New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress and Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson expect to learn within a week whether getting into trouble off the field trumps millions of dollars in guaranteed salaries and bonus money due them from their respective teams.
NFL Players Association general counsel Richard Berthelsen said Thursday that the union and NFL attorneys made their arguments during a 3½-hour hearing before Special Master Stephen Burbank at the University of Pennsylvania law school on Wednesday. The two sides expect Burbank's ruling within a week.
It's a potentially precedent-setting decision that could determine whether NFL teams can override guarantees negotiated into contracts should a player violate team or league rules. Unlike North America's three other major professional sports leagues, NFL contracts are not guaranteed if a player is released unless those terms were negotiated into the deal.
It's also a decision that might affect 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 Browns' roster, it's not clear whether the team paid the bonus.
The grievances regarding Burress and Johnson were filed by the NFLPA earlier this year. Berthelsen said it was decided that Burbank would rule on both players at the same time because their cases are similar.
One difference is that Burress was suspended by the Giants, while Johnson was suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
The union is contesting the Giants' decision to withhold a $1 million bonus due Burress after the receiver accidentally shot himself in the thigh in a Manhattan nightclub in November. The money was part of a $4.25 million bonus Burress was to receive as part of a contract extension he agreed to with the Giants in August.
Burress was charged with felony gun possession after the shooting. The case has been adjourned until June 15 as Burress' attorneys and prosecutors continue to discuss a potential plea deal.
The Giants suspended Burress, who was also fined and finished the season on the team's non-football injury list. The union filed a separate grievance over what it termed excessive punishment by the Giants. His suspension cost him more than $800,00 in salary. The team also fined him more than $200,000, his single-game salary.
As for Johnson, the union is arguing against the Chiefs' contention that the running back breached his contract -- and is not owed $3.75 million in guaranteed money -- after the NFL suspended the player for one game last season for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
Last week, Johnson was sentenced for two years probation after pleading guilty to two counts of disturbing the peace following two separate confrontations involving women at nightclubs last year.
Aside from the NFL suspension, the Chiefs deactivated the two-time Pro Bowler for three games.
Despite a request to be traded, Johnson was present for the start of the team's offseason conditioning program this week, Chiefs players said.
Burbank's ruling is expected to influence the Chiefs' decision whether to keep or release Johnson.