The sudden decision of 49ers tackle Anthony Davis to retire and his intention both to pay back $4.66 million in signing bonus money and to return to the game in a year or two raises several questions that the NFL and the NFL Players Association have never before confronted.
As written, the CBA allows the 49ers to collect the signing bonus money and then to welcome Davis back at a later date — without owing him the signing bonus money he returned.
The 49ers eventually will place Davis on the reserve/retired list, holding his rights indefinitely. If/when he returns to the game, the 49ers will be entitled to keep his rights under the terms of his prior contract, with his compensation for 2015 becoming his compensation in whatever year he returns. But the labor deal says nothing about a player who returns to the game getting back the signing bonus money he previously refunded, which surely would prompt the 49ers and the NFL’s management council to argue that the signing bonus money is gone forever.
The NFLPA could respond by arguing that the 49ers can’t have it both ways, and that their options should be to refund to Davis the refunded signing bonus money or to cut him.
Either way, the CBA doesn’t address this specific situation. Which means that the NFL and the NFLPA can negotiate a compromise, or the two sides can battle it out through arbitration.
Some league insiders are suggesting that Davis could have found another way to not play football, without retiring. If Davis has lingering issues due to a concussion suffered last year that kept him from mustering the will to play, he could have taken the position that he wants to play football but, due to his brain injury from 2014, he can’t. This would have forced the 49ers either to cut him or to place him on the non-football illness list or injured reserve.
Alternatively, Davis could have simply given a substandard effort. He eventually would have been benched and, in time, released. (He did the honorable thing by simply retiring, but in theory he could have opted to simply quit trying in the hopes of getting fired — and getting to keep the money.)
Whatever the 49ers opted to do with Davis, an approach other than retirement could have allowed him to keep the $4.66 million he previously had received. If/when he returns to football, he could have a very hard time getting that money back.