The NFL is sick. There is an epidemic of infectious attitudes that sweeps the league, and if left unchecked, the results could be deadly. Deadly to the future of promising players, and perhaps even the popularity of the sport and the league.
I’m referring, of course, to all the holdouts and contract shenanigans which continue to plague the league.
More and more players are engaging in highly publicized squabbles with their teams about contracts they want, or contracts they want out of, and it could not come at a worse time. As most Americans wrestle with the worries of where the mortgage payment will come from in the worst economic recession in recent history, there isn’t a great deal of sympathy for men who get paid millions of dollars to play a game for a living. With a potential lockout looming right around the corner, the last thing the NFL can afford right now is to leave a memory of prima donna players flaunting their selfishness as the image the public has to remember the sport by during a hiatus that fans don’t support either.
While last year certainly wasn’t the beginning of all this craziness, it serves as a great starting point. With the tenth overall pick in the 2009 draft the San Francisco 49ers selected touted rookie receiving phenom Michael Crabtree. In theory, it seemed like a great match for both sides. Despite doubts about his durability, due to an injury prior to the draft, Crabtree had been taken with a very high draft pick and figured to receive a very lucrative deal, and the 49ers desperately needed another target to open up the passing game. Things became complex however when Crabtree decided to hold out for more money.
Crabtree wanted his contract to exceed that of fellow rookie wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who signed a five year $38.25M contract with the Oakland Raiders. The problem, however, was that Heyward-Bey was taken three spots higher with the seventh overall draft pick. This demand defied conventional logic and ultimately kept Crabtree off the field for months. In the end, the 49ers relented and handed Crabtree the monster deal he “deserved” – a six year $32M deal with incentives that could boost his salary up to $40M and allow him an early exit after year five. This is crazy considering he never took a single snap in the NFL, yet he was primed to make more money per year that the all time receiving leader, Jerry Rice, ever did… prompting many to call for intervention.
Fast forward to 2010, and similar problems abound in the NFL. But, not just from immature rookies like Crabtree. League veterans, like the Jets shutdown corner Darrell Revis and San Diego wideout Vincent Jackson, dominated much of the pre-season headlines as they held their respective teams hostage with contract demands. Revis just recently came to terms on a massive new deal with New York to the tune of four years and $46M, $32M of which is guaranteed… but it doesn’t necessarily mean the problem is fixed. Revis revealed to a NBC analyst that he could envision himself holding out again for bigger better deal in the future should he feel his ability exceeds the worth of his compensation.
Vincent Jackson has taken holdout drama to unbelievable heights this season as he and the Chargers stalemate continues to evolve. One might expect Jackson, who was set to start this season with a three game suspension following his second DUI conviction, would be happy to simply have a job still playing in the NFL. But obviously not. Jackson has held out seeking a five year $50M contract (with $32M in guaranteed pay), and has even threatened to sit out the entire 2010 season if his demands are not met. A trade has not materialized thus far, and it appears that the issue will go to arbitration. But the story still may have a messy ending yet.
With stars both rookie and veteran ignoring the validity of contracts, the NFL could be taking a terrible turn for the worse. When stars like Randy Moss take their contract disputes to the media it usually means that someone is going to lose – the team, the fans, the NFL, but, usually not the star. Something has to give. Whatever happened to a man’s word being his bond? It seems that the NFL has lost control and the inmates are running the asylum. This is certainly not the image the NFL wants to project during this pivotal time. The league must do something to take the power back, but with the player’s union holding the all important leverage with a work stoppage, who knows how this will play out. It will be a story worth following, but it probably won’t end with “and they all lived happily ever after.”