Eleven days ago, the Patriots gave Antonio Brown a $9 million signing bonus. But they’ve yet to actually give him any of it.
The contract requires the team to pay the first installment of $5 million on or before Monday, September 23. Per a league source, that payment has not yet been made. Brown will now wait to see whether the money arrives in three days.
If it doesn’t, Brown would have to file a grievance seeking payment. Under the labor deal, the team incurs no risk by refusing to pay it. If the Patriots lose, they simply owe him the money, without attorneys’ fees, liquidated damages, or even interest.
So would New England’s case to keep the money hold water? Based on the plain terms of the labor deal, Brown did not commit a “forfeitable breach” that would permit recovery of any portion of his signing bonus. That said, the Patriots could attempt to resist payment based on the notion that Brown and his representatives knew that Brown faced a potential civil lawsuit that would trigger NFL scrutiny and a possible suspension.
It would be a creative and unprecedented argument, but the Patriots have nothing to lose. That said, if there were any shenanigans associated with Brown’s efforts to gain his freedom from the Raiders — some believe he knew the Patriots were waiting to pounce — the Patriots may not want to give Brown any motivation to blow the whistle. But if the Patriots aren’t concerned about any such collateral consequences, there’s simply nothing to lose by refusing to pay the $9 million, forcing Brown to fight for it, and arguing that if Brown had disclosed the threatened litigation they never would have signed him.
Brown also has a fully-guaranteed base salary of $1.025 million. The same argument that could be made to avoid paying the signing bonus could, in theory, be used to avoid paying the balance of the salary. The team also could attempt to void the remaining guarantees. (Brown’s worst-case scenario would seem to be the recovery of four weeks of game checks as Termination Pay; he wouldn’t get the full year’s worth of salary because he wasn’t on the Week One roster.)
If the Patriots decide to take an aggressive stance with Brown, who knows what will happen? Given that he has become anything but a sympathetic figure in recent weeks, an arbitrator could be inclined to find a way to prevent Brown from profiting from his own apparent wrongdoing.