On Thursday, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Raiders hope to recover $9.55 million from quarterback JaMarcus Russell. In support of their position, the team contends that his “contract was changed” at some point during his three-year career, and that he’s not permitted to retain all of the money he received prior to being cut.
Per a league source, the Raiders are referring to a February 25, 2009 renegotiation of Russell’s contract. The contract revision resulted in the Raiders exercising a $3.44 million “supersede signing bonus,” converting future base guarantees to a lump sum, and guaranteeing his 2009 base salary and escalator, apparently in order to ensure that a $3 million base salary guarantee in 2010 would remain valid in the uncapped year.
Nothing we’ve seen suggests that the Raiders acquired as of February 25, 2009 the right to recover money already paid to Russell. As far as we can tell, any salary advances he received came from future guaranteed salaries. Thus, he had a right to the money regardless of whether he was on the team or not.
If anything, agent Eric Metz was wise to insist on getting the guaranteed salaries paid in the form of an advance, since the Raiders potentially would have been tempted to not pay Russell any future guaranteed base salaries, forcing him to chase down the money like Lane Kiffin and/or Mike Shanahan.
Teams have limited vehicles for recovering money that has been paid, especially when it was otherwise guaranteed. Future guaranteed payments can be voided if, for example, the player is suspended. The specific language of the contract, considered in conjunction with the terms and interpretations of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, ultimately will determine whether the Raiders have a leg to stand on. Based on the information currently available, it appears that they don’t.
The effort to recoup the money makes their decision not to cut Russell before an early May mandatory minicamp less confusing. Apparently, the Raiders were hoping he would say or do something that would bolster the case they already intended to make for a partial recovery of the money he was paid.
In the end, he was cut for one reason — because he stunk. His contract contained no requirement that he not stink. The Raiders saw fit to make him the top pick in the 2007 draft, and then to give him all that money based only on potential. If anything, their effort to get money back from Russell serves only to underscore the stupidity of the decision to draft him in the first place.
But when the emperor is willing to listen to no one who might tell him he’s riding bareback with a bare butt, stuff like this tends to happen.