As the story surrounding Aqib Talib unfolds, I wanted to go over a few questions people may have regarding his future status with the Broncos. Before I get to that, you should read this story by Nicki Jhabvala, which breaks down the possible legal ramifications for the Broncos cornerback.
Q: Can the Broncos cut Talib right now and not have to pay his salary?
A: Not at this point. Talib’s salary is fully guaranteed, meaning they would have to pay him if he is cut for injury, skill or cap reasons. Even though it’s a non-football injury, the Broncos would still have to pay him if they cut him right now. He may be cut and not be paid for disciplinary reasons, but that’s dependent on what comes up through further police investigation and what the NFL decides to do. And because his salary is fully guaranteed, cutting him right now would mean a $9.5M dead money hit and less than $500,000 in salary freed as a post-June 1 cut. That would be too much for the Broncos to justify cutting him before investigations are completed.
Q: So what results of this investigation could lead to his release?
A: If he is charged with a felony that could result in prison time, it’s possible that Roger Goodell could suspend Talib indefinitely, pending a verdict in the legal case. If you’ll recall, Goodell suspended Michael Vick indefinitely after he was formally charged in the dog fighting investigation. The Falcons did cut Vick prior to Goodell’s decision, but weren’t off the hook for any guaranteed salary until Goodell suspended Vick. Unless Talib is suspended for the season, his cap and cash charges will apply if the Broncos cut him. But should he be charged with a felony and receive an indefinite NFL suspension, he will no longer carry cap or cash charges and the Broncos could cut him with no penalty.
Q: What if Talib isn’t charged with a felony, but a misdemeanor?
A: If he is charged with a misdemeanor, it’s possible Goodell will suspend him for a couple of games. If he does, the Broncos would place him on the reserve/suspended list, not have to pay his salary for the duration of the suspension and his cap charge for those games would not apply. If no charges are filed, it remains to be seen what Goodell will do. He could suspend Talib for, say, one game if the police file no charges because of lack of evidence. But if the police conclude Talib did nothing wrong (for example, police determine another person is responsible, not Talib), Goodell will have a hard time arguing Talib should be suspended.
Q: Could the Broncos discipline Talib?
A: It’s possible. The New York Giants disciplined Plaxico Burress for illegally carrying a firearm, giving him a four-game suspension, and Goodell took no action. If Talib is charged with a misdemeanor, the Broncos could decide to suspend him for a few games. If the team did that, Goodell may decide he doesn’t need to hand out discipline himself.
Q: Let’s go back to his injury. It’s a non-football injury. Why couldn’t the Broncos argue that they shouldn’t have to pay him because of that?
A: There is the non-football injury list, which teams may place a player on if that player is injured in a situation outside of the NFL environment. Players on that list are not guaranteed a salary while they remain on the list, although the team may choose to pay the player. However, that list isn’t available until training camp begins. If Talib is cleared to play when training camp starts, the Broncos can’t place him on the non-football injury list. Furthermore, it’s highly unlikely a non-football injury clause exists in the contract, because the non-football injury list makes such clauses moot and because few players and agents would agree to such a clause. While it is true that some contracts contain clauses regarding injuries, those mostly come into play because a player had a significant injury and the team wants protection in case of complications from that specific injury (the perfect example being the clauses the Broncos placed in Peyton Manning’s contract because of his neck injury).
Q: Let’s say circumstances mean Talib will be with the Broncos for at least the majority of the season. What happens next season?
A: Talib is due $11M in base salary in 2017 but none of the money is guaranteed, nor are there any bonuses he’ll be due. The Broncos could cut him at any point prior to the start of the 2017 regular season and free $10M in cap space with a $2M dead money hit. Do keep in mind that, if Talib were to suffer a season-ending injury in 2016, the Broncos would likely have to negotiate an injury settlement before letting him go. Otherwise, the Broncos could cut him without owing him a dime. If he were to be cut, chances are the Broncos would do it prior to the start of the 2017 NFL calendar year to get cap space cleared and allow him a chance to find another team.