Is an NFL season defined by sixteen games or seventeen weeks? And what standards are players who sign autograph deals expected to meet?
The lawsuit filed by attorneys for Bears’ linebacker Brian Urlacher last week offers an interesting look at the autograph contracts players often sign with sports memorabilia companies who bank on their health and success to make a profit.
Urlacher’s representatives filed suit in Cook County, Illinois court last week, after Dreams Inc. sent a letter telling him it was terminating the agreement "for cause". Clauses in the deal, signed in October of 2007, reveal that the four-year agreement could be terminated for any one of several reasons, but Dreams may be betting that the NFL’s bye week is what gives them the legal right to negate the deal.
Under terms of the contract, Dreams was to pay Urlacher $1.1 million during the four years of the arrangement, with the player signing a set number of autographs and making personal appearances. The deal was signed just after the Bears’ appearance in Super Bowl XLI.
One section of the agreement states that if Urlacher were to be injured and miss five or more consecutive weeks, the contract would be extended by a month for each week missed. However, the contract provision referred to in the lawsuit also states that if Urlacher "is out for sixteen (16) or more consecutive weeks at any point through the full term of the four (4) year Agreement or suffers a career ending injury, the Agreement can be terminated for Cause, at the option of Dreams." Urlacher’s injury, suffered in week one against Green Bay, wasn’t career-ending but his recovery from surgery for a dislocated wrist will cause him to miss 15 games–or 16 weeks when the Bears’ bye week is added.
The lawsuit claims the term "out for sixteen or more consecutive weeks" is not defined in the agreement.
"Termination with Cause" provisions in the deal included would have also allowed Dreams to end the agreement if Urlacher failed to perform his duties, used drugs, was involved in "illegal gambling or other act(s) which would constitute a violation of the morals provisions of the NFL Player Contract, a criminal conviction or his ‘death or disability’." Disability is further cited as a "physical condition that prevents him from carrying out the duties required." The suit claims Urlacher’s injury doesn’t prevent him from signing autographs for the company.
Dreams also had the option, according to the suit, to terminate the agreement if Urlacher were ever traded or released–neither a likely proposition.
The lawsuit is seeking the amount Urlacher was due under the deal as well as interest, costs and attorneys fees.