Saints Owner Stops Paying Ditka

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson has stopped payment on Mike Ditka’s three-year, $7.5 million contract, claiming the former coach is violating terms of their agreement.

Benson fired Ditka and nearly two dozen coaches and high-ranking club officials Jan. 4 in the wake of a 3-13 season. Under terms of the dismissal, Benson is obligated to give Ditka twice-monthly payments of approximately $104,000 each until the contract’s expiration Jan. 31, 2003.

Ditka’s contract called for him to make $2.5 million in each of the 2000, 2001 and 2002 seasons.

Ditka’s Principles

Ditka said he last received a check from Benson in mid-August, meaning Benson has withheld $312,000 in payments that were due Aug. 30, Sept. 15 and Sept. 30.

“I know what the problem is,” Ditka said Wednesday night at his New Orleans restaurant. “The problem is his lawyer, Stanley Rosenberg. He’s found some clause in the contract … If that’s what they’re all about, then fine. I was there the day I got fired, and I heard what [Benson] said.”

Ditka said he hoped the two parties could resolve the matter soon.

“It’s going to come out one way or another,” said Ditka, now a studio analyst on The NFL Today at CBS. “If it comes out in court, it comes out in court. This is not about money. It’s about principle.”

Benson’s point of disagreement lies with a clause in the contract that states the Saints “have the right to offset against all payments to [Ditka] any and all income he earns or receives or credited or accrued to him from outside income.”

“Mike is currently in violation of the terms of his contract by not furnishing us certain material required to be given us,” Rosenberg told The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. “And no further payments will be made until he complies with his contract.”

Ditka said he makes “under $500,000” per year for his role at CBS. He makes approximately $20,000 per speaking engagement, a Ditka spokesman said.

Benson is obligated to pay Ditka the difference from his outside income to reach the annual $2.5 million figure.

The contract also requires Ditka to provide Saints officials with periodic reports on his personal income, thereby enabling Benson to pay the right amount. That has not been done, Rosenberg said.

Windy City-Style Trust

Other fired Saints employees whose contracts are being honored have supplied financial reports to Benson, some on a weekly basis, club spokesman Greg Bensel said.

Benson’s decision to clean house in January forces him to pay more than $13 million in compensation to coaches and executives who no longer work for him.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is aware of the dispute, league spokesman Greg Aiello said. If the parties cannot resolve the matter, then Tagliabue could intervene.

Ditka signed a three-year contract when he was hired by the Saints in January 1997. In August 1998 he received an extenstion running through 2002.

“Look, I didn’t ask for the three-year extension,” Ditka said. “[Benson] gave it to me. Ask anybody. Do you think I ever read one page of the contract, including the total? No. That’s not my nature. But I do trust people,and when I find out that people are not to be trusted, then what am I supposed to do? Admire them? No, I don’t do that.”