The long-running miniseries continues about the $39 million man, JaMarcus Russell.
According to a report by Yahoo! Sports, the Raiders have filed a grievance to get back some of that money. The Raiders, of course, did not explain their legal position, only saying that they're trying to retrieve some of their former quarterback's windfall. As for Russell's representatives, they have said there's no basis for recovery. Thus, the lines have been drawn.
I have documented the money in this contract a few times. He is, of course, the poster child for what's wrong with the rookie compensation system, a system that will be altered in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement since neither the union nor the NFL will be advocating for the continued disproportionate rewarding of top picks.
Here are my thoughts on the two sides of the dispute:
The change in contract
The Raiders superseded Russell's contract in February 2009, not changing the total amounts but changing the structure slightly. They, as per their contractual right, changed the guarantee to that of a "salary advance" structure, as the team would, in effect, be pre-paying future salaries in the form of an up-front lump sum. That is a structure becoming popular in the NFL, as the signing bonus and option bonus structure have some challenges with recovery.
The Raiders' position
The Raiders are trying to interpret the change made in 2009 as a change that did not bring along the initial guarantees of the contract with it. They maintain the renewed structure of a salary advance and supersede allows them some recovery now that the player has been released. With a supersede structure of a salary advance they were, in effect, paying out a guarantee on future years' salaries.
The Raiders cannot, of course, get money back for poor performance on the field. If that were the case, there would be grievances filed against players every week of the year and contracts would not be worth the paper they're printed on. And while that would be certainly sweet from a management perspective, it's hardly realistic.
Ultimately, their position comes down to an interpretation of the language.
Russell's agents are solid and respected. They engaged in a long and drawn-out negotiation with the Raiders over Russell, to the point of holding him out for the majority of training camp and making his rookie year a washout.
They felt at that time and feel today that the guarantee, and the entire guarantee, was and is rock solid. With the leverage of the top pick in the draft -- and that's considerable leverage -- the guarantee should be impenetrable. We'll see.
It's noteworthy that the NFL Players Association is representing Russell in the grievance. This will be an important one since it will set precedent on how these salary advance guarantees are treated in the future.
There's one thing for certain here: This grievance is about an interpretation of language.
The $3 million left
In any grievance between a player and a team, the key fact I look for is: Has the money been paid? If it has, chances are strong that the money is long since spent. As to getting it back, I would say: good luck with that.
What is remaining on the guarantee is $3 million of the 2010 salary that is guaranteed. That amount is also without an offset, meaning Russell would make that on top of whatever he might make from another team.
Perhaps the Raiders will not make payments on that $3 million, their way of trying to forge a settlement of somewhere between zero and the $9.55 million they are requesting.
Stay tuned for another chapter of the never-ending saga of JaMarcus Russell.