Bills players may not get paid if Titans forfeit in Week 5 due to NFL's coronavirus rules

Chris Cwik
·3 min read

The NFL has a decision to make with the Tennessee Titans. After another day with positive COVID-19 tests, the Titans’ game on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills is in jeopardy.

Given that some members of the Titans reportedly held a private workout while the team was supposed to be on lockdown, some have called for the Titans to forfeit their Week 5 game, giving the Bills the win.

While getting a free win thanks to a forfeit sounds like a sweet deal for the Bills, it would come with an odious side effect for Bills players. If the NFL makes the Titans forfeit the contest, neither team would be paid. That’s a new wrinkle under the league’s “revised COVID-19 terms,” according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

The issue was outlined in an Aug. 3 letter from the NFL to NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith. Section 10 of that letter outlines how players will be paid in the event games get canceled due to coronavirus.

The relevant passage states:

“If any games are canceled (and not later played) during the 2020 season once the regular season has begun, Clubs will not be obligated to pay the salary protected by applicable 2020 Guaranteed Salary during the 2020 season that would have covered salary for any cancelled games, provided that the foregoing does not apply to any salary guarantee, signing bonus, roster bonus, or reporting bonus earned but not paid prior to cancellation.”

Players will still receive signing bonuses and roster bonuses, but teams will not be obligated to pay “Guaranteed Salary” for canceled games in 2020.

That sentiment was also discussed in a July 26 letter from the NFLPA. The relevant passage in that letter states: “As discussed above, guaranteed and non-guaranteed salary will not be paid for games that are not played in 2020.”

The NFL could step in and adjust that so the Bills aren’t punished for the Titans’ mistakes, but the league has no incentive to take action if the NFLPA agreed to that stipulation months ago.

A Titans forfeit would put Bills players in a tough spot

Missing out on a game check won’t matter to a guy like Tre’Davious White, who signed a $70 million extension in September, but would have a much bigger impact on linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips, who is making $610,000 in 2020 and did not earn a signing bonus. Phillips, who was not drafted and has no guaranteed future in the NFL, has every incentive to make as much money as he can now. Missing out on one game check is significant for him.

That creates a scenario where some Bills players may feel they have to risk playing against an infected Titans team just so they don’t miss out on a paycheck. That’s not a decision those players should have to make.

NFL hasn’t made a decision on Titans-Bills yet

All of this could be moot depending on how the NFL handles the situation. The game could be moved to Monday or Tuesday, ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported, or the league could create a Week 18 to allow both teams to play. Under those scenarios, players on both teams would be paid.

While some would rejoice if the Titans faced harsh consequences for their actions, a forfeit may wind up doing more damage to the Bills in the long run.

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