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Going into labor/Mark Jalkanen

January 18, 2011
By Mark Jalkanen - DMG Web Columnist

Now that the season of giving has passed, and we've presumably moved on to the season of taking, we thought it would be a good time to revisit some of the worst contracts given/taken in the history of the sports. Especially in light of the fact that the NFL, fans, and players, are going to be feeling some labor pains over the next few months.

Consider it a discussion of contract-ion as it relates to labor.

As we enter the final weeks of the NFL season, we don't expect to see the unity finger displayed (we're not sure about other fingers) at the upcoming games but we do expect to see a plethora of stories dedicated to the fight brewing between the player's union and management.

Will there be an expanded 17-game or 18-game season?

A rookie salary cap?

A salary cap in general?

What percentage of revenue will go to player salaries and benefits?

How will pensions and the NFLPA's Legacy Fund be addressed?

One thing we're certain to hear is one of the most self-serving and over-used stats. The union continues to claim that the average NFL career is less than four years in duration, misdirecting people in an attempt to make them believe that most of the players were subjected to career-ending injuries, rather than illuminating the fact that most washouts subjected their teams to inferior football playing skills which led to their unemployment and short "career". Since the stat is usually accompanied by a discussion in favor of guaranteed contracts, which other sports have but football doesn't (the bonus portion is guaranteed while the annual salary is not), a perusal of the way that the NFL, and much less successful leagues, conduct business should shed some disinfecting light on the need not to guarantee.

Two words could sum up the argument against guaranteeing the entire amount of a deal: Albert Haynesworth.

If y'all need more than two words then continue reading.

The NFL rookie salary nonsense can cripple teams, especially those who allow Matt Millen to run the draft, for years. High draft choices currently require huge compensation and if the level of play doesn't match the level of pay then teams generally don't have the flexibility to make a change and, as a result, the overall on-field product suffers.

In all likelihood, rookie compensation is going to be addressed in the new labor agreement but that will be of little solace for teams like the Chargers, who drafted Ryan Leaf with the second pick in the 1998 draft, and paid him $32.5 million to be remembered as the guy who was in the same draft discussion as Peyton Manning.

Ditto for the Raiders, who gave 2007 top draft pick JaMarcus Russell a six-year $68 million deal but due to problems with the pleasures of codeine and all-you-can-eat buffets, they decided to cut him prior to the 2010 season. Fortunately for the team there was no cap this year, so his contract didn't have the same debilitating effect that past mistakes have had, however, the team still allocated a ton of resources to a player who was seemingly disinterested and had absolutely no impact on the field.

In baseball, there is no cap (which often makes the sport nearly unwatchable) and for the teams with little margin for financial error (not the Yankees, Red Sox etc.) the guaranteed contract often becomes an albatross that precludes the team from making additional moves that could conceivably improve the product on the field.

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has made his share of decent moves over the years but signing Dontrelle Willis to a three-year, $29 million extension two weeks after acquiring him in a December 2007 trade with the Marlins was not one of them.

Dontrelle would disagree. "This is truly a blessing for me and my family. I'm really appreciative that the Tigers believed in me enough to even offer me a deal. That speaks volumes," said Willis.

Considering Willis was coming off of a season that saw him battle forearm injuries (Dontrelle also said, "I was healthy the last couple of weeks and I think that's what the Tigers saw that made them interested"), post a 10-15 record, finish with a 5.17 ERA, and he wasn't scheduled to be a free agent until after the 2009 season, it surely was a blessing and Willis should be counting.

We would ask Dombrowski why he believed in him at all. After the announcement of the deal Dave excitedly said, "We're absolutely thrilled to accomplish this and keep him a part of our organization for a lengthy period."

There are certainly different definitions for "lengthy period" but we doubt that sending Willis to the Diamondbacks on June 1, 2010 for non-descript soon to be former player, Billy Buckner (no relation) was part of the thrill he envisioned when he initially inked the pitcher to the burdensome extension.

Oh yeah, in an apparent attempt to compound his error, Dombrowski also sent Arizona a check for nearly $12 million to pay the remainder of Willis' guaranteed salary. Perhaps another visit to Economics 101 is in order.

After the 2000 season, the Rangers gave Alex Rodriguez a 10-year, $252 million deal so he could bring his brand of roid ball to Arlington. Paying one player so much money made it fiscally impossible for the Rangers to put a quality squad around Alex and the results were predictably poor. The fact that the team had to pay $67 million, of the remaining $179 million, due on his contract after he was traded to the Yankees (in 2004) made it a nearly fatal deal for the franchise as they languished for a decade before finally finding success in 2010.

"It's about flexibility," said Texas GM John Hart at the time of the trade. "We're trading the best player in the game and we're getting tremendous financial flexibility."

We doubt that fans in Texas were wildly cheering for financial flexibility over victories and we're certain that paying $67 million to watch the "best player in the game" play for another team doesn't appear in the textbook chapter titled "sound business practices".

Also in 2000, the Dodgers gave Darren Dreifort a five year $55 million contract. Considering he was mediocre (career record at the time was 39-45), and had a history of arm trouble (missed the entire 1995 season), the team was widely questioned at the time. Some justified the deal by pointing out that he was coming off of his personal best season. When a "best" season amounts to posting a 12-9 record, giving up 31 home runs, walking 87, and finishing with an ERA of 4.16, it usually doesn't lead to a team ignoring obvious injury issues and diving in with copious amounts of guaranteed money.

The Dodgers weren't able to ignore the injury issues for long, as Dreifort broke down midway through his first season in LA. Over the course of the contract he gave the team very little in return for their $55 million direct deposit.

Related note: Dreifort was drafted with the second overall pick the year Alex Rodriguez was the top choice (1993).

The NBA also has glaring issues with guaranteed contracts.

During the 2009 NBA season, the Knicks paid Stephon Marbury nearly $22 million NOT to play at all.

Tim Thomas, if you don't know him you're in the majority, received over $84 million from the Bucks and Clippers for being anonymous in every venue except the bank.

The Magic paid Grant Hill $93 million (seven year deal) to leave Detroit, (the Pistons were wise to say goodbye) and during the first four years of the deal they got a whopping 47 games (out of 328) of production for their largesse.

Detroit made another shrewd move in 2006 by allowing Ben Wallace to depart for Chicago with a spanking new four-year $60 million contract. Just two years later, in 2008, the Bulls admitted the deal was Bulls and traded Wallace to the Cavs while eating $30 million.

Perhaps the worst NBA contract (that you don't remember) was signed in 1989 and it happened to be another fortuitous, possibly accidental, moment in Piston history. As a bidding war was erupting for the services of Jon Koncak, the Hawks were spooked and signed the unknown backup center to a deal that kicked off a new era of NBA contract silliness. Luckily, for Detroit, the Hawks panicked and wildly outbid the Pistons for the services of the Jon Doe who miraculously found himself making more money that season than Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson.

In our view, it is not a coincidence that the Pistons lost out on the services of Koncak and won back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990. Sometimes the deal you don't make is better than the one you do, and in light of the fact that the NBA is a factory that regularly produces undeserving multi-millionaires, mostly due to the way contracts are structured and doled out, we would advise extreme caution until the situation changes.

Due to the nonsensical NBA contract market, the NBA trade market makes the Rangers A-Rod financial flexibility trade seem almost rational. In the past two seasons we have seen competitive teams dismantled (Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups?) in an effort to create cap room by unloading contracts so they would have the space to offer LeBron James and/or other premier free agents a maximum contract last summer. Fans of the teams now mired in the doldrums are being asked to support franchises that encouraged management to ship talented players, with what were perceived as onerous contracts, to other locales in an effort to gain the elusive goal of financial flexibility while ignoring the goal of on-court competitiveness. The NBA business model is clearly broken and the television ratings seem to indicate a significant waning of interest among the masses that should serve as a warning to the NFL powers.

Does the ownership of the LA Galaxy regret giving David Beckham a five-year $250 million contract? Considering that Bend-it had negligible impact on the popularity of the sport or the Galaxy (although People magazine did see an uptick in sales) we believe that there must've been second thoughts though it would be a rare mea culpa to have anyone in power admit such a grandiose mistake.

While the respective player unions cheered the massive sums of money that were being bestowed on inferior talent, in the form of franchise debilitating contracts, the fact that they were not paying attention to the percentage of limited resources (money) being wasted on a bunch of bums meant that they were actually ignoring the players who were doing stellar work but weren't being compensated accordingly. This common practice was also a clear indication that the final product (on-court, on-field etc.) was not a priority of their cause.

That is part of the essence of unions. In the name of protecting poorly performing workers and providing job security, which could be considered an honorable goal if done within the context of the big picture, they force employers to keep substandard workers when superior replacements are available. If an employer was allowed to cut loose the dead weight and add quality performers then everyone, except the bum (although the bum may benefit due to increased motivation to keep his/her job), would benefit because the increased productivity of the newly found worker would directly benefit the other workers while allowing the quality replacement to earn a higher wage due to higher output. The higher output (productivity) would be a benefit to the company and would lead to a better final product which, in turn, would lead to greater customer satisfaction in the form of more wins in the sporting realm and better autos, quality education, etc. in other union controlled bastions.

A rising tide lifts all. If a team is better on the field they will sell more merchandise, tickets, etc. In general, the organization will make more money, which will directly benefit everyone involved. If the team can't sell out home games, then ad revenue is lost, concessions suffer, and the overall organizational picture becomes bleak. A big picture view involves focusing on the final product, rather than the next contract, because when the end-product captures the consumer dollar the benefits go to all, however, when the end-product does not compel purchase everyone feels the pain.

In what may be a more familiar scenario to many, consider how the policies of the various teachers' unions allow inferior teachers to continue to "teach" children even though their ineptitude is widely, and publicly, known. In this instance the final "product" that is being assailed is the brains of our youth and the future of our country. If the union would simply use a big-picture approach it would be more concerned about their practices making our nation less educated and the impact that it has on the macro situation rather than worrying about the minutiae of an inept individual. Generally, and simplistically, speaking, people with more education (skills) make more money. More money means greater government tax revenue. Greater tax revenue could lead to greater teacher pay due to the superior performance that led to a larger number of well-educated high-earning people paying taxes.

What goes around comes around.

Instead of viewing things through a long-term lens the union policies surrounding sports business, state employees, etc. are shortsighted and only focus on the current situation. The short-term is emphasized at the expense of the long-term and the practice often destabilizes the institution that is providing the employment opportunities for the union members. If the long-term was an actual consideration then the overall health of the organization would be a paramount factor because an unhealthy entity will eventually cause the demise of everyone.

The NFL union released a statement saying, "It's a shame that the NFL would put even more jobs at stake," NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said. "Neither the players, nor the employees that would be affected by this across the country, asked for this."

But the union did ask for this. They ask for it when they make nonsensical demands which keep employees, who are hindering the overall mission of the organization, working. They ask for it when they focus solely on the now rather than the future. They ask for it when they regularly ignore the final product as if the health of the organization is irrelevant to their situation. They often ask for it.

While we are often anti-union we will admit that there is plenty of culpability to go around, however, with only three games remaining in the NFL season, and lockout day looming March 4, the two sides need to quit bickering and blaming and work out a new deal that addresses the long-term future of the league. If the overall revenue continues to rise, then everyone involved will benefit. If the 2011 season is interrupted by labor strife, if onerous guaranteed contracts are part of the new deal, if unproven rookies continue to make more than productive veterans, if the salary cap goes away, then the folks holding the power on both sides will have cooked the golden goose and everyone will suffer.

Except those sitting down to a fine goose dinner.

With that being said, we're still waiting for a bloated contract that saps our motivation to perform, while guaranteeing us a sound fiscal future, at the expense of the organization that believed in us enough to give us said contract. Fingers crossed. We promise not to file a grievance (except during Festivus).

PLAYOFF PICKS (3-1 record)

We're now down to four teams and half of them are from the North.

Packers minus three at Bears ---- If Calvin Johnson's week one catch had been ruled a catch then this game could have been in Green Bay. It wasn't, so Soldier Field will be hosting one of the most anticipated games in NFL history. In fact, a game featuring two of the seminal franchises in the game will be oozing history as it will be version 182 (Bears lead series 92-83-6) between the two teams but only the second meeting in the postseason. The last/only time these two teams collided after the regular stanza was complete happened at historic Wrigley Field in 1941 just one week after the historic bombing of Pearl Harbor (by the Germans if we are to believe union-educated John Blutarsky/ Belushi). The historically significant coaches in that game were Curly Lambeau and George Halas. The Bears won 33-14.

The Packer/Bear history lesson continues with two good young quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, attempting to lead their teams to a victory that secures the aptly named George Halas Trophy (awarded for NFC Conference Championship) and which would set up the potential to take home the equally aptly named Lombardi Trophy (Super Bowl champ).

Considering that Rodgers, in his three road playoff games (2-1 record) has passed for 979 yards, 10 touchdowns, and only one pick, the Packers certainly have a chance, although Cutler's impressive performance in his first playoff start, 274 yards passing with two touchdowns, no interceptions, and two rushing scores, should give Green and Golders a moment of pause.

There is a widely held perception that the Bears played their starters in what was a somewhat meaningless game (for them), on the final weekend of the regular season, at Lambeau in hopes that they wouldn't have to face the Pack in the playoffs.

Obviously that didn't work and it could turn out to be a black day for the team in black.

We expect a close game with a turnover or special teams play potentially deciding the final outcome. If it is a turnover we believe that Cutler is the most likely culprit to commit the error but the Packer defensive backs, unlike Jordan Babineaux of the Seahawks, will have to hang on to the ball. If the deciding play is of the special teams variety, then we give the advantage to the Bears considering they have Devin Hester and Falcon Eric Weems just took a kick back 102 yards against the weakness of the Pack.

In our view the Pack wins and evens their overall historical playoff record against Chicago to 1-1.

Steelers minus three versus Jets ---- The people attending the solemn memorial service in Tucson, presided over by our president, engaged in more raucous cheering last week than fans in Foxborough. The Jets defense was stout but the Steelers should be able to match their intensity. In a low-scoring affair the Steelers do just enough, again, to win the game and advance to Dallas.

Our Packer/Steeler Super Bowl prediction shouldn't come as much of a shock to anyone who recalls the September 7 "Guaranteed predictions II" column when we wrote, "in a Super Bowl featuring two of the most storied franchises (GB/Pitt) the handful of fans who still choose Favre over Pack will find a new object of affection as Aaron Rodgers brings the Lombardi trophy back to Lombardi Avenue."

PEEVE OF THE WEEK

There can be no Peeve when you have two NFL teams from the North meeting for a chance to play in the Super Bowl.

And besides, we kinda included a union-esque Peeve in the main column.

INDISCRIMINATE MUSINGS

Ouch! Every NFC team, except the Lions, has won an NFC Conference Championship game.

Aaron Rodgers is 7-3 when the temperature is below 30 degrees and has posted 25 touchdowns versus only five interceptions in those games.

Related: One of our readers told a story about how he couldn't attend his fantasy playoff draft so his co-owner did the honors and took Matt Ryan over Rodgers. Perhaps a friendly refund is in order.

Other than the 1941 meeting (and this year) the Packers and Bears have only been in the playoffs in the same year three other times (1994, 2001, and 2010) and one or both lost before they could meet.

NFL players union spokesman George Atallah was quoted recently as saying, "Unfortunately, there is some anti-union sentiment in America. Unfortunately, they are using a bad economy to go after unions. But I will say this: We haven't asked for anything more."

When a union doesn't ask "for anything more" it is a red flag to us and if the union is claiming to be satisfied with the current deal than the deal is probably overly favorable to the union.

For those wondering, the NFL and NFLPA have mutually agreed to allow the 2011 draft to go on as scheduled.

The glaring issue is that teams won't have access to their rookies until a new agreement is reached. No orientation, offseason workouts, OTA's, playbook study, or mini-camps.

This could be a season that sees rookies contribute very little to their teams. If the newbies have only a couple of weeks to acclimate, then their first season could be a lost one and the teams that were successful this year will also be successful next year.

Those teams with new coaching staffs could also be at a distinct disadvantage because they won't have access to any players to implement the new system etc. That may not be such a problem in Minnesota or Dallas, where the new guy was on the previous staff but it may loom large in places such as San Francisco (hey Jim Harbaugh, Michigan may have been a better choice), Carolina, Denver, and Oakland.

In a gesture which vividly produces an image of a scorned mate tossing the clothes of a partner on the front lawn, Rich Rodriguez donated 432 Wolverine apparel items to the Salvation Army.

While we often wish that Matt Millen would simply go away, he was on a radio show recently explaining that the biggest challenge he faced as GM of the Lions was not talent evaluation (fooled us).

"The judging part is not the hard part," he said. The hard part is the consensus building a consensus and getting people on the same page. That's the hard part."

Since Matt was clearly a consensus-builder when it came to the opinion of the fans we wonder why he found it to be such a challenge.

In other Millen news, the franchise destructor was discussing John Elway's new executive position with the Broncos and said, "I hope John does better than I did, because I stunk at it."

And then he got a job evaluating talent on television so his infinite wisdom wouldn't be lost on the next generation.

Auburn QB Cam Newton declared himself eligible for the NFL draft.

The consensus regarding his talent among the crack staff is that it won't translate to the next level.

On the bright side, playing for money won't require any adjustment.

Now fans in Auburn will be waiting for the NCAA to declare him ineligible for the past season and strip the team of the championship.

And Newton of his Heisman.

We despise the practice of erasing the past as if it didn't happen. The NCAA needs to dispense swift justice and quit trying to rewrite history.

It would be akin to rewriting Huck Finn.

Related: There is a movement afoot to rewrite Huck Finn to remove the words that offend the easily offended and those who would rather ostrich our past rather than learn from it.

If Terrelle Pryor's parents had sold his stuff without him knowing, then he wouldn't be facing a five-game suspension according to the Newton law.

It is the offseason, so there is sure to be some activity in D.C. Sure, we know that there is no labor agreement, which will preclude the annual big-name hoarding done by Dan Snyder, but the names acquired the past two offseasons will be in the news. There is virtually no way that Albert Haynesworth and/or Donovan McNabb will be with the team next year but considering the way they do business look for the organization to keep them dangling as long as possible.

In fact, it will make the 24-hour Rich Rod dangle seem polite.

As soon as a new labor agreement is reached, Detroit should make an offer to free agent Nnamdi Asomugha.

Although David White of the San Francisco Chronicle said he believes that Nnamdi will end up with either the Jets or Packers. "I know him well, mark it down," said White.

With Tramon Williams and Asomugha at corner the Pack could pair Charles Woodson at safety with Nick Collins, forming one of the best defensive backfields in the game.

The precedent of such a move (to safety) was set when Rod Woodson (Pitt) was moved to safety for his final years and was a multiple Pro Bowl honoree.

Dare to dream, Pack fans.

We consider the other scenario to be a nightmare because a pairing of Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi would cause the NY hype machine to work overtime.

Our black helicopter moment comes from the SEC, where Les Miles waited until the morning after Auburn's championship victory to make the announcement that he was staying at LSU. Kinda like Dave Brandon dismissing Rich Rod the morning after the Ohio State Sugar Bowl victory. The timing couldn't have been better to dim the spotlight shining on a hated rival.

Favre submitted his retirement papers to the league office.

It means nothing and we won't believe it until one full season passes him by.

Send comments to mjalkanen@live.com.

Gotta go, it's time to give the cats a guaranteed contract.

 
 

 

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