BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals modified their "Carl Pickens Clause," today when fifth-round draft choice Robert Bean signed a $114,000 signing bonus the club could take back if he doesn't adhere to certain loyalty guidelines in the collective bargaining agreement.
In a call with Bengals President Mike Brown today, the NFL helped soften the clause by striking references to criticism of the club and attaching language to the signing bonus that's already been agreed upon by the NFL Players Association when it comes to loyalty and public comments.
The NFL Management Council told the club it will support the Bengals in a grievance if the NFLPA follows through on its plan to contest contracts containing language attempting to take back the bonus if a player criticizes the club to the media.
"I've still got some concerns about it, but I'm going to let the NFLPA fight that battle," said Steve Weinberg, Bean's agent, after signing the three-year deal. "I want Robert to be able to get his money and go play. We asked them to make some changes and they did. We blazed the trail and got them to change their language. If the NFLPA wants to fight it and they win, hopefully Robert's clause can be re-worked."
The Bengals think they've got a clause that stands up to a grievance because it marries the signing bonus to language already in the contract and CBA. Even before the Bengals made today's changes, Brown said the NFL told him the league saw nothing wrong with the club's efforts to expose the signing bonus if a player undermines the team through public comments.
"All a bonus is a form of guaranteed salary," Brown said. "If a player isn't going to perform in accordance with what he said he would to do, why should he be entitled to that salary in full?"
The Bengals are apparently transferring the concepts in the second paragraph of the player contract, as well as Article 55, section 6 of the CBA to the signing bonus.
Paragraph 2 in the player contract says, "(The player) agrees to give his best efforts and loyalty to the Club, and to conduct himself on and off the field with appropriate recognition of the fact that the success of professional football depends largely on public respect for and approval of those associated with the game."
The CBA says, "The NFLPA and the Management Council agree that each will use its best efforts to curtail public comments by Club personnel or players which express criticism of any club, its coach, or its operation and policy. . ."
Brown said the club tried to go with less severe language to soothe the fears of players worried about offending management with words in the heat of the moment or usual media banter. Weinberg raised a hypothetical regarding Bean, a cornerback out of Mississippi State. If the Bengals lost a game in the last second and Bean was asked if the Bengals had gone to a prevent defense too early, what would happen if he agreed.
"We're not looking at that kind of thing," Brown said. "We're trying to come up with a solution to a problem that Carl dropped in our laps last year when he personally attacked (coach Bruce Coslet). We could have terminated him, which wouldn't help us because of his big signing bonus, or we could have suspended him, and that doesn't help us because he doesn't play. Carl would not have been too concerned if we suspended him for one game. This puts the onus strictly on the player when he doesn't live up to a contract he's signed and says things with the intention of walking away from his commitment. If he has substantial risk, he's got to give a second though to abandoning his commitment or loyalty."
Brown knows the clause has slowed the club's positive public relations advance into the Aug. 19 opening of Paul Brown Stadium. But he's confident people will eventually understand.
"It takes some explaining and like (a politician) said recently, 'If you have to explain an issue, you're already behind the curve,' " Brown said. "But I think if people hear what we have to say they'll understand we're just looking to prevent what happened to us with Pickens."
As for Bean, he said you don't have to worry about him. All he's looking to do is make a big impression on special teams, where he specialized as a kick blocker.
"I didn't want to sign (the clause), but I'm not going to say anything like that," Bean said.