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Tuesday, September 12, 2006
 
Fallout from "Resolved" Deion Branch Saga: Fines, Tampering Charges, and Mind Games?

The New England Patriots have resolved their embittered contractual dispute with hold out wide receiver Deion Branch by trading him to the Seattle Seahawks for the Seahawks' 1st round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. When compared to other recent trades of high profile wide-receivers (e.g., Donte Stallsworth only fetching the Saints a 4th round pick and reserve linebacker Mark Simoneau; Javon Walker only netting the Packers a 2nd round pick; Ashley Lelie only providing the Broncos with a 3rd round pick), many believe that the Patriots obtained a terrific return for Branch, a 26-year-old who has never caught more than 78 passes or accumulated 1,000 yards receiving in a season. Although Branch is a former super bowl MVP, he probably isn't a "number 1" wide receiver, particularly given his injury history. So the Patriots seemed to do pretty well with this mess, and the only better outcome probably would have been to find a way of resolving their dispute with Branch and bringing him back to the team.

But the Patriots aren't satisfied. They are now demanding that Branch pay the full amount of fines he accrued by not reporting to the team. Those fines exceed $600,000. This demand appears to be within the Patriots' rights, and the likely reason they hadn't already asked for them is that they didn't want to burn bridges with Branch while there remained a possibility of him returning. With him gone, however, those bridges are probably irreparably destroyed, so they might as well collect (although I suppose doing so could run the risk of upsetting some of Branch's former teammates, who seemed to love the guy). Even with Branch set to sign a 6-year, $39 million deal (including a $13 million signing bonus) with the Seahawks, $600,000 is an awful lot of money.

According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, the Patriots are also preparing to file tampering charges against the New York Jets because the Jets, and specifically head coach Eric Mangini, told Branch what they had offered the Patriots as compensation for the wide receiver. The Boston Herald's John Tomase has the story:
The Patriots allowed Branch to negotiate with other teams during the last week of August. During that time, the sides were granted permission to discuss contract terms only. The Patriots contend the Jets told Branch about their offer of a second-round pick after putting together a six-year, $39 million contract.

The Patriots believe that knowledge “poisoned the waters” and guaranteed Branch wouldn’t re-sign with the team.
To add to the drama, the Patriots are playing the Jets this Sunday and 35-year-old Mangini--the NFL's youngest head coach--was the Patriots' defensive coordinator until this year. I wonder if Bill Belichick is simply trying to get into his former protégé's head as he prepares for this Sunday's game?





8 Comments:

To my mind, the Pats are looking worse and worse as this thing continues. Tampering? Seriously? They're acting petulant every step of the way. They got a great deal -- a deal that they shouldn't have even been entitled to demand, as I have argued in prior posts -- and now they want to gin up the waters a little more.

As for the fines, good lord! If you keep quiet about such a monumental factor during negotiations, allowing the other party to rely on industry custom and standard practice, then you generally lose the right to bitch about it later. Now, I don't know what is customary in these situations, but if the Pats are making ex post demands that come as a shock to everyone, then I'm guessing that they're not exactly arguing from industry standard.

I've taken Branch's side in this from the beginning, but mainly because I thought that the Pats oral agreement to trade Branch was binding. It was a legal position, more or less, although I usually take the athlete's side. I thought the Pats were just trying to get the best deal for themselves. I seem to have been mistaken. Whatever sympathy I had for their position has evaporated because they have clearly been negotiating in bad faith.

Bad faith, bad faith, bad faith. Doesn't that take it out of the realm of the CBA and into the courts where someone can get punitive damages?

Anonymous Collin -- 9/12/2006 1:50 PM  


To my mind, the Pats are looking worse and worse as this thing continues. Tampering? Seriously? They're acting petulant every step of the way. They got a great deal -- a deal that they shouldn't have even been entitled to demand, as I have argued in prior posts -- and now they want to gin up the waters a little more.

Explain again why they shouldn't have been entitled to demand the deal they got. He was under contract, and they're under no obligation to free him without acceptable third-party consideration. If Seattle was convinced that NE 'had no right' to do that, The Sea Hawks could have waited till the grievances were determined, because the Feerick grievance addressed exactly that point - did NE make a binding legal obligation to exercise reasonable discretion in determining what was 'appropriate' consideration.

As for the fines, good lord! If you keep quiet about such a monumental factor during negotiations, allowing the other party to rely on industry custom and standard practice, then you generally lose the right to bitch about it later. Now, I don't know what is customary in these situations, but if the Pats are making ex post demands that come as a shock to everyone, then I'm guessing that they're not exactly arguing from industry standard.

Someone was asleep at the switch on this one, and it may have been Chayut. As part of the deal with Seattle, he could have insisted that NE waive any claims to fines. 'Industry standard' is a euphemism that people use when they haven't been careful enough to spell out their own expectations. If you don't protect yourself, don't expect others to do your job for you.

Whatever sympathy I had for their position has evaporated because they have clearly been negotiating in bad faith.

That's an inductive leap. You conclude that they're acting in bad faith based on - what? Because they are pursuing fines that they're entitled to collect under the CBA, and that DB and Chayut forgot about? This isn't exactly slow-pitch softball. DB filed his grievances and was prepared to drive NE to the wall - which was his right. He didn't cut the Pats a great deal of slack, and there's no reason that he had to, so if he receives it back in kind, there shouldn't be any whining.

And perhaps you never had much sympathy for NE in the first place.

Bad faith, bad faith, bad faith. Doesn't that take it out of the realm of the CBA and into the courts where someone can get punitive damages?

In a word, no. Negotiating a contract in bad faith is a violation of the CBA, which is what the second grievance was all about. Bad faith in the exercise of seemingly-unlimited discretion to put the screws to the other party - what is acceptable consideration from Seattle - is a basis for reviewing the Pats rejection of a second-round choice, which is what the Feerick grievance was about in part. But exercising your legal rights because you dislike the way the other party has treated you isn't actionable in and of itself, and hardly constitutes 'bad faith'.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/12/2006 5:55 PM  


1) Considering how much I've made betting on the Pats the past few years, I've developed quite a bit of sympathy for them.

2) While you may consider "industry standard" a euphemism, it is one that is recognized by the courts. The party that didn't protect themselves here is not Branch, but the Pats.

3) Yeah, it's a leap to say that the Pats were negotiating in bad faith, but it's a leap I'm willing to make because I think that its the reasonable conclusion to draw from their actions. First, they tell Branch he ain't worth squat. Then, they tell him that if he thinks he's worth more than squat, go out and find a better deal and they'll make a trade. Then, when he finds a better deal, they suddenly decide he's worth more than any other receiver in any trade, ever, and refuse to trade him. They let him twist in the wind and file his grievances, and finally let him go. And then, after the deal is made and everyone is out of everyone's hair, they come back for another bite of the apple and tell him they're not through with him, that he's gotta pay more than half a million dollars in fines. And what's more, after they denied they made this oral deal with him, they then admit that they had the deal because they claim that the limits of that deal prevented the Jets from telling him what they offered for him. Yeah, I'm making a leap to claim bad faith. I'd be a fool not to.

4) But thanks for the CBA analysis.

Anonymous Collin -- 9/12/2006 6:45 PM  


Looking again at my comment, I realize that the last point came off snarkier than I had intended. I really didn't know whether this would take it out of the CBA realm or not, and I really do appreciate someone else doing the thinking.

Anonymous Collin -- 9/12/2006 8:14 PM  


Michael,

Has it been confirmed that Branch has or is about to sign an extension with the Seahawks for 6 yrs at $39M? I read that that was the "alleged" oral discussion between Branch and Seattle to any trade. But the trade deal between NE and Seattle would only obligate Seattle to the remaining salary owed on the final year of his contract (approx. $1M). If they haven't agreed on the terms of a contract, presumably Seattle could wait until the end of the season to determine what they want to do with Branch, which puts Branch in the same position he's been in all along.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 9/13/2006 7:48 AM  


Rick,

According to the Associated Press, Branch did sign the rather enormous contract yesterday:

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Deion Branch doesn't mind his almost $600,000 in New England Patriots fines anymore. His holdout-turned-honeymoon has fixed that.

Branch can now write off the fines like a large phone bill after signing a $39 million, six-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday.

''I was losing a lot of money,'' Branch said.

Not anymore.

Branch will receive $13 million in a bonus and other guarantees, according to a person in the league close to the negotiations who requested anonymity because the terms had not yet been announced. About $23 million is due to Branch over the first three years of the deal, likely making him a fixture in Seattle's currently crowded passing game.


Blogger Michael McCann -- 9/13/2006 9:25 AM  


The Jets and Patriots are playing mind games with each other. That is all this is about, and that is all this has been about. The Jets new they were never going to get Branch. Typical Bill Belichick ala Bill Parcells.

Anonymous tommie -- 9/13/2006 9:58 AM  


Yeah, it's a leap to say that the Pats were negotiating in bad faith, but it's a leap I'm willing to make because I think that its the reasonable conclusion to draw from their actions. First, they tell Branch he ain't worth squat.

They offered him a $31 million deal with $11 million in bonus money. If the difference between that and what he signed for indicates that the Patriots offer is "squat" then I suppose you have a point.

Then, they tell him that if he thinks he's worth more than squat, go out and find a better deal and they'll make a trade.

They made no guarantees that he'd be traded. If the only trade offer they received for him was a 7th round pick in the 2012 draft, should they be forced to do that?

Then, when he finds a better deal, they suddenly decide he's worth more than any other receiver in any trade, ever, and refuse to trade him.

At least 2 receivers (Galloway and Keyshawn Johnson) have been traded for 2 first round picks. Your statement is patently false.

They let him twist in the wind and file his grievances, and finally let him go. And then, after the deal is made and everyone is out of everyone's hair, they come back for another bite of the apple and tell him they're not through with him, that he's gotta pay more than half a million dollars in fines.

He's not twisting in the wind because of their permission. They were powerless not to "let" him twist in the wind.

Why should they forfeit the right to collect fines that is bargained for in the CBA? Image?

And what's more, after they denied they made this oral deal with him, they then admit that they had the deal because they claim that the limits of that deal prevented the Jets from telling him what they offered for him. Yeah, I'm making a leap to claim bad faith. I'd be a fool not to.

Again, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of their oral agreement. They didn't promise to trade him at all costs. And they didn't give him permission to negotiate their compensation, only his.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/14/2006 1:52 PM  


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