Monday, December 21, 2015

Did the Browns Goof on Joe Haden's Contract?

Did the Browns unintentionally incentivize Joe Haden with $10.1 million dollars to have a season ending injury?  

    First of all, I love Joe Haden.  He's been a great player and given the Browns many exciting moments.   But this year he had to shut it down early due to injuries.   
    Some of my friends, including my good friend Dennis Dice, have wondered aloud whether he is feigning injury.   I have up to this point dismissed this as unfounded criticism, based on Joe's record as a competitor.  But I started reading some more about his contract, and now I'm disturbed.  It looks like the way his contract is written he is highly incentivized to shut down for injury reasons.  It might be that the Browns will be forced to cut him and Haden may be forced to leave because of the way that the contract evolved.  Here's what has happened.  In 2014, Haden signed a contract for $67.5 million dollars. The guaranteed money includes $16 million in bonuses.  His 2016 salary is $10.1 million but is not guaranteed except if he is injured.  If the Browns cut him in the off-season, the salary cap is still charged the remainder of his bonus, but not his non-guaranteed salary.  The net result is they could have $3.4 million of 2016 dollars to sign other players.   
      But if he is injured, say from a concussion problem, it's different.  Now his $10.1 million dollar is guaranteed.  If the Browns cut him, they still pay the other guarantees PLUS $10.1 million dollars, and their salary cap has to absorb that in 2016.   They would have $6.7 million dollars LESS in their 2016 payroll to pay players.  
        In other words, as best i understand Haden's contract,l if Joe is not playing good football (and he hasn't been), he is worth TEN MILLION DOLLARS more money if he has a concussion problem.   
        This is a ridiculous position to put a player in.  Why would I offer a guy 10 million dollars to have (or appear to have)  an injury?  I think this contract device is totally not in anyones' best interest.  It harms the team and greatly increases the likelihood that the player WILL NOT PLAY.   
     I'm not saying that Joe is faking or not trying hard.  I believe in Joe Haden.  I blame a bad contract.  Put yourself in Joe's place.  You have to take a written concussion test. It's not a simple test, you have to concentrate hard to pass it.      But what if you knew that you could get 10 million dollars extra if you failed the test?  And moreover, if you get cut by the Browns you can still play football for another team. Would that affect your concentration?  It would affect mine.  Would I be able to pass such a test understanding everything that is on the line and the huge reward offered if I don't pass?   I'm not sure.  
     I think what the Browns have to do in this situation, if they want him to play, is to say, "Ok Joe, we still want you, we'll guarantee the rest of of your contract."  Then maybe he will do better in the concussion protocol.  If not, they will have to negotiate an injury settlement and release him.  But Haden holds most of the cards, and so the Browns will probably have to pay most of his $10.1 Million 2016 salary.   
     In the interests of full disclosure,  I'm an amateur sports blogger, not a pro sportswriter and not a financial expert. But based on how I understand the way NFL contracts work, I have to think that Joe Haden's contract increases the likelihood that he will never play again for the Cleveland Browns.  A similar problem happened in Washington, where Robert Griffin III gets another year added to his contract if he gets injured.  Hence the Redskins decided to just bench him to avoid the risk.

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