The NFL insists that placing a player charged with a violent crime on paid leave doesn’t constitute discipline. Recent medical findings regarding the potential health risks of playing football could make that position more accurate than the league would care to admit; however, the fact remains that football players want to play football. A decision to keep them from playing football based on alleged off-field conduct — even if the players still get paid — amounts to discipline, from their perspective.
The simplicity of the discipline-or-not issue obscures another point that the NFL has not yet resolved. For many players, base salary is just a piece of the total compensation package. From per-game roster bonuses to incentives based on playing time and/or performance to escalators based on playing time and/or performance to de-escalators based on lack of playing time and/or performance to bonuses triggered by a specific amount of playing time and beyond, much of what a player is paid hinges on whether he plays.
“That is the type of issue we would be prepared to discuss with the union if the union were interested in engaging in discussions,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT by email regarding the issue of non-salary compensation for players on paid leave. “They had no interest in discussing anything at the last meeting.”
So what’s the current rule regarding other forms of compensation for players on paid leave?
“If the union declines to discuss it, we’ll decide when it’s necessary,” Aiello said.
Aiello confirmed that the issue to be decided includes whether whether the player is deemed to have earned per-game roster bonuses, escalators, incentives, etc. while on paid leave.
The NFL wisely has avoided this topic in the revised personal conduct policy because, as a matter relating directly to player compensation, it falls clearly within the mandatory duty of collective bargaining. Apparently, the NFL is ready to engage in bargaining on the question of whether players on paid leave will get only their base salaries, or whether they’ll get more.
If the NFL plans to cling to the mistaken belief that paid leave for football players isn’t discipline, players on paid leave won’t need more. They’ll need everything to which they’re contractually entitled.
That highlights the serious issues of competitive balance that the new personal conduct policy glosses over, in the name of protecting the shield. Teams with players on paid leave will continue to have to pay players at a minimum their salaries and at a maximum everything, without deriving any benefit from the relationship.