Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter reported today that the Buccaneers have fined QB Josh Freeman and could be looking to suspend Freeman, who the Buccaneers clearly do not want around the team anymore.
Under the terms of the CBA an NFL team has the right to suspend a player for up to 4 games for conduct detrimental to the team. Teams are supposed to treat all players the same in regards to fines and punishments, but in the case of suspensions a team seems to have more leeway in that regard. If a player is a repeat offender, being routinely fined for the same offense, the club can impose the suspension penalty if it so chooses. Based on Trotter’s article this would seem to be exactly what the Buccaneers are doing with multiple fines laying the groundwork for a notice of suspension.
I believe it may go even further than that. While the Buccaneers are trying to trade Freeman they have mishandled the situation so badly that there is no market for him anymore. The relationship is toxic and every team in the NFL knows this. Maybe Tampa feels by sending him away they can repair the damage and convince a team that they should give up a pick for Freeman, but that is unlikely. They must know their only option is release of the player.
The problem with that avenue is the fact that Freeman has enough years in the NFL to be eligible for Termination Pay, which means the balance of his salary for the year is fully guaranteed. That amount is $6.446 million. Even if he signed with another team the Buccaneers would have to pay that full amount once Freeman requested it. A 4 game suspension saves them $1.983 million of the remaining salary reducing the cost of release to $4.46 million once his suspension ends.
However there is a route by which the Buccaneers can avoid Termination Pay if the player is not exhibiting a “good faith effort” to honor his obligations to the team. From Appendix I of the CBA:
The Club hereby provides you with written notice that you are failing to exhibit the level of good faith effort which can be reasonably expected from players on this Club. If you do not demonstrate the good faith effort which can be reasonably expected from players on this Club, you will not be entitled to Termination Pay under Article 30 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement if you are terminated before the end of this season
The Buccaneers may be setting up a paperwork trail of fines due to reported conduct that would allow them to release Freeman and avoid paying the remainder of his salary. He is at the stage where he is being warned now and I’d imagine any further fines would indicate a lack of good faith on his part to be a contributing member of the team.
So while this is just speculation on my part, the situation has grown so bad between the two sides that I could certainly see this being in play as they look to avoid payment of any money owed to Freeman in the future.