According to numerous reports, including one by Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports, the NFL Players Association has filed two grievances against the New England Patriots on behalf of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, seeking over $6 million in guaranteed salary from the team.
Hernandez was released by the Patriots in June after he was arrested and accused of first-degree murder for the death of Odin Lloyd. Hernandez e has also been accused of five weapons-related charges.
According to Katzowitz's report, the NFLPA is seeking payments that were guaranteed to Hernandez in the five-year contract extension that he signed in August 2012.
One grievance seeks payment of the $3.25 million of his original singing bonus from his contract extension. According to OvertheCap.com, that money is already on the Patriots' cap for 2014, so the team will lose no cap space if it loses this grievance, but will re-gain cap space should it win.
The second grievance in Hernandez's behalf seeks payment of (a) $1.32 million in guaranteed salary for 2013, (b) $1.14 million in guaranteed salary and (c) a $500,000 workout bonus for 2014. The NFLPA's argument is basically that since those payments were guaranteed in his contract, the Patriots must pay him regardless of his release from the team.
Unlike Hernandez's signing bonus proration, the money claimed in the second grievance is not included in the Patriots' salary cap, so the team will gain nothing if it prevails, but will lose cap space if it loses that grievance.
If you're wondering about the salary cap ramifications of the grievances, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com presents the Patriots' counterargument:
The Patriots will argue, we believe, that the guarantees applied only to terminations made due to injury, skill (i.e., perceived lack of it), and the salary cap. Because the Patriots cut Hernandez pursuant to paragraph 11 of the standard player contract (in Appendix A of the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement), which permits termination of employment when the player “has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club,” the guarantees evaporate.
Again, the NFLPA agreed with that interpretation in June.
The problem for the NFLPA is that it is in an unenviable position. On the one hand, the players' union needs to pursue these grievances on the grounds that it cannot afford to set a precedent of not representing players in multi-million dollar grievances. That's a recipe for destroying player trust in the NFLPA, which cannot possibly help the union in the long run. Win or lose, in order to maintain player trust, the NFLPA must at least be seen as fighting for Hernandez.
On the other hand, Hernandez has been accused of first-degree murder. The union will be left with a black eye if it wins these grievances and Hernandez is then convicted of murder. That scenario would leave the NFLPA with a public relations nightmare, as it's unlikely NFLPA executives ever want to read headlines like "NFL player convicted, but still will receive millions."
By defending Hernandez, the NFLPA could lead teams to take harder stances in future contract negotiations with players regarding legal issues. For example, a ruling in Hernandez's favor could easily lead to less guaranteed money for such players and more salary assigned to roster bonuses per game.
What the NFLPA Should Do
Florio's article points out that the NFLPA is much more likely to prevail on the remainder of Hernandez's signing bonus than on his salaries. Florio also urged Lloyd's family to file suit to have that money placed in escrow, so that it can be available for payments if they prevail in any civil lawsuits.
I would argue that it should not be Lloyd's family which moves to have such payments placed in escrow. Rather, the NFLPA should make that part of its grievances. For example, the union could arrange it so that Hernandez would receive any proceeds that remain after, say, five years.
Doing so would be the best possible solution for the NFLPA. The players' union would show its members that it will fight for the money they are owed, but the NFLPA would avoid the possibility of the media fiasco that would result should Hernandez be convicted.
It's also worth noting that these grievances could take a long time to resolve, considering that it took 13 months to resolve the Patriots' grievance against defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene, who was released in August 2012.
It's impossible to predict when these latest grievances involving the Patriots will be resolved.