Seeking to recover $660,000 in previously paid bonus money that was awarded them by an arbitrator in 2006, the Denver Broncos have filed a lawsuit against former first-round wide receiver Ashley Lelie.
The suit, filed on Friday in U.S. District Court in Denver, was first reported by the Rocky Mountain News and confirmed by a team source. The source, however, would not further elaborate on the suit.
According to the suit, Lelie, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers, has neither challenged nor compiled with an arbitrator's ruling on the $660,000 awarded the club. The money represents a prorated share of the signing bonus the Broncos paid Lelie when they chose him in the first round of the 2002 draft.
Lelie, 27, told the newspaper that he intends to repay the Broncos and that arrangements have begun to address the matter. Tax considerations, he said, had delayed the payment.
"It just seems a little petty," Lelie said of the lawsuit. "They're definitely going to get their money … Obviously, it wasn't fast enough for them, that multibillion dollar company over there. They want their 600 grand, we'll give it to them.
The Broncos filed an arbitration claim against Lelie in 2006 when he skipped all of the team's offseason workouts and training camp. He was subsequently dealt to Atlanta in a three-team trade that also included the Washington Redskins, and played for the Falcons in 2006. This spring, he signed a two-year, $4.3 million contract with San Francisco as an unrestricted free agent, a deal that included a $2 million signing bonus.
An arbitrator subsequently ruled that Lelie did not have to pay nearly $400,000 in fines that he accumulated for missing mandatory minicamps and training camp, since Denver traded him. And in a separate ruling, an arbitrator said that Lelie did not owe the Broncos part of an option bonus he received as a component of his 2002 contract.
The ruling on the option bonus was sealed by U.S. District Court Judge David Doty of Minneapolis, who has jurisdiction over the league's collective bargaining agreement with its players. That ruling has had far-reaching implications and could impact on the Falcon's attempts to recover $20 million of the $37 million in bonuses that suspended quarterback Michael Vick was paid as part of his 2004 contract extension.
Lelie has 196 receptions for 3,437 yards and 13 touchdowns in 79 career appearances. The former University of Hawaii standout led the league in yards per catch in both 2004 (20.1 yards) and 2005 (18.3), but has mostly been regarded as a disappointing player. He scored a career-high seven touchdowns in 2004, but has just one touchdown catch in each of the past two seasons.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com