The NFL is saying, “I told you so.”
At at time when the NFL Players Association has urged players to boycott voluntary offseason workouts, the NFL has reminded teams once again that players who suffer season-ending injuries away from team facilities need not be paid their salaries. A memo was sent to all teams today by the NFL, a copy of which PFT has obtained.
“The media recently reported that Denver Broncos player Ja’Wuan James suffered a significant, potentially season-ending injury while working out at a private gym, away from the club’s facility,” the NFL’s management council said in a memo to all teams. “Mr. James’ $10 million Paragraph 5 Salary for the 2021 season was fully guaranteed for skill, injury and cap purposes. [Editor’s note: The salary is actually $9.85 million. James had a $150,000 workout bonus.] Several clubs have inquired about the contractual implications resulting from the fact that Mr. James sustained this season-ending injury while training away from the Broncos’ facility.”
Before we go any farther, there’s an important point to make. It’s likely that no teams inquired about the contractual implications, because all teams know about a rule that, per a source with knowledge of it, has been in place since 1977.
“Injuries sustained while a player is working out ‘on his own’ in a location other than an NFL facility are considered ‘Non-Football Injuries’ and are outside the scope of a typical skill, injury and cap guarantee,” the memo also said. “Such injuries are also not covered by the protections found in paragraph 9 of the NFL Player Contract, meaning that clubs have no contractual obligation to provide salary continuation during the year in which the injury was sustained.”
The memo then explained that injuries suffered “while working out at a club facility or as specifically authorized by his club” give the player “significant protections, including: (i) payment of Paragraph 5 Salary; (ii) medical care; (iii) pension credit (if the player is unable to perform services for three regular season games due to the injury) and (iv) other benefits, such as Injury Protection, which will provide payments to players in seasons following the season of a career ending injury.”
Finally comes the kicker, which is a message not to the teams but to all players: “According to the media coverage, several players have expressed surprise that Mr. James’ injury was not covered by his Injury Guarantee, although this point has been made frequently in our discussions with the NFLPA about the offseason program. Clubs are encouraged to remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train in non-NFL locations.”
The NFL is right. Players need to be aware of this. Before yesterday, they weren’t. Now, they have no reason not to be.