Vontae Davis lost far more than just the respect of some of his NFL peers with his stunning decision to retire at half-time of the Buffalo Bills’ one-sided loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
The cornerback also likely cost himself most of the one-year, $5 million contract he signed with the team last February.
Three experts on NFL contracts told Yahoo Sports that the Bills should not have to pay Davis more than $769,302.
The franchise could recoup another $283,088 from Davis if it can successfully argue he should not receive his game check or per-game bonuses from week two since he walked out at half-time.
Davis’s contract called for him to earn $2.25m in base salary from the Bills this season. He instead forfeits all but the pair of $132,353 game checks he already received from being a member of the Bills in weeks one and two.
Davis also could have earned as much as $1m in per-game bonuses this season, a total of $250,000 if he was on the Bills’ 53-man roster for 16 games and a total of $750,000 if he was part of the team’s active 46-man roster each week. He instead forfeits all but the $78,125 he received from being part of the Bills’ 53-man roster for two weeks and the active roster against the Chargers.
The rest of Davis’s $5m contract consisted of a $1.5m signing bonus and a $250,000 workout bonus. He can keep the workout bonus, but the Bills are likely to insist that he give back the majority of his signing bonus under terms of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.
Joel Corry, an ex-NFL agent and salary cap expert, told Yahoo Sports that the Bills have the option of trying to reclaim $1,323,529 of Davis’s $1.5m signing bonus, accounting for the two weeks that have passed in the 17-week season. Corry expects Buffalo to try to reclaim every last dollar, noting that San Francisco and Detroit did the same when stars Patrick Willis and Calvin Johnson retired sooner than expected.
“If those teams did that, I don’t have a lot of confidence that Buffalo won’t go after a guy who played for them for 15 minutes. They don’t owe him anything, and they’re probably pissed,” Corry said.
Whether the Bills can also get back the money Davis got from being part of the team during week two is much less clear.
Jason Fitzgerald, founder of Over The Cap, and Mike Ginnitti, managing editor of Spotrac, are NFL salary cap gurus who run sites dedicated to tracking professional sports contracts. Neither are certain how an independent arbitrator would rule on Davis’s week-two salary and bonus money because there is no precedent for a player retiring at half-time.
“The Bills can absolutely attempt to fight that, and some sort of arbitrator would need to rule. Seems likely that half pay could be in order?” Ginnitti said.
Added Fitzgerald: “It’s just such an odd situation that there is no way to come up with a comparable situation to clarify anything on it.”
A two-time Pro Bowl corner who previously played nine seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts, Davis signed with the Bills hoping to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2017 campaign.
He instead discovered that he could no longer play at his previous level, a realization that contributed to his abrupt mid-game retirement as much as the 0-2 Bills’ on-field struggles did.
In his NFL career, Davis has earned about $50 million.
“Today on the field, reality hit me fast and hard: I shouldn’t be out there anymore,” Davis said in a statement released after the game.
“I meant no disrespect to my teammates and coaches. But I hold myself to a standard. Mentally, I always expect myself to play at a high level. But physically, I know today that isn’t possible, and I had an honest moment with myself. While I was on the field, I just didn’t feel right, and I told the coaches, ‘I’m not feeling like myself.’
“I also wondered: Do I want to keep sacrificing? And truthfully I do not because the season is long and it’s more important for me and my family to walk away healthy than to willfully embrace the warrior mentality and limp away too late.”
All figures quoted in US dollars
– Jeff Eisenberg, Yahoo Sports