Former Panthers head coach Matt Rhule filed an arbitration claim last week against the franchise

Former Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule filed an arbitration claim last week against the franchise, sources told CBS Sports. The lawsuit alleges the Panthers refused to pay Rhule compensation after his firing from Carolina and his subsequent hiring at the University of Nebraska.

In the lawsuit, which was filed with the NFL on Jan. 25, Rhule is seeking compensation money he claims he is owed by the Panthers. According to sources, the lawsuit does not specifically allege how much money Ruhl is seeking, but the terms of the contract indicate there is a dispute around $5 million.

Labor attorney John Singer filed the suit on Rule’s behalf with the league office. When reached for comment, Singer said, “We have no comment.”

A Panthers spokesman declined to comment Tuesday. The NFL also declined to comment.

Almost all disputes between NFL coaches and teams go to arbitration under the terms of their contracts. The NFL could appoint an arbitrator to hear the dispute, or it could send the case to JAMS, a commercial arbitration firm the league regularly uses.

In January 2020, Rhule signed a seven-year contract worth more than $60 million that will pay him an annual base salary of $8.5 million through the 2026 NFL season.

On October 10, 2022, just five weeks into Rule’s third season with the Panthers, team owner David Tepper fired Rule. He went 11-27 as Carolina’s head coach, including a 1-4 start to the season, while failing to secure a franchise quarterback in his nearly three years there.

Around Thanksgiving 2022, Rhule accepted an offer to become Nebraska’s next head coach, hoping to turn the Cornhuskers’ fortunes around, as he did at Temple and Baylor before jumping to the NFL.

Rule signed an eight-year contract with Nebraska that pays $74 million in base salary along with another $4 million in deferred salary if he remains employed by the school through various vesting dates.

While Rhule’s contract with Carolina had a consistent base salary of $8.5 million each year, the Nebraska contract escalated each year, from $5.5 million in the first year to $12.5 million in the final year of the deal.

According to a source, the Panthers will argue that Rhule’s contract from Nebraska violates the league’s anti-tampering policy. Section 3, Article D of the policy under “NEW CLUB AGREEMENT/REASONABLENESS” states:

“If the new club contract includes significant salary increases in the new contract years, the commissioner will use the following as a guideline to determine the reasonableness of those increases: (i) if annual compensation is scheduled to increase by 20 percent or more for the new contract years; years, the previous club’s annual compensation, if that club is entitled to compensation, shall be calculated on the basis of the average annual compensation of the employee throughout the term of the contract.”

The argument is that Rhule’s contract at Nebraska has an unreasonable increase of more than 20 percent when deferred wages and other benefits are taken into account. While the league’s anti-tampering policy makes no reference to college coaching jobs, the policy also does not explicitly distinguish what it means by “club.”

The conclusion of the arbitration process should be reached in the coming weeks, according to a source.

It’s unclear how much money the Panthers have paid Rhule to this point, but from Feb. 1, 2023, to Jan. 31, 2027, he was due $34 million in base salary. Rhule’s contract at Nebraska pays him a total of $29 million (base salary plus $1 million in deferred compensation) from the start date of November 2022 through December 31, 2026. Using those time periods, a difference of about $5 million can be estimated in salary between the two contracts running for almost the same amount of time.

This isn’t the first contract dispute Panthers owner David Tepper has faced. Last March, Tepper’s real estate company halted construction of an $800 million team headquarters and training facility in Rock Hill, South Carolina, after disputes over a bond issue for the project.

Real estate company GT Real Estate Holdings filed for bankruptcy in the summer. In December, a federal judge approved a $101 million settlement that will end the saga that began in 2018. According to the Associated Press, Tepper’s real estate company had to pay $60 million to contractors, $21 million to the county and another 20 million dollars went to Rock Hill.

On Tuesday, the Panthers introduced new head coach Frank Reich, who has reportedly signed a four-year contract with Carolina.

Tepper answered questions from local reporters after the introductory news conference and called the process used to hire Ruhl a “mistake.”

“I made that mistake,” Tepper said. “I think it’s a mistake to have a CEO-type head coach. OK? This is a mistake, in general. I kind of believe that. So I think you want to get somebody who’s really good offensively or really good defensively.”

This story was updated with additional sources.

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