08 June 2012

Show Me The Money?

It’s 5am and the alarm clock sounds. Beep.  Beep.  Beep.  The sound echoes through the quiet room indicating it’s time to get up and start another work day.  First a shower.  Second some breakfast.  Grab a packed lunch and hit the door for the car to go to work.  In the office by 7am and ready to start the work day.  You read e-mails, check voicemail messages, and ensure you’re caught up for the day.  The joys of being the working class American.  It’s by no means a glamorous job, but it’s a job nonetheless. 

After the hiring interview you were given an offer letter that outlined the terms of the job you were being offered, the salary you would receive, and company expectations.  You signed the letter, shook hands with the hiring manager, and were welcomed as a part of the company.  Your signature, the final piece of the equation that sealed the deal.  Your signature, your word, your agreement.

In corporate America you can sign a contract to work for a company and off to work you go.  You have some flexibility in your negotiations, but not usually to get a great extent.  You can ask for $75,000/annual salary and they company might come back with $68,000.  Either way, once you finally reach a number you’re both happy with it’s a done deal.  You can’t show up to work every day for six months, contribute, and then decide that you’re going to refuse to come to work until you get a better salary.  You would be replaced, on the spot. 

2004 NFL Draft #1 Pick

                However, this is the game that is played frequently in professional sports.  Do I agree?  Do I disagree?  Do you agree?  I think there are times when it’s perfectly acceptable for an athlete to “hold-out” and refuse to show up, but I think there are times when it’s completely beyond any acceptable reason for an athlete to do it as well.  Take for example, in 2004 the San Diego Chargers held the #1 pick in the NFL draft and had decided they were going to draft Ole Miss Quarterback Eli Manning.  Upon learning the Chargers intended to draft him, Manning made it clear that he would not play for the team.  The Chargers ended up trading his draft rights to the New York Giants for Phillip Rivers and the rest is history.  Was Eli Manning right or wrong?  In my opinion, he was well within his rights to refuse to play for the Chargers.  He had not agreed to play for them, hadn’t signed anything to say he would, and was under no obligation to do so.  The Same thing happened in 1986 when Auburn produced Bo Jackson.  Bo told the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he would not play for them, and they called his bluff.  Instead Jackson signed a contract to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals and never laced up for the NFL season. 
A year later the rights to his draft status expired and Bo Jackson was again placed in the NFL draft and this time selected in the 7th round by the Oakland Raiders, where he did eventually sign.  Again, I think this is acceptable, he was under no obligation to play for the Buccaneers, and even told them he didn’t want to play there.  The fact is, the NFL draft isn’t a guarantee for either party, team or player.  Yes, first round picks are “guaranteed” a contract, but that doesn’t mean they have to accept it.  Just like any job interview, a player can refuse to commit his services to the drafting team, just like any working class American can turn down a job offer with a company.  What I disagree with is when a professional, either working class or athlete, commits to a contract, signs the contract, and then decides they aren’t happy with what they agreed to.
                In 2010 New York Jets Cornerback Darrelle Revis decided to hold out of camp after having a super impressive post-season run in 2009.  Revis was under contract already for the 2010 season, and after hearing what Head Coach Rex Ryan called “the best year a corner has ever had,” Revis decided it was good enough to demand more money.  He held out, arguing he was an elite cornerback and deserved to be paid more money.  Did he?  In my opinion, no, he didn’t.  Just because he had one great run in the post season of 2009 didn’t entitle him to anything additional in the way of compensation.  He signed a contract, agreed to honor that contract to its fullest, and put his name on the “dotted” line.  What Revis did was send a message that said if you are underpaid and overperform, hold out, make the team give you more money, but what’s the otherside of that coin, what if you’re a player who performs great, gets rewarded with a new contract, and then doesn’t perform?  Should your team be able to hold you out until you agree to a new contract?  I bet there isn’t a player in the league who would say yes.  I would have no problem with Revis reporting to camp, participating in walk-through, drills, and team meetings, and his agents working in the background on a new deal.  The message then would be much different, it would say, I’m a part of this team, but I’d like to be paid accordingly for the work I do, but I want to continue to be here.  After 35 days of holding out the owner and coach met with the player and reached a deal that both sides could agree on.  But did they?  Fast forward 2 years, to 2012, and we’re back at it again.  Revis is threating again to hold out, claiming his salary isn’t market value for the best corner in football.  He made $32.5 million dollars the previous two seasons, an average of $16.25 million per season, but is set to make $7.5 million in 2012 and $6 million in 2013.  If I were the New York Jets and he decided to hold out, I’d send the message that it’s unacceptable and not make a deal with him.  He’s under contract, a contract he agreed to after holding out once before, and a contract he should honor.  In my opinion, they should let him stay at home.  Make it clear, if you don’t want to be a part of this team, under the terms you agreed to, then you won’t be a part of any team for the duration of your contract.  The contract is currently a 4 year deal, but can turn into a 7 year deal if Revis misses any offseason team activities.  I’d let him hold out, extend the contract to 7 years, and tell him enjoy the next 5 years of unemployment, because in 5 years when the contract expires, no team is going to want his service.

                I think players these days get away with too much in the way of team disruptions.  I think when a professional athlete signs their name on a contract, agreeing to perform a service for a team, they should be held to that contract.  Send the message, if you can’t honor your word, you can sit at home.  I understand it hurts the team, but does it really?  Imagine if the Tennessee Titans didn’t give in to Chris Johnson’s demands for a new deal and told him to sit at home.  What would have happened?  Halfway through the season the team would be suffering in the running game, but if they stayed the course, went through the season, finishing near the bottom of the league, the outcome could have been different.  Instead of picking number 20 in the draft they could have been number 2 or 3.  Their reward for sticking to the guns of a holdout, Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama.  One season in the dumps, one held out elite running back, replaced by a younger running back, eager to play.  The message would then be loud and clear, and if more teams began to follow suit, then contracts would begin to be honored, under the terms they were agreed to.

                Don’t get me wrong, I believe that an elite player should be as an elite player, but not after just one good season.  When a player has that one great season, post-season run, or major career milestone, then they are well within their rights to discuss a new contract deal, but to say they refuse to play until a deal is made, is very unacceptable.  In my opinion, a franchise, owner, and general manager would be more likely to discuss a new deal with a player who’s on the field in practice, in team meetings, going through film study, and contributing to the team rather than discussing a deal with a holdout player who’s sitting at home watching SportsCenter.

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