Yesterday I said that I didn’t feel like talking about the NFL and their lawsuits. Apparently that was just a fleeting feeling yesterday. This morning I read a column by Jason Cole at Yahoo! lambasting NFL players like Vikings punter Chris Kluwe who referred to the players in the title of this article as “#douchebags” on Twitter. We don’t normally roll with language like that on this family-friendly site, but it is kind of important to the story. A member of the union lashing out at some of the highest profile players who attached their names to a lawsuit in order to represent fellow players went from heroes to – you know – that.
There is no doubt that in a situation like this from a pure negotiating standpoint it would always be best to have a unified front as a union. Even though this union “decertified” themselves, it has been clear all along that they have been mostly unified. Then all of a sudden as the CBA seemed to be on the verge of getting a unanimous thumbs up, the lawsuit that players signed on to in order to increase leverage and bargaining power has now, apparently been classified as an individual power and money grab.
Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Vincent Jackson, and Logan Mankins were apparently (maybe?) looking for immunity from the franchise tag, unrestricted free agency and / or a financial settlement rumored to be $10 million. If I sound wishy washy in that last sentence it is because I am unsure if any of these rumors are true. Almost universally, it seems that everyone from media to players found this to be distasteful and counter-productive to getting a deal done. Except Jason Cole at Yahoo! apparently.Cole wrote about the topic and for me, these were the money quotes.
If you’re an NFL player, you want Manning as an unrestricted free agent, even if you know he’s going to re-sign with the Indianapolis Colts. Same goes for Brees, Jackson and Mankins.
That’s because their salaries drive up the market for all players. In this league, what Jackson makes influences what Sidney Rice(notes) can get. Better yet, it influences what Larry Fitzgerald(notes) might get a year from now and so on and so forth. If Manning is able to get a contract worth an average of $25 million a year because he’s an unrestricted free agent rather than $20 million a year, that will help Brees when his contract is up after the 2011 season. Manning understands that. Last year in training camp, Manning said he recognizes that his contract has a trickle-down effect on what other players make, and not just quarterbacks.
The trickle-down effect of Manning’s salary is actually a squeeze on the rest of the Indianapolis Colts roster in most normal capped NFL years. This ain’t baseball where C.C. Sabathia signing for an extra $5 million over the life of his deal means that the next three pitchers to get signed will be slotted appropriately. Sure, slotting and ego-driven numbers happen in the NFL, but so much of the storyline during this lockout has been boosting the efficiency of distributing money among players. That was the crux of the rookie scaling system. Veterans who were worth good salary dollars were getting squeezed by a system that was guaranteeing huge amounts of money to guys who hadn’t played an NFL down yet in their careers.
Obviously Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and the lot are deserving of big dollars because they have proven themselves as NFL players. So, the argument isn’t exactly the same. I don’t think there is an NFL player out there who would begrudge Peyton Manning getting paid. His paychecks are the dream of pretty much every NFL’er. There just isn’t any escaping the fact that for every dollar that Peyton Manning or Drew Brees makes it squeezes the franchise into squeezing every other player on the roster during negotiations.
Jason Cole is correct that unrestricted free agency for Peyton Manning could help someone like Brees. But what about all the rest of the NFL players scratching to make enough money that they won’t ever have to work again after the NFL? I am not saying you have to feel sorry for a millionaire who doesn’t want to work after his career is finished, but what about the third cornerback on an NFL roster who might have been able to make an extra $3 million over the life of his deal if guys like Peyton Manning weren’t chewing up such a high percentage of the salary cap? That is the perspective that Chris Kluwe was speaking from, I think. That $3 million is really important to a middle-rung starter in the NFL. As a union that middle-rung starter is the one who needed the protection, not Peyton Manning. That was the guy we thought Manning, Brees and the rest were fighting for, not themselves.
It seems like these guys in the lawsuit are grabbing for extra special treatment in the form of punitive damages against the NFL that would benefit each of them individually. That would be fine if the lawsuit wasn’t inextricably connected to the rest of the deal. Instead of fighting for their own justice on the side, they are now holding everyone else hostage. Even if the point they are making sticks it to NFL owners, it doesn’t really benefit the rest of the union because it isn’t linked to a universal rule that will benefit them all as much as it allows these guys to take an even bigger piece of a finite pie of resources. That finite pie of resources is what this entire fight was over in the first place. I can understand the strategic benefits of being on a united front at all times, but I would argue that it is Manning, Brees, Jackson and Mankins that need to unite with everyone else, not the other way around.
(By the way, as an aside, how smart was Tom Brady to somehow keep his name out of this whole thing? He truly is the golden boy, isn’t he?)