NFL Owners, Commissioner Consider Question of NFL Conduct Policies Regulating Non-Football Offenses Once Again

Jackson Lewis P.C.
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New York Jets player Darrelle Revis is entering the third year of his approximately $70 million five-year contract with the team. He is slated to receive a $13 million base salary ($6 million fully guaranteed) and a $2 million roster bonus this season, but only if he remains on the Jets roster. Unfortunately, the cornerback may not be making the flight back to “Revis Island.” Revis has become the latest professional football player to force owners and the National Football League to consider if they can reprimand a player for off-the-field conduct and if a criminal indictment is necessary to find a player violated league conduct policies.

In connection with an altercation in Pittsburgh on February 12, 2017, police have charged Revis with two counts of aggravated assault, one count of robbery, one count of conspiracy, and a misdemeanor charge of making terroristic threats. His preliminary hearing has been adjourned to March 15, 2017. The $2 million roster bonus, as well as a portion or all of the $6 million guaranteed salary, is due from the Jets if Revis is still with the team on March 10, 2017.

Whether the Jets can negate Revis’ entire salary (including the roster bonus and guaranteed money) will depend upon contractual provisions. His contract can be voided under certain circumstances, including being fined or suspended for conduct detrimental to the team or for violating the NFL’s conduct policy. Moreover, the contract’s general catch-all clause allows the Jets to void the contract if Revis “engages in personal conduct reasonably judged by [the Jets] Club to adversely affect or reflect on [the Jets] Club.”

The NFL is investigating whether Revis may have violated league policies, too. If the Jets or Commissioner Roger Goodell issue any disciplinary decision prior to a court ruling, Revis and the NFL Players Association likely will file a grievance subject to their collective bargaining agreement’s arbitration procedures to challenge what conduct, actual or alleged, violates these clauses and whether Revis is owed at least a guaranteed portion of his salary.

This is not the first time that franchises and Goodell have considered punishing a player for non-football-related actions. In recent years, sanctions have ranged from suspensions for league policy violations (i.e., Josh Gordon and Le’Veon Bell) to immediate termination for actual or alleged criminal offenses (i.e., Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Josh Brown). These prior determinations, however, were subject to both positive and negative criticism. Thus, waiting for the court’s final determination on Revis’ criminal charges could delay a decision by the Jets camp or the NFL, which, in turn, would require the Jets to issue him at least $2 million on March 10, 2017. Quite a dilemma.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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