With more than $5 million still arguably owed to Aaron Hernandez under the contract he signed last August, the Patriots likely will fight to avoid paying him another dime. The two-front battle relates to the final $3.25 million installment of his $12.5 million signing bonus and guaranteed base salaries for 2013 and 2014. The guaranteed base salaries total $2.5 million.
As to the signing bonus, the team’s decision to cut Hernandez makes it much more difficult to block the final payment or to recover any of the $8.75 million already issued to Hernandez. As to the guaranteed salaries, multiple sources have indicated that Hernandez likely will not be entitled to any further payment.
Despite the absence of forfeiture language for the guaranteed salaries, the guarantee applies only to terminations made due to injury, skill (i.e., perceived lack of it), and the salary cap. Because the Patriots cut Hernandez pursuant to paragraph 11 of the standard player contract, which permits termination of employment when the player “has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club,” the guarantee evaporates.
As we understand it, that’s not merely the team’s position. The NFLPA, we’re told, agrees with the interpretation.
While this doesn’t prevent Hernandez from filing a grievance aimed at getting the money, it’s a steep uphill climb and, frankly, the least of his concerns.
The more intriguing fight will arise in connection with the unpaid $3.25 million installment of the signing bonus. That money already has been earned by Hernandez. But cutting him, the Patriots apparently surrendered any ability to recover the money that has been paid or to keep the portion that hasn’t been paid.
Still, it currently appears that the Patriots will at a minimum force Hernandez to sue for the rest — and at most try to recover as much of the previously-paid signing bonus as they can.
The problem for Hernandez is that, even though the terms of the labor deal seem to be on his side, the facts can nudge the controversy toward a bad outcome. The problem for other players is that, if Hernandez loses, a bad precedent will be created for them.
Either way, it appears that the Patriots have enhanced their ability to avoid the guaranteed salaries by cutting Hernandez, even if cutting him makes it harder to avoid paying the final $3.25 million.