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Matt Rhule, Panthers battle over buyout

Mike Florio and Peter King unpack the Panthers’ decision to hire Frank Reich as their new head coach on a four-year deal, after he was fired by the Colts in Week 9 of the 2022 NFL season.

The Panthers got a gift when former head coach Matt Rhule landed at Nebraska, since his earnings in his new job will reduce the amount of money that multi-billionaire David Tepper would otherwise owe to the man he fired after five games into his third season.

But the Panthers apparently think that Rhule and the Cornhuskers have engaged in contractual shenanigans, with the goal of forcing Tepper to pay more.

Via Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports, Rhule has filed an arbitration claim over the team’s refusal to pay his buyout.

The Panthers reportedly have refused to pay Rhule because they believe the Nebraska contract was structured to maximize his buyout. In Carolina, Rhule was making roughly $8.5 million per year. In Nebraska, the eight-year deal has a base value of $74 million -- and average of $9.25 million.

Rhule’s Nebraska contract, however, pays $5.5 million in the first year and escalates to $12.5 million.

The Panthers reportedly will rely on the following language from the anti-tampering policy regarding the reasonableness of subsequent NFL contracts given to a fired coach: “If the contract with the new club includes a substantial salary increase in new contract years, the Commissioner shall use the following as a guideline to determine the reasonableness of those increases: (i) if annual compensations is scheduled to increase by 20 percent or more for the new contract years, the prior club’s annual offset, if that club is entitled to an offset, shall be calculated based upon the employee’s average annual compensation during the entire term of contract.”

The first challenge for the Panthers will be to get the league to apply that language to a coach who takes a college job. Given that the issue will be resolved under the auspices of the NFL, that argument has a far better chance of succeeding in the Court of Roger Goodell than it would in a court of law.

According to the report, roughly $5 million is at issue. If the rule quoted above is applied to Rhule, he’ll get nothing. If it isn’t, he’ll get the difference between what he would have made in Carolina and what he’ll actually make in Nebraska, until the moment at which the Nebraska pay exceeds the Carolina pay.

Bottom line? Tepper and the Panthers believe that moment should be regarded as right now.

While I generally feel no compulsion to help a guy worth $17 billion to save some couch-cushion cash, it’s a persuasive argument. No coach should be allowed to structure a contract in a way to maximize his buyout.

Rhule will make more per year on average with Nebraska than he was making per year at Carolina. That should extinguish any obligation Tepper would have to Rhule.