Ravens embark on “groundbreaking” effort to invalidate guaranteed salary

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In the NFL, the only guaranteed money that is truly guaranteed is money that ends up in the player’s bank account. The looming grievance between the Ravens and former Ravens safety Earl Thomas will prove that, once again.

The Ravens released Thomas on Sunday, for “personal conduct that has adversely affected” the team. That wasn’t a phrase the Ravens crafted in the moment; undoubtedly, it was specifically chosen to match the language from the document informing Thomas of the termination of his contract.

Attached as Appendix H to the Collective Bargaining Agreement is a document titled “Notice of Termination.” At the top, it advises the player that his contract has been torn up. The team then must check one of five boxes. The fourth box reads as follows: “You have engaged in personal conduct which, in the reasonable judgment of the Club, adversely affects or reflects on the Club.”

If the Ravens can prove that Thomas “engaged in personal conduct which, in the reasonable judgment of the Club, adversely affects . . . the Club,” the Ravens will owe Thomas nothing, even though his $10 million salary for 2020 was fully guaranteed.

“Fully guaranteed” is, in situations like this, a misnomer. No contractual payment is fully guaranteed. It’s guaranteed for skill and/or injury and/or salary cap.

As noted on Sunday, the language of the Earl Thomas guarantee for 2020 says he’ll get the money even if the contract is terminated due to perceived deficiencies in skill, even if he’s injured, and/or even if the Ravens decide they need to cut him in order to create cap space. The contract does not guarantee the payment even if the player is terminated for personal conduct that adversely affects the team.

The looming fight over the eight-figure payment is, as one agent with extensive experience told PFT on Sunday, “groundbreaking.” Most agents and nearly all media believe that guaranteed means guaranteed, and that a player who is released with salary or other payments guaranteed for skill, injury, and cap will get the money.

The truth is that, if the Ravens did indeed make the decision due to personal conduct that adversely affected the team, the action falls into a category that isn’t covered by the guarantee.

The grievance will play out in the background over the coming months. By the time a ruling is issued, it will be a footnote in the news cycle. But it will also create a precedent that will become relevant if/when teams have players with significant guaranteed payments who have demonstrated personal misconduct that gives the team a potential out.

It will happen rarely, and it’s definitely an all-in move by the Ravens. The question is whether they have the cards to back it up. That will be determined as the grievance proceeds.

24 responses to “Ravens embark on “groundbreaking” effort to invalidate guaranteed salary

  1. I think the Ravens have better lawyers than Earls…he’s not getting 10 million he didn’t earn.

  2. If I’m Thomas’s representation, my focus would be on proving that the conduct Baltimore is claiming as “adversely affected the club” cannot “reasonably” be given that designation. For precedent, I would accumulate a long list of similar incidents (and there are plenty) that did not result in player termination. Reading between the lines, what this really looks like is Baltimore realizing that it had made a mistake giving Thomas the contract that it did and is using this incident as a convenient excuse for getting rid of his guaranteed money. And if Baltimore somehow prevails with this, it opens up a gigantic can of worms in the league, seemingly greatly broadening the sort of behaviors that are sufficient to invalidate guarantees. I suspect that the league won’t want to go that route, as it would encourage the NFLPA to fight for a change and/or for player agents to start crafting new contract language preventing this.

  3. Good for the Ravens. Enough is enough with little punks throwing hissy fits because they know they’ll get paid.

    That doesnt happen at 99.9% of jobs. It shouldn’t happen for athletes playing a freaking “GAME.”

  4. The Ravens are fighting an uphill battle on this one. While their position has merit, this would set a precedent and the NFLPA will fight it until the end.

  5. Conduct “detrimental” is extremely vague and is subject to biased interpretation by the team which is unfair to the player. Conduct “detrimental” should have been clearly defined in the contract. When a player sees that other players are not penalized for fighting in practice or showing up late for meetings,then it is logical for the player to assume that the behavior would not rise to the level of affecting guaranteed money. The NFLPA should hire the best lawyers to fight this.

  6. This will be interesting to follow. It’s a bold strategy by the Ravens, which could backfire on them in the signing of future free agents, if it’s proven that they are greatly over-reaching on this. I obviously don’t know enough about what Earl Thomas has been up to to really have a side in this. But as the article states, this could be a ground-breaking ruling which could affect how players approach contract negotiations in the future.

  7. Makes the organization look bad. They wanted him gone at that price. Terrible signing
    Hope they end up in cap hell.

  8. The Ravens better have documented, writtten warnings to back this up. Otherwise, they are grasping at straws.

    Question for Florio: Since the Ravens are trying a legal hail mary, does the arbitrator have the ability to charge them for the player’s and NFLPAs legal fees?

  9. Good luck signing any free agents in the future, maybe ET is a dirt bag but the Ravens are telling anyone in the future “don’t believe anything we say during contract negotiations “. There’s been much worse altercations in practices in the past and they did nothing.

  10. I made a comment about how it was a ploy to clear cap space. It looks like I was right. Their is a video circulating around that shows the fight. It’s not really a fight. They over paid for Earl Thomas and he is started to decline last season.

  11. The Ravens should have to pay every cent owed to Earl Thomas. They signed him to an ill advised deal. They made their bed. They can lie in it.

  12. It says something when your own teammates want you gone. Late to meetings, missing meetings, fight last year, fight this year and the off-season shenanigans where he was chased around by his wife/girlfriend with a gun says it all. Add to the mix Earl’s “freelance” style that puts him in the wrong place constantly and here you go. The Ravens can not and will not put up with this because of the Ray Rice debacle.

  13. Pretty sure they film the practice so they have film of him punching Clark. I know if I punched a coworker that would be considered “adversely affecting” my company. He was also apparently late/skipped a bunch of meetings and I am guessing the ravens documented that as well. Not to mention he was hated in the locker room so I am sure a bunch of players will confirm what the organization says.

    I think the ravens will win.

  14. As a Seahawk fan, I will admit feeling like this might be a case of karma coming to haunt him. And relief that we didn’t give him that extension.

  15. This is obvious, but there is 10,000,000 reasons for each side to fight this. The best thing would be to buy certainty and cut a deal and agree to pay/accept a lesser amount. However, I’m not so sure the more rational decision will be made.

  16. This is a team that had players like Ray Rice, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and now all of a sudden they are worried about “conduct detrimental to the team”? Lol. Why don’t you just admit you overpaid and now you found someone cheaper.

  17. The Ravens aren’t dumb, I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more that happened that we just don’t know about yet. You all just want the Ravens to lose the money cause they’re good, that’s all. You and Earl are gonna be disappointed though…

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