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$10M rides on Palmer’s tongue
Published May 12, 2003
New Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is betting $10 million that in the next year he won't say anything his new team doesn't like.
Under his new deal with the Bengals, who signed the USC grad days before making him the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, Palmer forfeits his entire $10 million signing bonus if he says anything negative about the team, its coaches or its management.
David Dunn, Palmer's agent, would not return a phone call. Mark Humenik, general counsel for Dunn's company, Athletes First, would not say why Palmer agreed to the clause.
Said Bengals spokesman Jack Brennan: "We don't comment on the details of our player contracts, but we are confident that nothing in any of our contracts is in violation of the collective-bargaining agreement."
Palmer's contract states he will lose 100 percent of his signing bonus if he "makes any public comment ... that breaches player's obligation of loyalty to the club and/or undermines the public's respect for the club, club coaches or club management." The percentage of the $10 million bonus Palmer would lose decreases by 16.6 percent every year he is with the team.
Agents said the team has insisted on the clause since 2000. The Bengals began using what is also known as "the Carl Pickens clause" after the former Cincinnati wide receiver made public statements critical of the team.
The Bengals' 2002 first-round pick, Levi Jones, has a loyalty clause tied to his $4.05 million signing bonus. Justin Smith, the team's 2001 first-round selection, has one tied to his $7.5 million signing bonus.
Smith's agent, Jim Steiner, said he fought against the clause. "It was a point from the Bengals' position that was a non-negotiable point," he said. "Although we fought it, we couldn't convince them to delete it from the language ... and in the give-and-take of negotiations, we ultimately agreed to it."
Kenny Zuckerman, Jones' agent, echoed Steiner's comments.
"In any successful negotiation, there are certain points people will not give up," he said, "and I think that you are doing your client a disservice to sit there and fight for something that had been there and will be there."
One of the few players to successfully resist the clause, if not the only one, is 2000 first-round draft pick Peter Warrick.
"I wouldn't advise anybody to sign anything like that," said Norm Nixon, Warrick's agent and a former player for the Los Angeles Lakers. "I have been in championship games, and in the heat of battle, you might say anything. You might say something to the media, to the coach."
The NFL Players Association challenged the clause. An arbitrator ruled it could be something negotiated by a player's agent. "We have told agents they don't have to agree to it," said NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen.