When left tackle Branden Albert decided to abruptly retire from the Jaguars, there’s a good chance he didn’t realize that he’d owe $3.4 million to a team that hadn’t paid him a penny. But that’s how the rules work, illogical as that may seem.
The Dolphins paid Albert a signing bonus of $8.5 million on a five-year deal. It wasn’t free money; it was an advance payment for future services, earned at the rate of $1.7 million per year. When the Dolphins traded Albert to the Jaguars with two years left on the contract, the Jaguars inherited Miami’s rights — including the right to recover signing bonus money in the event of retirement.
So with Albert retiring, the Jaguars can seek the money. Which likely had something to do with the decision to unretire.
Here’s where it gets interesting. As reported by NFL Media, the Jaguars have now shifted Albert from the reserve/left squad list to the reserve/retired list. By rule, he can unretire at any time, and the team would have to decide whether to reinstate him to the active roster, trade him, or cut him. There’s a prevailing view that, if the Jaguars cut Albert, they would forfeit their right to pursue the recovery of signing bonus money.
That may not be the case, based on the language of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Article 4, Section 9(a)(vi) allows teams to recover unearned signing bonus money in the event of retirement. Here’s the key language: “If the player returns to play for the Club in the subsequent season, then the Club must either (a) take the player back under his existing contract with no forfeiture of the remaining Forfeitable Salary Allocations, or (b) release the player and seek repayment of any remaining Forfeitable Salary Allocations for future League Years.”
The problem with that clause flows from the fact that it doesn’t expressly encompass a return from retirement happening in the same year the player retired. Regardless, the last portion of that sentence would support an argument that, if/when the player returns, the team can cut the player and recover his bonus money.
However it plays out, the first step will be to lock in Albert’s retirement. That’s what the Jaguars have done, blocking his ability to return and wipe the slate clean.
In hindsight, Albert shouldn’t have told the team he wants to come back. He should have just shown up. If he had returned before the team moved him to the reserve/retired list, he arguably wouldn’t owe them a dime.
As it now stands, he owes them $3.4 million. If/when he shows up, the Jaguars will have a persuasive argument to make that he still owes the money, unless they reinstate him to the active roster. Which, based on the decision to put him on the reserve/retired list, they don’t seem to be inclined to do.