wrong and the Raiders did not (yes, you read that correctly).
ESPN reported that Oakland, unlike New England, did not include signing-bonus money in Brown’s contract. And while the Patriots haven’t yet paid the receiver the first installment of his bonus — that’s due Monday, for $5 million — a league source told ESPN “the team's way out of it is through a representation warranty clause that says it's a breach of contract if Brown didn't disclose an existing situation that would have prevented his continued availability” — like his former trainer’s sexual-assault lawsuit against him, or the other since-revealed allegations.
If the Patriots refuse to pay Brown his signing-bonus money next week and the remaining $4 million on Jan. 15, the NFL Players Association surely will back the receiver. A source told ESPN that the union sees signing bonuses as "money earned” — no matter when payments are scheduled — and NFL contract language makes it even more complicated to void a guaranteed signing bonus.
So, if the Patriots come for that $9 million, they can expect Brown and the union to file a grievance — and to have a strong case. The NFLPA also doesn’t want to allow teams to escape lucrative signing bonuses promised to players, so it would fight hard for Brown.
The Raiders, meanwhile, are on much stronger footing, with Brown’s documented personal-conduct issues and no signing bonus in his now-voided contract. Their focus is on Sunday’s road game against the Minnesota Vikings, not a messy money fight, like what might now await the Patriots.
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