We hear about it every season "Player X is going to hold out because he isn't satisfied with his current deal". The vast majority of the time these deals are hammered out before any real damage is done, but for all these successes there are a few occasions where a player is lost due to a soured relationship over money. In 2010 the Carolina Panthers know this as well as anyone with Julius Peppers going as far as to claim disrespect because the Panthers were willing to make him the highest paid DL, put only by a 'little bit'.
We currently have one player who appears to ready for a holdout, CB Richard Marshall, though realistically I don't think this is going to last very long. Marshall is a serviceable, yet not integral starter from where I sit and while the Panthers' pass defense would be slightly worse without him immediately, he's not a 'deal breaker' in terms of the Panthers' defensive success.
Conversely there are three teams who are about to head into the season with a mammoth headache on their hands with three integral players all complaining about money; Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans, Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans and Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets; all want new deals and all appear willing to cause a headache to get what they want. Obviously organizations want to spend as little as possible on contracts, and the players want as much as possible but is there a middle ground that could and should be met? I believe so, and it comes from an unlikely source.
To ensure we're on the same page with these players let's look at each of them, their role is in the NFL and their current contract:
- Chris Johnson: #1 in rushing yards in the NFL in 2009. Signed a rookie contract of 5 years, $12 million in 2008. Scheduled to end after the 2012 season
- Andre Johnson: #1 in receiving yards in the NFL in 2009. Signed an 8 year, $60 million extension in 2007. Scheduled to end after the 2014 season.
- Darrelle Revis: #1 in PDef in the NFL in 2009. Signed a rookie contract of 6 years, $30 million in 2007. Scheduled to end after the 2012 season.
Now we have the three players in question let's look at each of their situations separately, because they are all very different.
Chris Johnson's contract was actually better than what fellow rookies selected at his position were making. Fellow RB Rashard Mendenhall got a 5 year, $9.85 million deal despite being selected a pick before Johnson. That being said, I think it's safe to assume that most would value Johnson's talent higher than his salary at this time.
Andre Johnson proved himself and was rewarded with a $60 million extension. Now, he feels like that isn't enough since he's the #1 receiver in the NFL. A fair comparison is Larry Fitzgerald who signed a 4 year, $40 million extension in 2008. Given that this is the rate for top receivers the difference between Johnson and Fitzgerald is $1.5 million per season, and personally I feel that he may deserve a small bump.
Darrelle Revis is easily regarded as the best CB in the NFL right now; however, he wants a deal that pays him $20 million per season; roughly a third more than what the current highest paid CB salary is with Nnamdi Asomugha from Oakland. It's clear that Revis is better than Asomugha, but is he a third better?
From a barebones perspective from the place of these three players they all probably deserve some form of bump in their salary. Revis and Chris Johnson deserve significant bumps and Andre Johnson needs a small one to bring him in line with other top WRs. That being said, they are only half of this equation and the organizations have a right to minimize their costs however possible.
Nobody forced these player's hands to sign the contracts they did. In the case of Chris Johnson and Revis they had less opportunities for negotiations because there is little wiggle room in rookie deals, the league sets the value of the picks. Andre Johnson freely signed a 7 year extension, which is extremely long but he's getting paid well for it.
If I may, let me utilize this analogy: If I decide to purchase a house that needs some work in a less than ideal neighborhood then I do so for the lowest possible price I can because I am assuming a significant risk. Perhaps that neighborhood will become a high crime area, perhaps there will be more work that needs to be done to the house than I originally anticipated? There are myriad reasons this risk is there. Say I am able to renovate the house, the neighborhood becomes stable and I increase the house's value two-fold should the original owner be able to approach me and ask for more money? This is the situation we're in with NFL players.
Teams are assuming a great deal of risk with first round picks, the Oakland Raiders recently typified this risk with the cutting of Jamarcus Russell. In this case the house (Russell) needed more work than anticipated and had to be demolished, it had significant unforeseen problems. Will Russell give back any of his money to Oakland? Not on your life. Sullying this issue further are the sandbaggers. Players like Albert Haynesworth who seems to magically be able to perform when a new contract is looming. Here again, we have a situation where the buyer should have been aware, but they're not getting back any of their investment.
From where I sit the players want to have their cake and eat it too. They want lots of guaranteed money as rookies with little recompense if they can't adjust to the NFL, but they also want the ability to hold out and get more money if they're not satisfied with the deal they signed earlier. This ‘double dipping' is going to test the resolve of NFL teams who are very afraid to risk losing a player for a season that is so integral to their success. The NFL as a whole are watching the Andre Johnson situation very closely because if the Texans are not able to hold their ground they are setting a dangerous precedent, one where players will hold out a year or two into their deals because they over performed.
A lot of the time I hear people compare NFL players to salaried employees, which is a poor analogy. For a salaried employee has the right to approach their boss and ask for a raise based on their performance, however, a contracted employee (like an NFL player) has agreed to a fixed term and compensation based on an agreed upon rate; and while the salaried employee can be fired with little or no compensation the contracted employee will still be guaranteed a portion of their money.
What then is the solution to this whole debacle? For the answer I will return to the beleaguered housing industry for an example of how these dealings should be handled.
When one is negotiating a mortgage with a bank one of the key terms in the negotiation is not only the interest rate, but also whether it is fixed or variable. The situation we have in the NFL is also entirely based on a fixed rate with little variation, sure, there are performance based incentives and bonuses but not to the degree I'm proposing.
I believe the negotiations should be handled thus:
1. The player and the team decide on whether the contract should be fixed or variable.
a. If the contract is fixed then it behaves like a current deal.
b. If the contract is variable then a ceiling and floor is mandated by the league based on a performance table. Say, $1000 for every receiving yard, $10,000 for every touchdown etc.
2. The league polices the contracts.
a. If the deal is fixed the player is unable to hold out or they become actionable in civil court.
b. If the deal is variable the organization must give written reason to the league why a player sat out a game so they are unable to play cheaper performance based players against lesser teams. In the case of both injury and the league finding a lack of reason for the benching the player receives a check for the average of their performance.
3. The salary cap is modified to allow for both styles of contract. In the case of variable contracts an average cap hit is established for the player based on their prior year's performance.
You now have a situation where both the players and the organizations have a fair opportunity to be protected. If a wide receiver in concerned about his team's QB situation or their overall talent they can negotiate a fixed contract, and if a player believes they can exceed the valuation the team places on him they can elect for a variable one. In the case of rookies they are guaranteed a smaller guaranteed contract based on their draft position, but have higher escalators for performance.
It seems to me that much of the CBA negotiations and holdup right now are based on an archaic system where both sides can potentially lose if the circumstances are right, and I believe my outline takes the salary structure into the 21st Century and could alleviate much of the concern both sides have. I welcome your thoughts on this issue as well as my belief for fixing a broken system.