The world of contract negotiations
Possible strategies for disgruntled players hit with the franchise tag
The NFL's offseason is longer than its season, with the first meaningful snap after the Super Bowl coming seven months later in September. From a front-office perspective, the offseason -- when teams are assembled and renovated -- is busier than the season. I always chuckled when people asked, "What do you do in the offseason?"
I always referred to the offseason as "me time," with players more concerned about their personal situations than the team. Football becomes a business with issues that can be a bit messy.
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Rumbles of discontent may come in different decibels, usually pointing to recent contracts around the league of similarly situated players. And players will sometimes say, "It's not about the money," which, of course, means, it's all about the money. Speaking of which...
The Agent Playbook
From my perspective, the agent's strategy of pursuing more money for the player is quite scripted, with their usual game plan as follows:
1. Express feelings of disappointment about the current contract.
2. Absent a team response, suggest that a trade may be beneficial for both sides.
3. Absent a team response, seek permission to survey teams for a possible trade (which some agents do anyway without permission).
4. Absent a team response, express the possibility and/or probability that the player may skip offseason workouts, minicamps, OTAs and perhaps even training camp, which, of course, would breach his contract.
Every team in the NFL faces these situations, some more publicly than others. The agent/player objective is to create angst in the team offices to cause a reaction. In 2010, Darrelle Revis' holdout clearly rattled the Jets as it played out in front of a national audience on HBO.
My sense is that teams should not engage discontented players, although some teams do fire back, as Chargers general manager AJ Smith did with Vincent Jackson in recent years. Most teams simply let disgruntled player comments go without response -- the Patriots' Bill Belichick is a master at this -- serving to further frustrate the player.
Contractually, when faced with player discontent, the team can (1) do nothing; (2) rip up the existing contract and replace it with a new one to the player's liking; or (3) something in between. In my time in Green Bay, I negotiated the "something in between" a few times, adding money that was "earnable" -- per-game roster bonuses, workout bonuses, incentives, etc. -- rather than guarantees. It was neither what the player nor the team desired, but it was a workable compromise.
This year's disgruntled may include Revis, Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Drew Brees and Mike Wallace. One name removed from the list was Osi Umenyiora, who received the "in between" from the Giants, an approximate $3 million bump to his 2012 salary with a contractual promise that he will not receive the franchise tag in 2013.
Revis, as noted, went through a contract dispute two short summers ago, but watched the cornerback market pass him by with this year's free-agent deals for Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan. He is now floating some clouds of dissatisfaction for the Jets to hear. His situation illustrates why front offices sometimes feel, in regard to early contract adjustments, that no good deed goes unpunished.
With players under contract such as Revis, teams are more fortified by the new CBA. Along with higher daily fines for missing training camp, the CBA now allows "forfeitable breaches" of previously paid bonus money if the player holds out. For a player who has received considerable bonuses such as Revis, forfeiture could be quite expensive.
Tagged or tendered players such as Brees, Forte, Rice and Wallace are unsigned and not subject to penalties. They sit and hope for what every player wants, a long-term contract with top-of-market average per year (APY) and guarantees. On a more emotional level, they want the respect of being taken care of by their team.
In these situations, decisions can never be made in a vacuum. It is never about just one player; it is about the entire locker room. Whatever happens between teams and players becomes a way of doing business. Fans, media and, most importantly, teammates are watching.
From the inbox
Q: With the Pro Bowl coming back the week before the Super Bowl, what happens to players picked that are playing in the Super Bowl?
Steve in Minneapolis
A: Obviously, Super Bowl participants will not compete in the Pro Bowl in Hawaii the week before. They will, though, receive the same financial benefits of those who play; that is only fair. Thus, if they have Pro Bowl bonuses in their contracts, they will receive them. And they will receive the winners' ($50,000) or losers' ($25,000) share even though they won't play in the game.
Pro Bowl bonuses have been adjusted to reflect the game being played prior to the Super Bowl. Now, in addition to players still being paid their bonus "if medically excused from the game," players are also paid "if their club is participating in the Super Bowl game for that season."
Aside from any Pro Bowl incentive clauses, a player who wins the Super Bowl and whose team wins the Pro Bowl could make up to $220,000 in winners' share from the combined playoffs and Pro Bowl.
Q: With all the time that players had away from the team this year, what kind of trainers did they work with?
Bill in Denver
A: I thought that a "winner" from the new CBA were personal trainers and performance centers such as IMG and Athletes' Performance; they now have more time with players than team staff does.
This is a recipe for tension between strength and conditioning coaches and personal trainers, as fitness professionals have strong convictions about their theories.
And when not using their own trainers, players -- prohibited to work out under supervision of team staff until April -- had to work out where they could. I heard of star players exercising at local gyms next to elderly patrons and soccer moms. That must be quite a sight.
Q: What do you think of Jason Babin wanting to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain?
Todd in Philadelphia
A: I think it's great. In fact, it's something I want to do as well and will go with him, after he's done playing football. In the midst of a productive career and in the second year of a hefty free-agent contract with the Eagles, this is not the best time to be chased by an angry male bovine.
Contractually, Paragraph 3 of the standard NFL player contract states the following: "Without prior written consent of the Club, Player will not engage in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury."
I highly doubt the Eagles will provide written consent, and we know this activity involves a significant risk of personal injury. Therefore, to protect the remaining $22 million on his contract, I think Babin should find something else to do in July. And, from recent reports, he has.
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