Nine days ago, 10 players filed suit against the NFL, claiming various violations of the antitrust laws arising from the lockout, and from any rules that the league’s 32 separate franchises will apply to a non-union workforce after a lockout ends.
But the legal action doesn’t yet prevent other players from pursuing claims of their own. And those players who have the most obvious legal rights are the ones who stand to lose their workout bonuses during the lockout.
Plenty of players can earn such bonuses in 2011, including Jets tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, whose 2010 contract provides for annual payments of $750,000 if he participates in the offseason workout program and in training camp.
But the players can’t earn bonuses for participating in the offseason workout program if there’s no offseason workout program. In Ferguson’s case, for example, participation the offseason workout program must come “at the Club’s invitation.” If there’s no offseason training program, there’s no invitation — and thus there’s no payment.
Ferguson and any other player who will be denied the opportunity to earn his workout bonus could file individual lawsuits claiming that the lockout constitutes a breach of their contracts, and that they should be paid the workout bonuses they would have earned.
Lawyers representing the individual players could choose to be creative in their requests to the courts of the various states in which NFL teams are headquartered, perhaps asking that the contracts be treated as null and void. Though an award of money damages is the more likely outcome, the players could complicate the situation significantly for the league if those who are losing workout bonuses decide to file their own lawsuits.
That said,the players could end up being viewed as even more litigious if other lawsuits are filed, which could hurt their standing in the court of public opinion.
Either way, these players need to be compensated for their lost workout bonuses, if the lockout eventually is deemed to be a violation of the antitrust laws.