Burress' grievance nets $1M from Giants

Updated: April 6, 2009, 10:20 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Plaxico Burress lost his job Friday with the New York Giants, but on Monday he won his grievance against the team for bonuses withheld because of last year's suspension.

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According to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled the Giants must pay Burress a $1 million bonus plus an undisclosed amount for a 2008 roster bonus.

In contrast, Burbank ruled the Kansas City Chiefs won't be forced to pay guaranteed salary and bonuses to running back Larry Johnson over the next two seasons in the event they release him.

"Anything that's earned prior to conduct is the player's to keep," NFL Players Association general counsel Richard Berthelsen said.

The NFL, in a statement released by league spokesman Greg Aiello, disagreed with the ruling, saying it incorrectly interprets the league's current collective bargaining agreement with players. Burbank failed to take into account provisions in both players' contracts stating that a portion of their bonuses would be repaid "if the player was unable to perform due to his own misconduct," the statement said.

The league added: "Today's decision incorrectly holds that the current CBA bars such provisions," while noting the ruling "underscores a serious flaw in the current system."

"It continues an unfortunate trend of permitting players who are suspended due to serious misconduct to nonetheless retain large bonus payments from their NFL teams," the statement said. "To permit players in these circumstances to retain the entirety of their bonus, representing millions of dollars, is unfair to both the clubs and other players, especially under the current salary cap system."

The league has no plans to appeal, Aiello said.

Berthelsen said Burbank's decision is in line with the agreement the union negotiated with the league in 2006.

"Our point in the CBA extension is there's no forfeiture of money already paid to the player," Berthelsen said. "A player is subject to forfeiture by some act or conduct. So you have to behave yourself in order to keep the guarantee."

Berthelsen said the only time a team can withhold money earned is if a player withholds his services.

Burbank's ruling has potential precedent-setting effects and is expected to be a cause for debate when the NFL and the union begin negotiations on a new CBA after league owners opted out of the current deal last year.

The ruling is also likely to influence how the Cleveland Browns handle their contract with receiver Donte Stallworth, who faces charges that he was driving drunk when he killed a pedestrian last month in Miami. Stallworth was due a $4.5 million roster bonus on March 13, the day before the accident. Though Stallworth remains on the roster, it's not clear whether the team paid the bonus.

The Giants suspended Burress for four games last season after he accidentally shot himself in the leg at a Manhattan nightclub.

A free agent after being released by the Giants, Burress is being pursued by several teams interested in signing him, according to Rosenhaus. The agent said discussions with them are ongoing.

The four-game suspension cost Burress $823,529 in lost wages. He was also fined an additional $205,882, one week's salary.

On top of that, the Giants declined to pay a $1 million installment of a $4.25 million signing bonus, which was part of a five-year, $35 million extension he signed in September. That payment was due on Dec. 10, two weeks after the shooting.

The Giants contended they had a clause in Burress' contract that allowed them to recoup a part of the bonus in the event he was incarcerated or detained by law-enforcement personnel or if he was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.

However, there is no specific language in the collective bargaining agreement for a team going after more than $250,000 in bonus money, which was a basis of the ruling in favor of Burress.

"To think that a player could carry a loaded gun into a nightclub, shoot himself and miss the rest of the season but get to keep his entire signing bonus illustrates one of the serious flaws in the current system," said Giants president and CEO John Mara.

Monday's ruling came amid a report out of South Florida alleging Burress hurled profanities at a deputy during a traffic stop in March.

Burress was ticketed for careless driving after a Broward Sheriff's Office deputy pulled over his black Toyota Sequoia on March 18, according to a copy of the citation. He was allegedly speeding and cutting off other drivers, Broward Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Dani Moschella said.

Moschella said Burress complied with the deputy's commands but used combative language.

"Everything that the deputy said was met with profanity," she said.

Moschella said Burress also threatened the deputy, telling him that he knew Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti. Moschella said Lamberti has never met Burress.

A call to Burress' attorney was not immediately returned.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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