John Clayton of ESPN has been mentioning throughout Thursday evening that, if Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger commits another misstep, the team could attempt to recover $12.8 million in signing bonus money. We need to disagree, and we’ll try to do it as respectfully as possible.
For a change.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement that applied prior to March 2006, signing bonus money could be recovered in the event of a suspension, if the player’s contract contained appropriate forfeiture language. Most recently, former Lions receiver Charles Rogers was ordered to pay the team $6.1 million in signing bonus money earned in 2003, due to a drug-related suspension.
In April 2009, new language regarding signing bonus forfeitures was interpreted for the first time by Special Master Richard Burbank, in conjunction with a grievance filed by the Giants against former receiver Plaxico Burress to recover a portion of his bonus money after being suspended following his firing of a bullet through his leg in November 2008. Burbank unexpectedly found that Article XIV, Section 9 of the CBA, which permits partial recovery of signing bonus money, applies only where the player holds
out or retires.
As we wrote at the time, “In other words, getting suspended for conduct detrimental to the team or
for violating league policies doesn’t trigger a signing bonus
forfeiture. Likewise, any injury suffered by a player engaged
intentionally in unsafe off-field activities won’t trigger a forfeiture,
Bottom line? The Steelers can recover bonus money from Roethlisberger only if he holds out or retires. For a suspension or any other misconduct, the money he already has received cannot be touched.