Surprisingly the New England Patriots waived TE Aaron Hernandez following his arrest Wednesday morning. His release creates a number of potential salary cap scenarios for the team.
Hernandez had earned $2.46 million in salary guarantees by being on the roster this past March. When a player is released that has guaranteed salary in his contact the full amount accelerates onto the salary cap immediately (actually at a present value level) regardless of the June 1 rule. The question here is whether or not the Patriots released Hernandez for a football reason or for conduct. Given that the team waited until he was arrested it makes me think the latter since no new details have come out from the first day this story broke until just now.
Being arrested may be enough to invoke the following reason for release:
“You have engaged in personal conduct which, in the reasonable judgment of the Club, adversely affects or reflects on the Club. “
That release should render the guarantees worthless and put the Patriots off the hook for Hernandez even if no teams claims him. Should, but doesnt mean it will especially if the player is innocent. Most likely this would end up in a non-injury grievance situation in which a panel will decide if the Patriots do or do not owe Hernandez the salary.
The trickier situation comes from signing bonus recovery of which $10.05 million is at stake. The CBA seems explicit in incarceration preventing a player from participating in team activities being the reason for forfeiture, and in this case Hernandez is still not guilty of any crime.
This would seem to be a legal matter and matter of interpretation. Once a breach occurs the NFL team still can terminate a contract and recover signing bonus money:
“The assignment and/or termination of a player’s contract after events triggering the forfeiture shall not result in any waiver of the assigning or terminating Club’s right to seek to recover the full amount of any forfeiture”
The question is does this constitute a breach? A breach is defined in the CBA as
“Any player who… is unavailable to the team due to conduct by him that results in his incarceration;”
Clearly he is now incarcerated and technically in unavailable to the team so maybe that has given the Patriots all the ammunition they need to go after a signing bonus provided he does go to jail at a later date and miss time during any of the next 4 seasons. The forfeiture timeframe does not actually begin until 6 days into Training Camp, but perhaps as long as the actual breach during a League Year covering his contact the timeframe is independent of the breach action itself.the forfeiture provisions would also give the Patriots reason to hold Hernandez’ salaries even if guaranteed as a method of collecting repayment of forfeited bonuses.
Remember that these forfeiture provisions are all new in the current CBA, placed in there due to the Plaxico Burress and Michael Vick rulings that did not give ownership the right to recover bonus money, so this is a scenario that will likely be open to a lot of interpretation. Im sure someone much smarter than me will have an answer in the coming days.
As for how this affects the Patriots cap? Because Hernandez is waived rather than released he will technically remain on the Patriots books for a 24 hour period. At that point he will either be claimed by another team or become a free agent. Once that occurs his salary cap number will drop from the Top 51 and he will move into the dead money category. Not knowing how the signing bonus recovery can occur the two basic scenarios right now look like this:
Scenario A: Guarantees Void/Claimed
2013 Cap- $2,632,000
2014 Cap- $7,500,000
Scenario B: No Guarantees Void
2013 Cap- $5,010,000
2014 Cap- $7,500,000