Seahawks sue McDowell, want $800K bonus back

The Seattle Seahawks have sued former draft pick Malik McDowell in federal court, stating that he has yet to follow through on an arbitrator's ruling that he must repay the team nearly $800,000 in forfeited signing bonus money, court records show.

The lawsuit, dated May 29, was filed in the United States District Court's Eastern District of Michigan. McDowell, who is listed as a resident of Farmington Hills, Michigan, was drafted 35th overall by the Seahawks in 2017 but never played a down for the team after sustaining a head injury in an ATV accident that summer.

The lawsuit, which was first reported by the Detroit News and The Seattle Times and has since been obtained by ESPN, states that an arbitrator ruled on Feb. 29 that McDowell breached his Seahawks contract by riding an ATV and was thus ordered to repay the team $799,238 within 30 days of the ruling. McDowell did not contest the forfeiture, nor did he appeal, but he had yet to repay any of the money owed as of the filing of the lawsuit.

The breach in question relates to Paragraph 3 of McDowell's contract, which includes standard language stating that players shall not "engage in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury."

McDowell's contract included a signing bonus worth $3,198,476, which was to be paid that year in installments of $1,598,476 (by June 2), $800,000 (by July 14), $500,000 (by Sept. 15) and $300,000 (by Oct. 16). The team paid McDowell the first two installments totaling $2,398,476 and withheld the remaining $800,000 after his accident.

McDowell spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons on the non-football injury list. Article 4, Section 9 of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement states that a player who is unable to play due to breach of Paragraph 3 of his contract may be required to forfeit signing bonus money for each league year in which a forfeitable breach occurred.

The $799,238 the Seahawks are seeking represents two seasons' worth of signing bonus allocation, which totals $1,599,238, minus the $800,000 the team withheld.

The Seahawks are also seeking interest accrued on the money McDowell has been ordered to pay them as well as costs incurred, according to the lawsuit.

Court records relating to the lawsuit redact specifics of McDowell's accident and only refer to it taking place in July 2017, without specifying the exact date.

Coach Pete Carroll at one point described McDowell's injury as a "really bad concussion." But he and general manager John Schneider otherwise spoke only in vague terms about McDowell's situation. Schneider declined to comment on McDowell when asked about him at the scouting combine. That the Seahawks were attempting to recoup part of McDowell's signing bonus may have been one reason for the team's refusal to publicly discuss any specifics of McDowell's situation.

The Seahawks waived McDowell with an injury designation in March. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told reporters at the league meetings later that month than an independent doctor had cleared McDowell medically, which the Seahawks would not do.

McDowell, who remains a free agent, visited the Dallas Cowboys after his release from the Seahawks. Rosenhaus said he was "confident" McDowell would play in 2019.

"His doctors believe he is ready to go," Rosenhaus said. "So we've got experts that are saying he will be cleared. So hopefully he will be able to continue his career, possibly with [Dallas]. In any event, he has been cleared independently. But the Seahawks, they tried their best to work with him, and unfortunately they didn't feel that he could continue to play.''

Carroll, responding to Rosenhaus' comments later at the league meetings, expressed surprise that McDowell had been independently cleared.

The Seahawks paid McDowell only $5,000 while he spent his rookie season on the non-football injury list. That dropped his salary from $465,000 to $85,000. The team did not pay McDowell while he was on the NFI in 2018.

McDowell's injury had a significant ripple effect on the Seahawks. Once it became clear that he wouldn't be able to play in 2017, the Seahawks acquired Sheldon Richardson from the New York Jets in exchange for a 2018 second-round pick and receiver Jermaine Kearse (the teams also swapped seventh-rounders). Richardson left in free agency after an underwhelming 2017 season in Seattle.