Harvin’s absence creates dicey contract situation for Bills

The Bills don't seem ready to give Percy Harvin a check for not playing.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, coach Rex Ryan said Percy Harvin’s decision to not travel to London for the Buffalo Bills’ game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was "personal." Later that day, the team listed him on the injury report as non-injury related.

On Thursday, Ryan told reporters he didn’t know where Harvin was.

All of the above was surely by design.

With multiple reports, including one from FOX Sports, stating Harvin is contemplating retirement, the Bills clearly are drawing a line between Harvin’s injury issues and his mulling his future. In short, they’re declaring his absence unexcused.

And that designation could cost Harvin, 27, more than $4.5 million if he decides to retire.

The reason is the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) allows a team to recoup signing-bonus money if a player commits a "forfeitable breach" of his contract. That includes, but is not limited to, retirement or incarceration. (The "incarceration" line was added to the CBA that was ratified in 2011 after the New York Giants were unable to recoup signing-bonus money owed to Plaxico Burress when he pled guilty to a gun charge following his accidental self-shooting in a New York nightclub in 2008.)

In March, Harvin signed what was basically a one-year, $6 million deal, though it included two years at $9 million each that voided five days after the end of the 2015 league year. Those two years were on the books for salary-cap purposes; They allowed the Bills to pay Harvin $6 million this year while counting only $4 million against their 2015 cap.

That means Harvin pushed $2 million of signing-bonus allocation into the future. If he retires, the Bills have the right to recoup all of that money. If he doesn’t return to the team, they’ll also be able to go after 11/17ths (matching how many weeks of the season he would miss) of the $1 million signing-bonus allocation this year. That’s another $647,058.

Harvin’s base salary this year is $2.9 million. Eleven-seventeenths of that is $1,876,470.

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In all, Harvin could lose $4,523,528. He will have earned less than $1.5 million of a $6 million deal.

That’s why this situation is potentially just getting started and could soon result in a bit of a standoff. Already, reports stating Harvin isn’t contemplating retirement have surfaced. Sources are adamant, however, Harvin has told the Bills he’s considering walking away.

Harvin, who earned more than $25 million on his last contract, can walk away right now, but that would seemingly make it easy for the Bills to get their money back. He can also return to the team, though it’s obvious by the injury-report designation the Bills believe he should be able to play through the pain. It’s tough to see them simply stashing him on injured reserve and allowing him to collect the rest of his money.

There’s some massaging that needs to be done here. Again.

Throughout his career, the former first-round pick has been a tough personality to handle. The Minnesota Vikings had enough of him by March 2013, so they sent him to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for first-, third- and seventh-round picks. Harvin barely played there, got into fights with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin and pulled himself from a game, so Seattle shipped him to the New York Jets for the discounted rate of a sixth-rounder.

Now, he’s the Bills’ problem, and it’s one they’re trying to solve by not giving him the injury excuse. It remains to be seen how Harvin will handle the team’s approach — whether he’ll return to the club, walk away or try to find some compromise in the middle.