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Several have asked about the status of Jon Gruden’s much-hyped 10-year, $100 million contract, given his resignation after five games of his fourth season. Here’s a look at some of the issues relevant to whether and to what extent he gets paid.
First, the resignation generally waives all rights to ongoing compensation. This assumes, however, that the resignation was voluntary. If owner Mark Davis told Gruden that, if he doesn’t quit, he’ll be fired, that becomes what the lawyers call a constructive discharge.
Second, if it was a constructive discharge, the question becomes whether the Raiders did or didn’t have cause to push him out. If Gruden was discharged without cause, he gets the balance of all guaranteed money under the contract. That said, it’s not known whether the full $100 million was guaranteed. When news of the contract first emerged, we reported that the full amount was not guaranteed. Thus, the buyout could be far less than whatever he was due to be paid.
We’d also reported that the deal wasn’t a straight $10 million per year, and that it was backloaded. Thus, he could have a lot more than $50 million remaining on the final five years, and it’s possible that much of it was never guaranteed.
Third, if Gruden was constructively discharged for cause, he gets none of the remaining guaranteed money. He could choose to fight it. The vast majority of coaching contracts include a provision that requires a grievance to be filed, and that delegates the resolution of the fight to Commissioner Roger Goodell. That stacks the deck in favor of the Raiders and any other team; in 2010, for example, the Commissioner ruled that the Raiders had fired coach Lane Kiffin “for cause,” cutting off his entitlement to ongoing pay.
For Gruden, the question becomes whether emails sent before he was employed by the Raiders can be characterized as “cause.” If, however, he signed a document affirming upon taking the job declaring that there was nothing out there that would cause embarrassment for or reflect poorly on the team, that clause could become relevant.
It’s also possible that Gruden and former Washington president Bruce Allen continued to exchange emails after Gruden took the job with the Raiders. None were leaked. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And it’s possible that the league gift-wrapped those materials for the Raiders, who then used them to invoke what essentially became a resignation by Gruden and a forfeiture of any rights to future pay.
The more likely result is that the Raiders and Gruden negotiated a severance package, with a specific dollar figure and an agreement to pursue no further claims. Although it all happened quickly, it would be naive to assume that Gruden didn’t instruct his agent and lawyers to secure financial certainty before he walked away.
But if they didn’t, this may not be over. If they didn’t, Gruden could take aim at the Raiders for not paying him and/or at the league for selectively using supposedly secret results of the WFT investigation to force him out.