(Ed. note: Bumped to the front page.)
There has been a lot of discussion lately about off-field issues surrounding Lions players. I actually am part of the faction that wishes the Lions could do more about this. The problem is that the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has severe restrictions on what discipline can be issued by teams to wayward players.
I know that this is a rehash of what I said in some comments, but I felt it was necessary to make this point more visible so that people will know what the CBA restrictions are. This understanding has a profound impact on how much you can hold the Lions coaches and front office to account.
The plain truth is, that in the 2006 CBA the owners decided to give a lot of ground to the players and the NFLPA regarding discipline, in exchange for concessions by the players on financial issues. I am pretty sure that the owners knew problems would crop up. They just decided that having a better financial footing was more desirable than maintaining discipline on the team.
So let's look at what the CBA says the team can do when they discipline a player.
I am going to post a VERY long quote here. This is the entire body of article 42 of the NFL CBA. It is the part that deals with how the club can discipline players. If you don't want to read it, I understand. It is pretty boring and the legalese can be daunting at times. I will post a shortened version in standard English after the quote.
ARTICLE 42 CLUB DISCIPLINE
Section 1. Maximum Discipline:
(a) 2011 League Year. For the 2011 League Year, the following maximum discipline schedule will be applicable:
(i) Overweight—maximum fine of $470 per lb., which fine may be assessed no more than twice per week, with each week beginning on Monday and ending on Sunday, and with each fine at least three days apart (e.g., Monday–Thursday, Tuesday–Friday, etc.).
(ii) Unexcused late reporting for mandatory off-season minicamp, meeting, practice, transportation, curfew, scheduled appointment with Club physician or trainer, scheduled promotional activity, scheduled workout, weigh-in, or meal—maximum fine of $1,770.
(iii) Failure to promptly report injury to Club physician or trainer—maximum fine of $1,770.
(iv) Losing, damaging or altering Club-provided equipment—maximum fine of $1,770, and replacement cost, if any.
(v) Throwing football into stands—maximum fine of $1,770.
(vi) Unexcused late reporting for or absence from preseason training camp by a player under contract except those signed as an Unrestricted Free Agent pursuant to Article 9—fine of $30,000 per day. For this Subsection and Subsection (vii) below, preseason training camp shall be defined as the period beginning with the first day of a Club’s training camp through the final preseason roster reduction date.
(vii) Unexcused late reporting for or absence from preseason training camp by a player under contract signed as an Unrestricted Free Agent pursuant to Article 9— fine of $30,000 per day, plus one week’s Paragraph 5 Salary for each preseason game missed.
(viii) Unexcused missed mandatory meeting, practice, curfew, scheduled appointment with Club physician or trainer, material failure to follow Club rehabilitation directions, scheduled promotional activity, scheduled workout, weigh-in, or meal—maximum fine of $9,440.
(ix) Unexcused failure to report to or unexcused departure from mandatory offseason minicamp—maximum fine of $10,000 for the first missed day, which amount shall increase by $10,000 per day for each day of the player’s absence or departure (e.g., a player who misses all three days of minicamp may be fined up to $60,000).
(x) Material failure to follow rehabilitation program prescribed by Club physician or trainer—maximum fine of $9,440.
(xi) Unexcused missed team transportation—maximum fine of $9,440 and transportation expense, if any.
(xii) Loss of all or part of playbook, scouting report or game plan—maximum fine of $9,440.
(xiii) Ejection from game—maximum fine of $25,000.
(xiv) Any material curfew violation the night prior to the Club’s game may be considered conduct detrimental to the Club.
(xv) Conduct detrimental to Club—maximum fine of an amount equal to one week’s salary and/or suspension without pay for a period not to exceed four (4) weeks. This maximum applies without limitation to any deactivation of a player in response to player conduct (other than a deactivation in response to a player’s on-field playing ability), and any such deactivation, even with pay, shall be considered discipline subject to the limits set forth in this section. The Non-Injury Grievance Arbitrator’s decision in Terrell Owens (Nov. 23, 2005) is thus expressly overruled as to any Club decision to deactivate a player in response to the player’s conduct.
(b) Maximum Discipline in Other League Years. The amounts set forth in Section 1(a) above and Section 7 below are for the 2011 League Year. The amounts for the 2012–2020 League Years shall be as set forth in Exhibit A to this Article.
Section 2. Published Lists:
(a) All Clubs must publish and make available to all players at the commencement of preseason training camp a complete list of the discipline that can be imposed for both designated offenses within the limits set by the maximum schedule referred to in Section 1 above and for other violations of reasonable Club rules. A Club may notify a player of a violation by providing written notice to the player at the Club or at any address where the Club reasonably expects the player to be located.
(b) The Club will promptly notify the player of any discipline; notice of any Club fine under Subsection 1(a)(vi) or 1(a)(vii) and of any "conduct detrimental" fine or suspension will be sent to the NFLPA.
Section 3. Uniformity:
(a) Discipline will be imposed uniformly within a Club on all players for the same offense; however, if the Club’s published list of discipline imposes fines for designated offenses that are less than the limits set by the maximum schedule set forth in Section 1 above, the Club may specify the events which create an escalation of the discipline, not to exceed such maximum limits, provided the formula for escalation is uniform in its application. Nothing in this Section 3 shall preclude any Club from imposing a fine and/or a suspension without pay for conduct detrimental to the Club, as set forth in Section 1(a) above, in any case in which the same player has committed repeated offenses in the same League Year, whether or not the fines imposed for the player’s prior offenses were escalated as described in the immediately preceding sentence of this Section; provided, however, that the NFLPA expressly reserves the right to challenge the imposition of such discipline for conduct detrimental to the Club based upon the absence of just cause and/or any other allowable bases for opposing discipline.
(b) Any disciplinary action imposed upon a player by the Commissioner pursuant to Article 46 will preclude or supersede disciplinary action by the Club for the same act or conduct.
Section 4. Disputes: Any dispute involving Club discipline must be processed exclusively under Article 43.
Section 5. Deduction:
(a) Any Club fine will be deducted at the rate of no more than $2,500 from each pay period, if sufficient pay periods remain; or, if less than sufficient pay periods remain, the fine will be deducted in equal installments over the number of remaining pay periods. For the 2016–2020 League Years, the amount will increase from a rate of $2,500 to $3,500 from each pay period. Nothing in this Subsection (a) will apply to a suspension or for a fine under Subsection 1(a)(vi) or 1(a)(vii).
(b) A fine under Subsection 1(a)(vi) or 1(a)(vii) may be deducted from any payments owed to a player under any NFL Player Contract with the Club, or from any salary, bonus installments, Performance-Based Pay, Postseason Pay, Severance Pay or Termination Pay otherwise owed by the Club. The assignment and/or termination of a player’s contract after events triggering a fine under Subsection 1(a)(vi) or 1(a)(vii) shall not result in any waiver of the assigning or terminating Club’s right to seek to recover the full amount of the fines.
Section 6. NFL Drug and Steroid Policies: No Club may impose any discipline against a player, including but not limited to terminating the player’s Player Contract, as a result of that Player’s violation of the Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Sub-stances or the NFL Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse, or for failing any drug test, provided, however, that the fact that a player has violated the Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances or the NFL Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse, or has failed a drug test will not preclude the termination of his Player Contract if such termination is otherwise expressly permissible under this Agreement or the player’s Player Contract.
Section 7. Cumulative Fines: Any player who commits multiple offenses on the same day (e.g., missed mandatory team meeting, late for practice and missed scheduled appointment with trainer) shall be subject to a separate fine for each such offense, within the limits set by the maximum schedule set forth in Section 1 above; provided, however, that the cumulative amount for all such fines on a given day during preseason training camp shall not exceed $20,000, and that the cumulative amount for all such fines on a given day during the regular season or postseason shall not exceed $27,000. The cumulative fine limits set forth in this Section shall not apply to any violation as to which a player may be fined one week’s regular season salary or to conduct detrimental to the Club. Nothing in this Section shall preclude the Club from denying payment of the Player’s weekly salary or from seeking reimbursement from the Player under any forfeiture provision in the Player’s Contract if such denial of payment or forfeiture is otherwise permissible under both the Player’s Contract and this Agreement. Nor shall anything in this Section preclude a Club from imposing a fine and/or suspension without pay for conduct detrimental to the Club, as set forth in Section 1(a) above, in any case in which the same player has committed repeated offenses in the same League Year, as described in Section 3 above; provided, however, that the NFLPA expressly reserves the right to challenge the imposition of such discipline for conduct detrimental to the Club based upon the absence of just cause and/or any other allowable bases for opposing discipline.
Section 8. Offset of Preseason Fine Amounts: In the event that a player under contract is fined under Subsection 1(a)(vi) or 1(a)(vii) for unexcused late reporting for or absence from preseason training camp and, as the result of such late reporting or absence, the Club also withholds payment, or claims reimbursement, under any forfeiture provision in a Player Contract executed prior to March 8, 2006, then there shall be an offset of the cumulative amount of such daily fines against the amount claimed by the Club under the forfeiture provision, or vice versa. In the 2011 League Year, the offset shall be $13,477 per day for each day the player has been fined, representing the difference between the Prior Agreement’s fine for this category of offense ($16,523 per day) and this Agreement’s fine for this category of offense ($30,000 per day, or $40,000 per day for the 2016–2020 League Years) effective on August 4, 2011. The amount of such offset shall be increased for the 2012 League Year and each League Year thereafter during the term of this Agreement at the rate of 5% per year. Other than as specifically set forth in this Section, there shall be no offset of fines imposed under this Agreement against claims made by a Club under any permissible forfeiture provision in a Player Contract.
Section 9. Effective Date: The maximum discipline rules set forth above apply to all discipline imposed on or after August 4, 2011.
The gist of all that, in language we can understand is:
Section 1 is a list of infractions that the player can commit and the maximum penalties that the team is allowed to impose. They cover things like the player being overweight, missing meeting and practices, not reporting an injury to the team, unauthorized alteration of equipment, throwing a football into the stands, missing team arranged transportation, and being ejected from a game. The real kicker in Section 1 is the "conduct detrimental to the team" which is a catch-all for a variety of things. That clause gives the team some latitude in punishing a player, but it cannot be for any infraction that is specifically listed.
Section 2. The team has to post a list of all infractions and penalties at the beginning of training camp.
Section 3. The team has to punish all players equally. Whatever punishment is given to one player has to be given to all players for the same infraction. This makes it very risky to punish a marginal player severely since you will be obligated to use the same punishment on your star players as well.
Section 4. Details what the player can do if they dispute the punishment from the team.
Section 5. Details how fines will be deducted from player paychecks.
Section 6. NFL substance abuse policy. The important part of this is that teams ARE NOT allowed to punish players for substance abuse. That is strictly up to the league offices. There is one exception where the player can be released if their player contract specifically allows that for substance abuse offenses.
Sections 7 and 8 deal with offsets to fines for player contracts signed before March 8, 2006.
Section 9 says the new rules go into effect on August 4, 2011
OK, that was a lot easier than the original quote, wasn't it? I just wanted to publish the entire Article 42 so that people can go back to the original text to see if they agree with my interpretations.
The bottom line to all this, is that teams really have almost no leeway in deciding punishment for players any more. The vast majority of infractions are reserved for the league or the punishments have already been determined. That places teams in the position of just enforcing the rules of the CBA, rather than deciding discipline of their own.
I hope that this clears up some confusion and much of the misguided discussion about the Lions not being strong enough in their discipline of players. They can't be. The CBA has already set the rules.