In almost all situations, when an NFL player is suspended, he forfeits all of the future guarantees in his contract. Even if a signing bonus or base salary is guaranteed for skill, injury and salary cap, a "failure to perform" or "failure to practice" clause makes those guarantees null and void.
In a surprising twist, this appears not to be the case with the five-year, $40-million extension signed by New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez in August of 2012. Upon close reading of his contract language -- and after confirming the development with an expert -- the "failure to perform" or "failure to practice" clause that appears in similar Patriots extensions is not present. This means Hernandez might be able to keep nearly $2.5 million of the deal, even if legal troubles prevented him from taking the field.
This could have a serious effect on Hernandez if he is ever suspended by the Patriots or the league for his connection to an ongoing homicide investigation in North Attleboro, Mass.
Exactly what does this mean?
According to his amended contract, Hernandez is guaranteed a total of $16 million. Of that, $9.25 million in a signing bonus already has been paid, with the final $3.25 million due in March 2014.
The rest of it comes in guaranteed base salaries for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, along with $1 million total guarantees in workout bonuses for the 2014 and 2015 offseasons. According to Paragraph 32(d) of his amended contract, the workout bonus is "null and void" if the player fails to report.
That "failure to report" clause is the one not present in the sections for his base salaries. In almost all other contracts, it would be.
That means, even if he is suspended or unable to report for any reason, the Patriots still might be on the hook for $1.323 million in 2013 and $1.137 million in 2014. It's unclear why the "failure to perform" or "failure to practice" clause is not present in Hernandez's contract.
Thanks to the missing clause, Hernandez might be able to keep monies that normally would have been voided even if he's not able to practice or play. For instance, the NFL recently won a grievance to show a suspended player's guarantee was no longer guaranteed after a suspension of four games.
Hernandez's deal does have offsets. If he's eventually cut and another team signs him, his new salary would cut into the $2.5 million he's guaranteed to be paid by the Patriots.
Neither Hernandez's representatives at Athletes First nor members of the Patriots administration were available for comment.