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Thursday, May 15
Updated: May 18, 5:58 PM ET
Palmer's pact with Bengals includes loyalty clause

By Len Pasquarelli

It took years of on-field deeds for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner from Southern California, to merit the $10.01 million signing bonus he recently received as the first player selected in the 2003 draft.

It might take just a few words, however, to lose the eight-figure jackpot.

The contract that Palmer signed with Cincinnati three days before the draft, a six-year deal that could be worth as much as $49 million according to NFL Players Association calculations, includes a loyalty clause Bengals officials have been negotiating into deals for the last few years.

Under terms of the loyalty clause, Palmer could conceivably forfeit his entire signing bonus if he makes remarks critical of the Bengals during his first season with the team. The penalty is prorated, annually reduced by one-sixth of the total signing bonus, for the subsequent seasons.

Given his well-measured responses to most media questions, and an inherent economy of words, it isn't likely that Palmer will ever have be penalized under terms of the clause. But if he is ever critical of the franchise, and team officials can document the incident, it would be a costly slip of the tongue.

The signing bonus addendum to the contract stipulates that Palmer return all or a portion of the signing bonus: ". . . if player makes any public comment to the media, including but not limited to the newspaper, magazines, television, radio or internet that breaches player's obligation of loyalty to the club, club coaches, or club management."

In the agent community, the stipulation is known as the "Pickens Clause," nicknamed for former Cincinnati wide receiver Carl Pickens, who public lambasting of the franchise was a source of consternation to owner Mike Brown and other team officials. The team began to include the clause in rookie contracts in 2000 and, in several instances, it was a major sticking point in negotiations and led to a few lengthy holdouts.

The NFLPA challenged the loyalty clause, suggesting it violated terms of the collective bargaining agreement, or was at least superfluous. An arbitrator ruled that the "Pickens Clause" could be included in contracts if it was negotiated and agreed to by the player.

Of the team's last four first-round draft choices, only one, wide receiver Peter Warrick in 2000, was able to avoid the loyalty clause.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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