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Is Antonio Brown getting a raw deal?

Talented wide receiver Antonio Brown has been the news a lot this year. There was his demand to be traded from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Oakland Raiders. There was the controversial resistance to use a new and safer helmet the NFL required players to wear. Then there were the burns to his feet from a mishap in a cryotherapy chamber that helps with swelling. Tired of the drama, the Raiders released him September 7 before its first regular-season game. He was subsequently picked up on September 9 by the Patriots, whose coach Bill Belichick has a history of using talented but troubled players.

Sexual assault charges give the team an out?

The time at the Patriots lasted one game before he was released in light of sexual assault charges filed by a physical trainer that Brown worked with in college as well as additional charges recently filed by an artist hired by Brown to paint a mural.

Brown then tweeted about the league’s hypocrisy by citing Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft facing charges for soliciting a sexual act and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sat for four games after accusations of sexual misconduct.

One day later, he tweeted that he will not play in the NFL, citing the fact that “owners can cancel deals [or] do whatever they want at anytime.” He then posted a class schedule from his alma mater Central Michigan University where he is registered for four online classes.

It is all about the money

Generally speaking, employment contracts are drafted to specify the amount of pay, length of service and other details. Looking at the deal that Brown signed with the Patriots, it included a $9 million signing bonus and $1 million fully guaranteed salary.

ESPN crunched the numbers, pointing out that the Pats owe for two weeks of services, which is $125,000 in salary and another $33,333 in bonuses. Kraft and company can argue that the charges voided the contract for payment, but the signing bonus is different. Signing bonuses are not tied to performance or anything else but signing the contract, and Brown is owed $5 million on September 30 and $4 million deferred to January 15.

Players union likely to support Brown

The Pats will likely argue that Brown did not disclose that there were pending charges from the older case involving the trainer. However, he can file a grievance with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) if the team does not pay that bonus – the union generally regards signing bonuses as money earned. To avoid any damaging precedents, the NFLPA would aggressively fight to ensure that Brown gets his money. Since the Raiders do not emphasize signing bonuses in their contract, much of their commitment will likely be void.

More to come

The saga involving Brown will be ongoing, both because of the sexual assault charges and the teams’ fight to void the contracts. Nevertheless, business is business, and contracts are contracts. Many could argue that both the Raider’s and the Patriots knew what they were doing. That the negatives soon outweighed the positives in their eyes does not mean they do not need to honor their contracts.

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