Russell Okung would owe Carolina up to $2.5 million if he retires, in theory

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Panthers tackle Russell Okung didn’t opt out, but he may eventually retire. It’s a smart way to manage an opt-out deadline that arrived way too early for NFL players to make an informed decision about whether to be all in or all out of the 2020 season five weeks before the first game is played.

If Okung eventually retires, he’d owe the Panthers up to $2.5 million in signing bonus money. The debt would arise even though the Chargers, not the Panthers, made the payment. That’s the Jake Plummer dynamic; when he was traded from the Broncos to the Buccaneers more than a decade ago, Plummer retired. And the Buccaneers eventually recovered a significant seven-figure payment from him (albeit not 100 cents on the dollar) via arbitration.

The question becomes whether the Panthers would pursue Okung for the payment, if he indeed retires. It presents a unique P.R. question for any team faced with a player who retires while potentially owing unearned signing bonus money due to COVID-19 concerns.

In any other year, go get the money. This year? The better approach may be to tread lightly.

Whether it happens with Okung or someone else, there’s a decent chance a player with unearned signing bonus money will retire this season, which then will force his team to decide what to do about the money.

3 responses to “Russell Okung would owe Carolina up to $2.5 million if he retires, in theory

  1. Why wouldn’t they go after the money? He (and all players) had the chance to opt out if they wanted to, he didn’t opt out. If he, or any other player, decides to “retire” as a way to opt out of the season, that’s fine, it’s part of the CBA. But they should also have to repay the remaining signing bonus, which is also part of the CBA.

  2. “Why wouldn’t they go after the money? He (and all players) had the chance to opt out if they wanted to, he didn’t opt out.”

    Why? Because of the public relations issues as mentioned in the article. Does a team really want to appear greedy with respect to a player who is concerned about his health and the health of his loved ones?

    The players have not been given a legitimate chance to opt-out. No one knows what camp or game conditions will be like. The league has also concealed information regarding financial issues relating to opting out.

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