Retired agent: Steelers can go after some of Antonio Brown’s money
By skipping the walkthrough last Saturday and a meeting at the team hotel later that night, did Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown violate the terms of his contract, giving the team a chance to withhold his game check and possibly recoup a portion of his signing bonus?
A retired NFL agent thinks the Steelers have a legitimate case if they wish to pursue it because Brown displayed conduct detrimental to the team.
“When you sign an NFL contract, you promise to abide by all conditions of it,” said Ralph Cindrich, a Pittsburgh-based lawyer and former NFL player. “If you breach it, there is a liability, and I think there is no question that he breached it.”
Brown did not practice in the days leading up to the season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals with what coach Mike Tomlin described as a knee injury after he initially gave the wide receiver one day off as a “coach’s decision.”
According to Tomlin, Brown never attended a scheduled MRI last Friday and did not return phone calls that night or Saturday. Brown reported to Heinz Field on Sunday only to be told by Tomlin he would not be playing. Brown reportedly left the venue at halftime of the Steelers’ 16-13 victory.
Brown also did not attend a team meeting Monday morning at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
“It would go through a grievance procedure, but I think the Steelers would win,” Cindrich said. “He went AWOL. He didn’t show up, and they have a right to withhold on that. Not showing up is enough, in my opinion, for the Steelers to say enough is enough and we’re not paying you.”
Because the Steelers converted all but $915,000 into a signing bonus last year when they restructured Brown’s contract, his paycheck for the Bengals game was $53,823.53. The Steelers, according to Cindrich, could try to recoup a pro-rated portion of Brown’s signing bonus, which is allowed per terms of the collective bargaining agreement and standard NFL player contract.
Brown might have violated Article 4, Section 9 of the CBA, which deals with forfeiture of salary. A breach can occur for a player who “willfully fails to report, practice or play with the result that the player’s ability to fully participate and contribute to the team is substantially undermined (for example, without limitation, holding out or leaving the squad absent a showing of extreme persona hardship).”
Under such a breach, the player might be required to forfeit his “signing bonus, roster bonus, option bonus and/or reporting bonus.”
While the Steelers can’t go after bonus money from previous seasons, they can try to recoup money on the book for future seasons, according to the CBA. His $19 million signing bonus was spread over five years, with three years and $11.4 million remaining on the Steelers salary cap. Brown’s $2.5 million roster bonus due March 17 also could be at stake, as well the $9.72 million remaining on his restructure bonus.
“To me, the signing bonus is at risk,” Cindrich said. “You can be a prima donna in a lot of different ways, but you have to show up and do what you are supposed to do. He has to abide by all the rules and regulations of that contract. Basically, they have a player. There’s not a lot of wiggle room.”
A Steelers spokesman said the team would not comment on whether they intend to pursue financial remuneration. Drew Rosenhaus, Brown’s agent, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Because of his dealings with the Steelers — Hall of Fame center Dermontti Dawson was one of his clients — Cindrich doesn’t think the organization will take such action against Brown.
“They are not vindictive and rinky dinky,” Cindrich said. “The Steelers generally want to get past things. But here, they were clearly wronged.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .