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Injuries are the bane of an NFL team's existence, upsetting months of planning and work building a roster to fit the right interdependent parts. After teams are meticulously prepared, injuries happen.
The Jets are the latest team to feel the sting of injuries, losing -- in consecutive weeks -- Darrelle Revis, their best defensive player, and Santonio Holmes, their most dynamic offensive player. These are special talents not easily replaced. The Jets' immediate challenge is replacing them on the field this season, but a more interesting situation might be the future of each as a Jet.
|Before his injury, Darrelle Revis had signaled he might seek a new contract.|
Revis' dramatic 2010 holdout -- played out on HBO's "Hard Knocks" -- created sufficient angst on the Jets' coaching staff and in the front office to cause a reaction. The Jets certainly could have sat on Revis' rookie contract, still with three years remaining, but were clearly moved by his discontent. The contract was renegotiated with guarantee ($32.5 million) and three-year earnings levels that top all cornerbacks even two years later.
Revis reported to camp on time -- the Jets inserted a contractual penalty of three years added to the contract if he held out again -- but there were low rumbles of discontent. Revis appears intent on being one of the highest paid players in the NFL, regardless of position. Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Johnson have successfully used this "premiere player" argument in player negotiations, vaulting past their position markets at the time.
Revis will -- between bonus and salary -- make $7 million this year and is scheduled to make $6 million in 2013. Will his season-ending injury tamp down expectations for yet another upgraded contract? I tend to doubt it. We will see whether the Jets stand firm or allow for some adjustment once again.
Holmes benefited greatly from the frenzied pace of the compressed free-agency period after the 2011 lockout. Despite scant interest from other teams, the Jets feared losing Holmes and retained him with an astounding $24 million guarantee.
The contract required that if Holmes were on the roster as of February of this year, $7.5 million of his $11 million 2013 salary would be guaranteed not only for injury -- as it was upon signing -- but also for skill, meaning he would be paid even if released before next season. For that reason alone, Holmes will be a Jet next year.
Holmes is a special talent but has had issues with discipline and teammates. The Jets did not sign him to a big contract without knowing him; they had him in their program for a year before that. Injuries are one thing, but the Jets' inability to control his petulance ultimately comes back to them.
Football is not a contact sport; it is a collision sport. At some point in his career, every player in the NFL will be injured. (In Green Bay we used to say the injury rate was 100 percent, minus Favre.) Thus, there is a premium on building depth.
The best organizations, in my opinion, adhere to a "draft and develop" formula, building a talent pipeline with players ready to step up. These teams eschew quick fixes and trust their scouting, confident that they have identified young players who can substitute for injured starters.
Certainly, it is difficult to replace elite players, especially at quarterback. However, injuries do not need to be a death knell for teams. Teams that draft and develop talent well can separate themselves when injuries happen.
Rex Ryan said of the injuries to Revis and Holmes: "This will test our resolve." What he meant was, "This will test our front office, scouts and coaches." And it will.
Q: I saw you thought the Bills acted too quickly in re-signing Ryan Fitzpatrick. Why?
Sam in Rochester, N.Y.
A: Fitzpatrick -- a Harvard graduate -- timed things perfectly in securing an extension a year ago with $24 million guaranteed. The Bills were riding the wave of an impressive start and wanted to continue the euphoria by locking up Fitzpatrick with half a season left before he became a free agent. The contract was similar to those of other quarterbacks with limited sample sizes such as Kevin Kolb and Matt Cassel. In retrospect, the Bills could have, worst case, let the season play out and negotiated without the emotion of the hot start. They could have negotiated with the leverage of a $14 million franchise tag -- down from $16 million in 2011 -- in their favor. Yes, hindsight, but they could have seen a larger sample size.
Q: I remember you were surprised the Colts retained Reggie Wayne. Thoughts now?
Jesse in Chicago
A: I was wrong. The team was moving on not only from Peyton Manning but many of his peers -- Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Jeff Saturday, etc. -- and becoming a young team led by Andrew Luck. I thought the Colts should continue the extreme makeover and move on from Wayne, as well. Wayne's three-year, $17.5 million contract looks like a bargain now. I am not sure I have seen a player at that position make so many spectacular catches in one game as Wayne did against the Packers; he was the difference in an emotional game won for his coach. What a player.
Q: What is behind Steven Jackson renegotiating his contract with the Rams to be a free agent after this year?
Bill in St. Louis
A: The Rams have allowed Jackson to void the last year of his contract and test the free-agent market in March should he so choose.This looks to me like a compromise between the Rams and Jackson after they were unable to reach agreement on an extension. The Rams demonstrated their priorities with recent deals for Chris Long and James Laurinaitis. They would rather let Jackson walk after this season than commit large guarantees as they did for the young defensive stars.
Jackson turns 30 in July, and it will be interesting to see what the market brings for a still-productive back who has reached that dreaded age.