Right back at you, Phil Emery. And welcome back to the NFL, Marc Trestman.
The Chicago Bears won't stage their first practice of training camp until Friday, but already they've had one prominent player challenge general manager Emery's temporary hold on contract negotiations and at the very least set an off-field tone for Trestman's first camp as the team's head coach.
Bears place-kicker Robbie Gould spoke extensively about the topic Wednesday night on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. He was respectful of the franchise but questioned Emery's contention that a tight salary cap has limited his options. Ultimately, Gould said, the approach will cost the team more money to keep the players it wants and implied that others will have divided motivation this season as a result.
"At the end of the day if you have all these guys [unsigned], they have to take care of No. 1," Gould told ESPN 1000 co-hosts Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright.
The wound is clearly fresh for Gould, who acknowledged that he approached the Bears earlier this month to extend a contract that will pay him $2.925 million this season before expiring. The Bears rebuffed him because "they said there was no money," according to Gould.
At last check, the Bears had about $1.6 million in salary-cap space available for 2013. That's barely enough to sign emergency replacements during the season. But as we have learned many times, NFL teams can create space whenever it's important enough to them to do it.
"Let me put it to you this way," Gould said. "If they wanted a guy, they’re going to find a way to sign him if it meant that much to them."
Gould will turn 32 in December, which is about middle age in kicking terms, and predicted he will be the most sought-after place-kicker on the free-agent market in 2014.
"I'm not too worried about it if they will re-sign me or not because I have all the leverage," he said. "If they don't want to re-sign me now it's going to cost them double at the end of the year.
"If they were smart they would try to get their core group of players and re-sign them before the end of the year and try to make it work, but a lot of us are sitting in a great position. You might see a lot of guys exit the Bears, [so] this year has to be pretty special, because if it doesn’t go as well as planned I can see them completely rebuilding. Or they might find a couple guys they think is their core group and get rid of some of the other higher-paid guys."
Everything Gould said Wednesday night rings true to me, and it falls in line with what we discussed earlier Wednesday. Emery's approach is defensible in the big-picture sense of responsibly building a roster, but it risks a negative reaction among players that could affect short-term success.
I'm not surprised at all that Gould feels the way he does, but it's unusual to hear it articulated publicly so early in the process. I know that he is the Bears' player representative and has made strong public statements before, but I was still a little surprised to hear such an extensive discussion on the topic on the eve of training camp.
Uncertain contract situations can consume teams just as easily as it can motivate them. In his first NFL training camp in nearly a decade, it will be up to Trestman to keep players focused on the field as much as their finances. Have fun with that one.
(Hat tip to Dickerson for a partial transcript of Gould's interview.)