It’s been reported that the ongoing contract dispute between first-round pick Roquan Smith and the Chicago Bears hinges on language regarding the new helmet-leading rule and would allow the team to recoup guaranteed money should he be suspended under it.
However, a new report from ESPN’s Dan Graziano says that it isn’t simply related to the new rule but related to language that the Bears have included in multiple first-round picks’ contracts in recent years:
Please understand this: Even if you take Nagy at his word that the new helmet rule is “part of the issue,” the problem isn’t that the Bears are worried about Smith getting ejected or suspended for newly illegal hits. The problem is that the Bears want to reserve the right to void his guarantees if he gets ejected or suspended for illegal hits.
And that’s the simple way of putting it, this isn’t just about the new helmet rule, it’s about the team being able void his guarantees for whatever the team decides is harmful to their image:
Every rookie contract includes language that allows teams to void guarantees under certain circumstances, including some egregious ones that would be understandable, such as drug suspensions or legal entanglements off the field. But many teams go too far, inserting language that allows them to void guarantees for far less significant reasons, such as team-imposed fines. Last year, the NFLPA found this practice so widespread that it launched an internal investigation of rookie deals to determine whether teams were violating the CBA with such language, and they sent a letter to agents warning them to be vigilant against it.
A review of recent Bears first-round contracts finds that 2016 first-round pick Leonard Floyd and 2017 first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky can have their guarantees voided if the player in question “engages in conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely affect or reflect on the Club” or “makes any public comment to the media that Club determines, in its sole discretion (1) breaches a material obligation of loyalty to Club and/or (2) materially undermines the public’s respect for or is criticizing of Club, Player’s teammates, Club’s ownership, Club coaches, Club management, any of Club’s operations or policies, or the NFL.” Even after seven paragraphs of specifics, the “Default” section of each of these deals includes a “subsection H” that says the player is in default if he is “suspended by the NFL for any reason not otherwise specified above.”
That is some seriously vague and overbearing language. If, in this instance, Smith, were to come out and say after a game, “You know, I think we called a lot of blitzes today but it would have been better to drop back into coverage and we just got beat,” the team could theoretically determine that “breaches the obligation of loyalty to the Club.”
And before anyone says “well, this is dragging out, he should just sign it and give up,” consider this: would you sign a contract with this language in it from your employer? Anything that said they could determine what they could withhold your pay for?
I think Smith’s camp is in the right to dig in on this issue. Read the whole article and see how the language has affected other negotiations around the league. The Bears aren’t looking good in this latest report.