Tuesday, July 18, 2000

Brown writes to defend loyalty clause

Column: It protects investment

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Cincinnati Bengals say their new “loyalty clause” has been misunderstood and misrepresented in some media reports.

        In a guest column in today's Cincinnati Enquirer, Bengals President Mike Brown said the clause is about “(1) encouraging people to honor contractual commitments, (2) encouraging them, if they are under contract, to put their teammates above themselves, and (3) conserving scarce salary cap resources to apply to people who want to be with a team.”

        If a Bengals player criticizes the organization, coaches or teammates in an effort to get a new, more lucrative contract as a free agent, Brown said, club management can fine the player all or part of the value of that player's signing bonus.

        But, says players' union counsel Richard Berthelsen, the clause is an attempt by the Bengals to impose greater discipline than is already allowed by the NFL's collective bargaining agreement.

        The maximum penalty a team can hand out is a four-game suspension without pay, Berthelsen said.

        “The collective bargaining agreement is the master agreement that supersedes anything a team can do,” he said. “They're trying to take discipline to another level.”

        Said Berthelsen, “There's a big difference between what Carl Pickens says and what Carl Pickens does. He did not fail or refuse to perform. Carl Pickens never said, "I'm not going to perform.'”

        Union officials wrote to the NFL, saying the clause violates the collective bargaining agreement. NFL Management Council officials wrote back saying they believe it doesn't.

        “We're considering whether to bring the case (before a non-injury arbitrator) now or wait until the Bengals first try to enforce it,” Berthelsen said.

        The provision is being called the “Carl Pickens Clause.”

        Pickens signed a five-year, $23 million contract before last season. The wide receiver was paid $3.5 million to sign and a $4.5 million salary for playing in 1999. At the end of last season, however, he criticized the team for retaining coach Bruce Coslet.

        If the Bengals cut Pickens, he keeps the signing bonus.

        Brown said such comments “undermine the team's ability to win games.”

        The Bengals are among the NFL teams that are competing for top players by paying signing bonuses.

        Brown said the team is trying to protect its investment by spelling out a way to get back signing bonus money if the player demands a trade — similar to Pickens — or retires.

        “The reality is, of course, that the multimillion dollar signing bonus was nothing other than payment for future performance over the term of the contract,” Brown wrote in the guest column.


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