If Broncos demand all that's due, Lelie may pay to play

Updated: August 24, 2006, 7:02 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

There have been many players in NFL history, although not recently, who have suggested they love the game so much that they would play it for free.

 Ashley Lelie
Lelie

Wide receiver Ashley Lelie, traded from the Denver Broncos to the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday as part of a three-team swap that also included the Washington Redskins, might go beyond that.

Depending on how Broncos officials resolve various fines and potential penalties pending against Lelie as a result of his decision to boycott the team's offseason activities -- and his failure to report to training camp despite having a contract -- the four-year veteran could go into the red for 2006.

And we're not just talking about the primary color in the Falcons' uniforms.

Under the terms of his original contract, signed as a first-round choice in the 2002 draft, Lelie was to have made $700,000 for the 2006 season -- an offseason workout bonus of $100,000 and a $600,000 base salary.

Lelie forfeited the workout bonus, though, when he chose to skip the Broncos' offseason program. He was then fined slightly more than $11,000, the maximum allowed by the collective bargaining agreement, when he was a no-show at Denver's mandatory three-day minicamp July 6-8. And his failure to report to camp drew daily fines of $14,000, totaling $378,000.

In addition, it is believed that the Broncos will seek to recover a prorated share of the $3.3 million signing bonus that Lelie received in 2002. The total for fines and potential penalties accrued by Lelie is close to $1.1 million and, as part of the trade agreement, the wide receiver reportedly signed a document that allows the Broncos to seek that amount.

There is a chance that, finally rid of Lelie, the Broncos might forgive a portion of that amount or be willing to negotiate a lower figure. To this point, however, Denver officials have not been inclined to do so. Conventional wisdom is that Denver coach Mike Shanahan wants the penalties against Lelie to have some teeth, in part to dissuade other players from adopting a strategy similar to the wideout's failed approach.

"It wasn't really the pick as much as I just wanted to make sure that they knew whatever the prorated signing bonus was and whatever the fines were that that was going to be a hefty amount. That's a lot of money to pay back," Shanahan said. "And when that was agreed to, then we talked about compensation relative to what we should get for his services and we were able to do that."

Shanahan added: "We would not have released him unless he agreed to it and signed a contract to do it."

What did Lelie's holdout accomplish for him on the field? The boycott was precipitated in part by the Broncos' acquisition of former Green Bay standout Javon Walker and by Lelie's desire to be more than the No. 3 wide receiver on the roster. But with the Falcons, he will be the No. 3 wideout, behind starters Roddy White and Michael Jenkins.

"I really believe somewhere down the line he got some bad advice," Shanahan said. "I don't think that was coming from Ashley. Ashley wasn't like that. He wasn't like that the four years here. I don't know why, to be honest with you. This happened even before we started talking to Javon.

"So, I just really can't figure out why he went in that direction but I wish him well."

In a statement released by the Falcons on Thursday morning, Lelie, who was expected to participate in his first practice with his new team later in the day said: "I don't even know how to put it into words, that is how excited I am. The most exciting part is that I get to step back on the football field. I've missed it."

If the Broncos penalize Lelie to the maximum, and recover part of his signing bonus, practice time might be the least expensive thing missing for him.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. To check out Len's chat archive, click here. Insider

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