10/25/2014 Update: Late last evening, Ray Rice’s grievance hit the Ravens’ Salary Cap. When a player files a grievance against the team, the CBA dictates that 40% of the amount claimed in the grievance shall be applied to the team’s Salary Cap, pending the outcome of the grievance. The Ravens’ Cap reduced from $5,545,087 to $4,133,322. The $1,411,765 deduction represents exactly 40% of the $3, 529,412 that Rice has claimed in his grievance. Once the grievance is decided, the total amount of the grievance will count against the Cap. If the amount is less than the 40% already counting, the team’s Cap will be credited the appropriate amount so that the accurate amount of the grievance award will be counting against the Cap. There was some discussion on the local airwaves that, no matter what the outcome, Rice’s grievance would not affect the team’s Salary Cap. It is now clear that that will not be the case, and as explained below, this grievance could have a major impact on the team’s Cap.
Late Tuesday evening, news broke that former Ravens RB Ray Rice filed a grievance against the team claiming he had been wrongfully terminated.
This grievance against the Ravens was filed in addition to Rice’s grievance against the NFL for imposing two punishments on him for a single offense.
In that grievance, Rice’s will argue that the indefinite suspension imposed on him after the second elevator video became public, violates the CBA’s express prohibition against two punishments for a single offense. This “double jeopardy” argument would appear to have a strong possibility for succeeding against the league, unless the NFL can prove that Rice lied to the Commissioner about the severity of the altercation and that the second penalty is being imposed for that, different offense.
The grievance against the Ravens would appear to have far less of a chance of success because teams can release players for any reason – or, really, no reason at all. This right is CBA protected and releasing a player is not considered to be “punishment” under the terms of the CBA, so the “double jeopardy” argument that may work very well against the NFL, would not seem to carry much weight against the Ravens.
The news of Rice’s grievance against the Ravens has left more than a few NFL pundits scratching their heads:
Ray Rice may defeat the NFL but odds stacked against him in new legal challenge against Ravens. NFL teams have wide latitude to cut players.
— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) October 22, 2014
— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) October 22, 2014
Rice grievance v. Ravens curious. Teams cut players for many reasons, even off suspended lists. Have always had discretion to set roster.
— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) October 22, 2014
There have been plenty of instances of players being suspended and then released or even released before the suspension was actually imposed. In none of those cases was the player ever entitled to any further money from the team (unless there was still future guaranteed salaries involved).
As such, it would appear that Rice – even claiming “double jeopardy” in his Ravens grievance – would have little chance of success against the Ravens.
However, if he did, the Ravens would owe Rice $3,529,412, which represents the balance of his 2014 salary.
This is quite critical because, if the Ravens owe him the balance of his salary, that amount would seemingly have to be counted against the Ravens’ Salary Cap. A player’s salary, if earned, counts against the Cap. Guaranteed salary paid after a player is released counts against the Cap. An injury settlement, agreed to by the team and the player, counts against the Cap. An award in an injury grievance, filed against a team for releasing an injured player without an injury settlement or being placed on IR, counts against the Cap.
An injury grievance would seem to be very akin to Rice’s situation as it is filed because the team allegedly violated the terms of the CBA by releasing the player. If Rice is successful with his grievance, he will similarly have to prove that the Ravens violated the terms of the CBA by wrongfully releasing him.
Obviously, Rice’s situation is rather unique – and a case of first impression – but it would certainly appear that, much like with an injury grievance, if the Ravens are forced to pay Rice’s salary, it will have to be counted against the team’s Cap.
Whether it counts against this year’s Cap or next year’s Cap will depend on when the grievance is actually decided, but either way, that’s $3.529M in Cap space that they won’t have next year (assuming they would have otherwise been able to carry that unused amount over from 2014 to 2015).
There are two other wrinkles involved if Rice did, in fact, win his grievance. First, he would also have to win his grievance against the NFL for the Ravens to have to pay him, because a player who is suspended is not entitled to be paid during the suspension. It would, of course, be rather unlikely that Rice would win his grievance against the Ravens, but lose his grievance against the league.
More likely, though – again, if Rice wins – is that the Ravens could seek “salary forfeiture” against Rice due to his original 2-game suspension (which is not subject to Rice’s grievance against the NFL).
The CBA allows for teams to seek “salary forfeiture” for past bonus money paid to a player if the player becomes “unavailable” due to suspension, holdout or retirement. Article IV, Section 9(a)(iii) states as follows:
(iii) Regular Season. If the player is not subject to Subsection (ii) above, and commits a Forfeitable Breach for the first time that League Year during the regular season, the player may be required to forfeit up to twenty-five percent (25%) of his Forfeitable Salary Allocations upon missing his first regular season game. If player’s Forfeitable Breach continues beyond four (4) consecutive weeks, then player may be required to forfeit up to his remaining Forfeitable Salary Allocations on a proportionate weekly basis (i.e., one-seventeenth for each missed regular season week after the fourth week).
This would allow the Ravens to recover 25% of Rice’s $3M bonus proration (the “Forfeitable Salary Allocation”) based on his original 2-game suspension. So, the Ravens could at least minimize the Cap hit a bit and offset the $3.529M to be paid to Rice by withholding $750K in salary forfeiture.
The Ravens have already had this right, but since Rice was released, there was no further salary to forfeit and, therefore, no way for the Ravens to recoup that $750K.
So, if Rice is now successful with his grievance, it would most certainly be expected that the Ravens would move to trigger the salary forfeiture.