The Arizona Cardinals and owner Michael Bidwill deny they are liable to front office executive Terry McDonough for any claims he made against the team in a demand for arbitration, and say his “erratic behavior eventually damaged his career."
In a response filed Monday and obtained exclusively by The Associated Press, the team cites several instances of what it says was McDonough’s volatile behavior, including a text exchange in which he apologizes to Bidwill for a confrontation.
McDonough filed an arbitration claim against the team this month accusing Bidwill of cheating. McDonough claims he was eventually demoted after he objected to a scheme that would involve the use of so-called “burner phones” to circumvent the 2018 suspension of then-GM Steve Keim, who had been arrested for DUI.
McDonough says he still has the phone used in the scheme. He has worked 10 seasons for the Cardinals front office, including several years as vice president of player personnel.
The team says the contract McDonough signed with the team in May 2022 included a waiver of all his legal claims. The Cardinals contend that when new general manager Monti Ossenfort informed McDonough he was not being retained after his contract expires in 2024, “in retaliation (McDonough) filed his arbitration demand and launched a publicity campaign, both of which are full of exaggerations and falsehoods about the Cardinals organization and its President."
“Mr. McDonough’s filing is full of allegations and assertions that, while colorful, are not true and do not state viable legal claims,” the team’s attorneys said in the response. “Mr. McDonough has been hanging onto this salacious yet fictitious story since the summer of 2018 and occasionally threatened to make it public."
Team attorneys say the “burner phones” were distributed shortly after Keim’s team-imposed suspension by a senior football executive who is no longer with the organization. When Bidwill learned about it, he ordered the phones to be collected and told the executive the disposable phone idea was misguided and inconsistent with terms of Keim’s suspension.
Bidwill was permitted by the NFL to speak to Keim during the suspension. Then-Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks refused to accept a phone and McDonough was the only person who didn’t turn his in.
The first example of McDonough’s behavior cited by the team occurred when he was passed up for the GM job with the San Francisco 49ers in early 2017. When Bidwill went to offer “words of encouragement,” McDonough was “livid and indignant.”
“The club later learned that Terry made an inappropriate phone call to the 49ers to vent his anger about their decision and later had to call them back, more than once, to apologize,” attorneys said in the response.
McDonough engaged in a heated confrontation with Keim in June 2018, “taking an aggressive physical posture and gesturing with his index finger in (his) face” after Keim admonished him for having an extended conversation with the media instead of paying attention to practice the day before.
Another one took place during training camp on July 23, 2018, while Keim was suspended.
Afterward, Bidwill sent McDonough the following text: “What was very disturbing today was the unprofessional and argumentative reaction you had to my comment to you after practice to not let me ‘be an afterthought.’ Your reaction was completely disproportionate to my statement. You had no reason to lose your temper. I can’t remember the last time I had that kind of interaction with any member of our staff, say nothing of an executive. It was juvenile and unbecoming. Puffing out your chest, pointing your finger at me, raising your voice and repeating yourself in an attempt to intimidate me into agreeing with you. Telling me to ‘prove’ my concern. Really?!”
McDonough replied immediately: “I apologize for the interaction today. You have been a big advocate and supporter of mine. I have a great amount of respect for you. … It will not happen again.”
The team’s general counsel followed up by sending McDonough a memorandum that referenced his “unprofessional, argumentative conduct in the workplace” with Keim and Bidwill.
When Kyler Murray and his family arrived at the team’s practice facility after he was drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, McDonough walked into the lobby wearing flip flops, cargo shorts, and a T-shirt.
Bidwill sent him a text saying: “Walking in at noon in front of Kyler Murray, his family and cameras looking like you just stepped off a beach was embarrassing and unacceptable.”
McDonough initially apologized but later didn’t show up to work the remainder of the draft — what the team characterized in its filing as “a serious violation of the terms of Terry’s employment” for which it “had good cause to fire him immediately.”
McDonough also sent Bidwill a “threatening” text, according to the response.
“You continue for some reason to come after me even though (I) have done a great job for you. You can ruin my reputation with all the BS you want. Everyone in America is going to find out you are a liar and a cheat and (I) have all the evidence to prove it. Your move….,” McDonough wrote to Bidwill.
In May 2019, the team offered McDonough a demotion that would allow him to work remotely from his home in North Carolina. His May 2022 contract included another demotion and pay decrease.
On Jan. 24, McDonough was informed the team had no football-related job for him under Ossenfort. He filed his arbitration claim almost three months later but still remains a team employee under his 2022 contract.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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