NFL Teams Walking Holdout Tightrope
If you are a restricted NFL free agent and have not signed your one-year tender offer (the deadline is Tuesday), you likely have received a letter that tersely states to do so or take a pay cut.
If you are an NFL star who believes he is underpaid -- see, among the plenty, the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis, the San Diego Chargers' Vincent Jackson, the Houston Texans' Andre Johnson and the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson -- you have skipped your choice of offseason team workouts. You want a new and long-term deal. You're considering a holdout from upcoming mandatory work.
Even a holdout during the 2010 season.
If you are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady -- the league's current top quarterbacks in stature and achievement -- you have a little more than a month before training camp blossoms, fewer than three months before the 2010 NFL season commences and you are entering the final year of your contracts.
You could call that lame-duck quarterbacking.
And NFL teams feel the heat. They are tiptoeing through these and similar minefields.
With no collective bargaining agreement in place beyond this season, NFL teams are trying to discern how to do deals today that make sense tomorrow under new, yet unknown rules if a CBA is eventually reached. They are sermonizing restraint, control, prudence. They are reminding all of the battered U.S. economic landscape. And that, in their estimates, the players got the better of them in the last CBA.
They are finding little typical about these circumstances. It is becoming a sensationalized situation on all fronts.
It is a distinguishable brand of pre-summer heat.
"It's difficult,'' said Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner, who is in his 15th year with the team. "I don't care the situation, whether its stadiums or players or pick a topic, we just aren't certain of the rules going forward. And it is difficult to evaluate what to do, if anything, or just wait. It's hard to judge beyond here. We have our restricted free agent guys done. We made some extensions, including the one-year deal with (quarterback) Kevin Kolb. Our process has been a little more fortunate. But you see what some other organizations are dealing with. You see they have their expectations and the challenge to meet the players' expectations.
"It's proceed with caution. That's the best way to say it. There is some short-term managing. You can't shut down. But you have to be very cautious about your work. It's just the unknown. It's complex. I think everybody knows the CBA has one year left. It didn't sneak up on anybody. But everybody is looking at their situation differently. You have to proceed with caution.''
Fans wonder how a multi-billion dollar business can hit such snags. Players are greedy, some fans insist. But other fans emphasize, with disdain, that the owners opted out of the current CBA agreement and now complain there is no agreement, thus the trepidation that has followed.
You can frame it any way you want to frame it.
But the leverage seems to swing daily.
One NFL general manager said five players in particular _ Brady, Manning, Revis and both Johnsons -- clearly have solid leverage. The players have earned it, in part, he said. And he added that their management helped to solidify it.
"You have to be careful not to put yourself out there, because when you do it gets back to the player and he uses it,'' the general manager said, requesting anonymity. "The coach, the GM, the owner says this and that, that this guy will be the highest paid player, that that guy is the best by far in the league at his position, and then the player sits down with you and says, `Remember when ...' The agent comes with the clippings in hand.
"When you start giving new deals to players who have three or more years left on their contracts, you can expect a line of players outside your door asking, 'What about me?' That's a Catch-22 situation some teams are in now. It's a crazy situation. And it is rearing its ugly head. I fully expect some of these top guys to hold out well into the season if they don't get what they want -- what they have already been told they are worth.''
Another NFL general manager said that Brady (32 years old) and Manning (34) will receive "landmark'' NFL deals. He said he expects each will earn close to $20 million per season in their new deals, possibly more. And he credits 40-year-old Brett Favre with ruining any notion that neither quarterback deserves a long-term deal because age is a factor.
"True franchise quarterbacks, and considering the body of work those two players have produced, that's what you're dealing with there,'' the general manager said. "Those deals have to get done. But you have to put 52 players around them. That's a challenge for any GM with that. You need wide receivers, an offensive line, some semblance of a defense. And once you've made that deal, once there is a cap next year, how does that salary stack up with your 53-man roster?''
Players want new deals. They want long-term deals. They want it in a wicked financial climate and murky labor environment. NFL teams are responding with caution. Some have said maybe. Others have said, flatly, no.
And none of it reduces the pressure on all to win big.
"We feel that way,'' Banner said of the Eagles. "We are stuck near the top of the mountain. We are not there at the top. All of the moves we have made now and over the years we have made to make sure we reach the top of that mountain. To be champions. We aren't there yet. Until then, it's all talk.''