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Russell Okung would owe Carolina up to $2.5 million if he retires, in theory

Mike Florio and Charean Williams look at the larger-than-expected number of NFL players who opted out of the 2020 season after the deadline passed on Thursday.

Panthers tackle Russell Okung didn’t opt out, but he may eventually retire. It’s a smart way to manage an opt-out deadline that arrived way too early for NFL players to make an informed decision about whether to be all in or all out of the 2020 season five weeks before the first game is played.

If Okung eventually retires, he’d owe the Panthers up to $2.5 million in signing bonus money. The debt would arise even though the Chargers, not the Panthers, made the payment. That’s the Jake Plummer dynamic; when he was traded from the Broncos to the Buccaneers more than a decade ago, Plummer retired. And the Buccaneers eventually recovered a significant seven-figure payment from him (albeit not 100 cents on the dollar) via arbitration.

The question becomes whether the Panthers would pursue Okung for the payment, if he indeed retires. It presents a unique P.R. question for any team faced with a player who retires while potentially owing unearned signing bonus money due to COVID-19 concerns.

In any other year, go get the money. This year? The better approach may be to tread lightly.

Whether it happens with Okung or someone else, there’s a decent chance a player with unearned signing bonus money will retire this season, which then will force his team to decide what to do about the money.