The 5 o’clock club is published several times per week during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
After an initial trickle of information from Trent Williams following his return to the Redskins locker room about a week ago, the dam burst on his silence this week, with Trent unloading about his situation to two different local media people.
I’ve read the comment strings that followed those articles, so I am aware that the membership of Hogs Haven is not unified in its opinion about what has happened and what is happening.
From the beginning of all this, I have largely withheld from forming a final opinion until I had had the opportunity to hear both sides. I have now heard Trent’s side in detail, and I believe I’ve heard most of what the team wants to say in bits and pieces over the past few months, and I have formed my own opinion about who is on the side of the angels. My opinions on that question, though, are for a different article on another day.
I have also read the comments that have unfolded over the months about what the Redskins should do (or should have done at any point in time). There has been debate and dispute. My opinions on those questions have been fluid, changing with time, circumstance, and at times, depending on the most recent argument that I had been subjected to. Again, my purpose in this article is not to re-hash how the situation got where it is, or opine on what should have been done.
Instead, I would like to start with the most recent decision to place Trent Williams on the NFI list — a decision that eliminated a host of other options and leaves us with only a limited number of possible paths in 2019, and which may open up some... interesting... choices in 2020.
My focus in this article is to look at the language in the CBA, and how it might apply to the situation between Trent Williams and the Washington Redskins moving forward.
I need to toss out a couple of caveats here.
First, I am not a lawyer and have no training in the law, though I have had a lot of experience in my professional life reading contracts and other legal documents, and working with lawyers to draft them on behalf of various businesses. I am simply a Redskins fan with a bit more interest in the “business” side of football than is normal.
I also am not any kind of an expert on the CBA or NFL personnel management. I have a downloaded copy of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that I troll through from time to time when I find myself wondering about a question whose answer is likely to reside in the document. This has given me some familiarity with its contents, but it is 316 pages of legalese, and I address myself to it two or three times per year with specific purpose.
In my experience, it is not at all unusual to feel that I have found the answer to a question in one section of the document, only to realize, with further investigation, that a different aspect of the situation is addressed in a different part of the CBA, 127 pages distant. In other words, the answers are not always easy to find, and even when I think I’ve found one, it is possible that I’ve missed something.
Okay. End of caveats.
I had anticipated earlier in the season that the Redskins might want to put Trent Williams on the NFI list upon his return to the team. They had used the NFI list in the past with players like Junior Galette, Su’a Cravens and Montae Nicholson.
I was aware of the fact that one benefit to the team of the NFI list is that the franchise is not required to pay a player on the NFI list (though there is nothing in the CBA that stops them from paying him voluntarily). I have always thought that the Redskins had been a bit harsh in choosing not to pay Junior Galette when he injured himself working out on his own (i.e. away from the team facility) in the off-season. I assumed that parking Trent on the NFI would have one clear advantage — the team could avoid paying his contract in 2019, with all the savings being credited back to the 2020 salary cap. It might seem unreasonable or a bit harsh to refuse to pay a guy recovering from cancer surgery, but it is consistent with Bruce’s past decisions when he didn’t pay Galette in his rehab from a torn Achilles and didn’t pay Cravens in his recovery from concussion. People will disagree, I’m sure, on whether the Redskins were justified in any or all of those three situations.
What I was unsure about was the potentially more important question of whether the Redskins could “toll” Trent’s contract if he was placed on NFI — something that could be critically important going forward.
Just in case someone out there doesn’t already know, tolling an NFL contract refers to a situation in which a year passes, but the player does not accrue a year of service, and the team does not lose a year of control over that player. It’s a bit like offsetting penalties in a game. The penalties occurred, but we don’t enforce either of them; we just get a “do over”. If a player’s contract is tolled, then its status doesn’t change. The contract at the end of the year is the same as it had been at the beginning of the year. Consider it something like a “do over”.
There was a borderline judgement call to be made with the Vikings and Teddy Bridgewater a few years ago. Ultimately, the Vikings did not attempt to toll Bridgewater’s contract at the end of his 4th season, and he became a free agent.
What does the CBA say about the NFI list with regard to salary payment and tolling the contract?
I wanted to find out for myself what the possibilities were, so, about 3 or 4 weeks ago, I sat down one day when I had some time on my hands and started scanning the CBA.
The first thing I found got me fairly excited. On page 34, in a section labeled Accrued Seasons Calculation, I found the following:
[A] player shall receive one Accrued Season for each season during which he was on, or should have been on, full pay status for a total of six or more regular season games, but which, irrespective of the player’s pay status, shall not include games for which the player was on: (i) the Exempt Commissioner Permission List, (ii) the Reserve PUP List as a result of a nonfootball injury, or (iii) a Club’s Practice Squad.
The problem was that this clause doesn’t apply to Trent WIlliams because it appears as a subsection of Article 8, which applies to Veterans with Less than Three Accrued Seasons.
I continued my search for an answer.
I eventually ended up in Article 20, which starts on page 143 of the CBA.
Section 3 applies to the NFI (Non-Football related Injury) list. It has two sub-sections.
Subsection A deals with pay and contract status:
A player who is placed on a Nonfootball Injury or Illness list (“N-F/I”) will not be entitled to any compensation under his contract while on such list but, except as provided below, his contract will continue to run while in such status.
- This tells us that the team doesn’t have to pay a player on the NFI list. Since Trent did not report, and when he did he was placed very quickly on the NFI list, then the Redskins have effectively avoided all (or nearly all) obligation to pay him for 2019, which should result in a huge salary cap credit going forward.
- It also tells us that a player’s contract does not toll while he is on the NFI list — unless an exception applies.
Subsection B tells us about the exceptions that apply:
A player on N-F/I who is in the final year of his contract (including an option year) will have his contract tolled. However, if the player is physically able to perform his football services on or before the sixth regular season game, the club must pay the player his negotiated Paragraph 5 Salary (pro rata) for the balance of the season in order to toll such player’s contract. If such player is taken off N-F/I during the period when such action is allowed by League rules, his contract will not be tolled.
There are three parts to this subsection, but the only one of interest to us at the moment is the first part that I have bolded:
A player on NFI who is in the final year of his contract will have his contract tolled.
Trent is NOT in the final year of his contract in 2019, so his contract will not be tolled. If the Redskins try to toll it, a grievance would be filed, and the Redskins could not rely on Trent’s presence on the NFI list to win the grievance.
It hardly seems worth the time it has taken me to type this article, or the time it will have taken you to read it, to make these points. They could have been made simply with a short paragraph of two or three sentences.
But I am wondering what Bruce Allen plans to do after the end of the 2019 season, which — let’s face it — is just a matter of weeks from now.
I think that he has a limited number of options:
1. Bruce could try to force Trent to play for the Redskins in 2020 (i.e. “honor” his contract).
This seems akin to hoping for world peace and an end to racism and poverty to come about in 2020.
2. Bruce could cut Trent, simply release him from his contract and make him a free agent.
The problem here is that, if the Redskins wanted to just let him go, they’ve had 6 months already to do so and they haven’t. They haven’t come all this way to merely capitulate.
That leaves a limited number of other options; in fact, I can think only two practical possibilities that are in the Redskins’ control. Which of the two options they would choose depends on Bruce Allen’s ultimate goal:
- Is Bruce interested in getting some value for Trent WIlliams?
- Is Bruce more interested in getting “even” with Trent Williams?
3. Bruce can trade Trent Williams in the off-season
Bruce Allen indicated a few weeks ago that his refusal to trade Trent was a 2019 decision, and that he would be willing to trade Trent ahead of the 2020 draft. Of course, he has also said at various times that Trent would play for the Redskins in ‘19, that Trent wouldn’t be traded at all, and that the team would attempt to trade him prior to the regular season trade deadline. Trading him in January, February or March is the course of action that seems most likely at this point, and I’ll leave it to others to debate the issue of whether Trent should have been traded already, and when that should have occurred.
4. Bruce can attempt to hold onto Trent Williams, placing him on the PUP list at the start of Training Camp, and keeping him on the NFI list throughout the 2020 season.
Why would Bruce Allen take this course of action? Because 2020 is the final year of Trent Williams’ contract, and, as we saw, CBA Article 20, Subsection B says that, if Trent remains on the PUP/NFI list for the full season, then his contract tolls, and the Redskins (a) don’t have to pay him, and (b) retain control over him into 2021.
Normally, this wouldn’t even be an option, but, as we’ve been reminded so often recently, the Redskins franchise doesn’t have a normal front office.
Bruce Allen has proven himself to be petty and vindictive, engaging in personal battles over power and turf that put his feelings of importance above the team. Is it really impossible to imagine Bruce eschewing all rational behavior by refusing to trade Trent Williams, and listing him on the NFI merely so he, Bruce, can show that he ‘won’?
If Bruce refuses to cut him or trade him this offseason, Trent remains a Redskin, and Bruce could attempt to force one of two choices in 2020 (the same ones faced when Trent reported last week): play if you’re healthy or go on the NFI if you’re not. Honor your contract.
After all I’ve seen (and I’m embarrassed to say this), I believe that Bruce Allen is the kind of guy who would see this as a brilliant move. He can checkmate Trent. Play for Washington or spend your remaining potential playing career trapped in Limbo, unable to play and unable to get paid.
Any attempt to do this would, undoubtedly, result in a grievance being filed, but if Trent refuses to play for the Redskins, then I’m not sure he would prevail. It would certainly produce a lot of headlines.
I think it’s hard to feel as if this situation between Trent Williams and the Washington Redskins has been handled well. There seem to have been a lot of opportunities missed, and the situation is unlikely to result in a better Washington Redskins team going forward.
The only questions in my mind right now revolve around how the player and the team extricate themselves from this situation, and whether it’s possible for Trent to resume his playing career and for the Redskins to transform themselves into a functional organization able to compete for championships.
Right now, I’m not optimistic about any of those things.
What will happen with Trent Williams?
This poll is closed
Trent will end up playing for the Redskins in 2020
Trent will be cut by the Redskins in the off-season
Trent will be traded to another team in the off-season
Trent will end his playing career by retiring
Bruce will put Trent into Limbo by placing him on the PUP/NFI list in 2020 and tolling his contract while not paying him
Something else will happen