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Cory's Corner: Does A Contract Actually Mean Anything?

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Cory's Corner: Does A Contract Actually Mean Anything?

What exactly does a contract mean?

It isn’t as ironclad as it used to be. Last year, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell didn’t play while under the franchise tag of $14.54 million and sat out the entire year. Now Melvin Gordon is threatening to sit out the entire season if his contract isn’t worked out. He is in the final year of his five-year rookie deal and he wants a new contract.

I get it. The running back position has been immune to the new rules governing limited practice time, number of hits, etc. The running back has morphed into a three-down versatile back that is asked to run between the tackles, catch passes and be able to block. That running back never comes off the field and only opens himself up for hits and long-sustaining injuries.

However, that is also the deal that Gordon signed. How would Packers fans feel if David Bakhtiari said he would not play this year unless he got his deal reworked? And Bakh’s current deal doesn’t even expire until 2021. 

It isn’t just the NFL though. The NBA has been known to demand trades, most recently, Paul George and Russell Westbrook demanded trades from Oklahoma City which quickly turned the Thunder into rebuilding mode. 

I think players’ autonomy is great. But there is also a time and a place. It really looks bad when players demand a trade or a new deal with time left on their current contract. That’s an issue that the player should make with his agent, not his current team that just got the shaft. 

The Chargers would seem to be in a tight spot but they have proven that they can win without Gordon. San Diego was 3-0 when Austin Ekeler started last year. This is also a headache that the Chargers really don’t need right now with training camp just 12 days away. You can bet that the players will get tired of fielding Gordon questions by the second day. 

There are numerous players that have played their deals and are currently getting underpaid. Bakhtiari is a great example. He’s been the best left tackle in the league the last three years but among left tackles, he is ninth in the NFL in cap hit this year. But I wouldn’t expect Bakh to complain about his contract anytime soon. He knows that contracts go up each year and with solid play, it’s only a matter of time before players outdo their current contracts. 

It just sets a bad precedent. How long before another frustrated football player wants to get out from his deal? And how many teams are going to want to risk a draft pick or players in a trade for someone that doesn’t value the meaning of a contract. 

A contract is basically a business promise. I would suspect broken promises to only go up, but if and when that happens, those players really need to understand that the next contract they sign won’t be perfect either. 

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Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (36) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

HoppyTime's picture

Agreed.....but also completely understand the players point of view. Because if we're being honest, a contract means nothing to NFL teams....they will cut the player and void a contract in a heartbeat if it is better for them.

dblbogey's picture

That depends on the contract.

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Savage57's picture

Because present day contracts are unilateral in nature (players bound to contracts, teams able to break contracts) there will be players of certain skill levels who can circumvent that inequity by breaking the contract and sitting out a year.

The whole thing needs to be reworked to restore the idea of a binding contract in sports where both parties are obligated to fulfill the commitments they made, and sounded pretty good to both parties at the time they entered into it.

Now the likelihood of that happening is another thing altogether.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I'd like to see a system where put all of the money in 1 big pot, pay each player an equal base and then pay extra strictly by preformance.

Of course nobody is going to listen to that since free agency would have to be totally rethought. But, we'd all get to stop seeing people like Nick Perry steal money, and Melvin would get his fair share automatically.

fastmoving's picture

Pretty sure a fair share is something different for everyone you ask and there is no way to grade performance equitably.
Sometimes the contract works better for the team and sometimes better for the player, but this is no perfect world.

Dont know if you can call Nick Perry out (I guess he rather had some better season after his contract). Whats then with AR if he has some offseasons where he was not up to the 20% of the SC he received? So you can argue he got 15 million too much some years, but thats just how it works. Everyone receive the contract both parties agree on and who seems fair at the time. So things may seem different in the rear mirror but nobody knows the future

jeremyjjbrown's picture

"Dont know if you can call Nick Perry out"

Really why not? His only good year was a contract year.

Your right, nobody knows the future. So why not pay the athletes what they actually earned instead of guessing on the future.

fastmoving's picture

So you have to call out the team who gave him the money even more. And in absolut money there are a lot of guys who "steal" way more from the Packers and nobody even realizes that. But, like I said, in other cases the team got the bargain. Its like everywhere else in life.
But it is not possible to grade and value the players fair. Every player will see it different and if you ask 10 people from the outside, you will get 12 different payrolles.
It seems possible if you sell something, so you can do the math and find out the Money you have to earn its a pretty easy thing. But its beyond me like it should work here?

The Marathon Man's picture

The Packers drafted Perry. Like every contract in every business, the Pack need to absorb the consequences of its mistakes, as well as accept the benefits. When a Nick Perry doesn't live up to expectations, that's for the Packers to decide, not you and me. For all we know, the Pack might have been satisfied with Perry's performance over the years and was worth the money.

And again, in your scenario who would be the arbiter of who "earned" what? The league? The Packers? Some faceless tribunal somewhere? And what would be the criteria? Strictly stats? No intangibles? We all have our own ideas along these lines.

dblbogey's picture

Who decides how the player performed, and how much he gets based on that evaluation? Sounds unworkable.

fastmoving's picture

It was always that way, it was always just a promise and you hope it workes out for both sides. It was always just on paper.
If your a star player who feels disgruntled, you will have your way sooner or later. If he is a important, special player of course, who got options with other teams. Witch team can afford a player who is not wholehearted in the games. Not much leverage to force someone to feel passion about the team and the big goals they have.

Lare's picture

Whether we like it or not, both the teams and the players are playing by the rules. If teams want to cut a player and not pay them they can, and if a player wants to sit out and not get paid they can.

It sucks to us fans but In reality it's not that much different than the rest of us in real life. We can be let go at any time or we can decide not to show up for work.

chugwater's picture

Completely agree.

The contracts don’t say the players must play. It just outlines the amount if they do. Just like it outlines the amount if the players stay even though the team is contemplating cutting the player.

dblbogey's picture

There are often times a team would like to cut an underperforming player, but can't for financial reasons due to the contract. We can't cut Jimmy Graham because we'd have to pay him $11 million anyway. We couldn't cut Nick Perry until this year for the same reason. Contracts aren't always meaningless. As for Leveon Bell, he's just ignorant. He'll never recoup the $14 million he could have had by just shutting up and playing last year.

fastmoving's picture

100% agree!

fastmoving's picture

sorry doublepost…...100% should be enought

Handsback's picture

FMing... you're going to fast! NFL is a game of replacement, not sure if the next contract will help the players or not.

Bure9620's picture

I would be doing the same thing as would many on this blog. The guy is a RB with one year left. RBs take punishment. There is no way with the production Gordon has had I risk injury on what is essentially a 1 year deal and devalue myself. His agent is correct. It is way too much risk. I would sit out as oppose to play for the Chargers. Also, with where the Chargers are in negotiations, lt does not appear they really care if Gordon is around long term anyway. Le'Veon proved sitting out is a viable option, Gordon knows he would be signed.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

One thing is that the Gordon name is bigger than his production. 2018 was the first year his yards per carry didn't start with a 3. He is a pretty good receiving back, racking up 400 to 600 yards receiving each year, but that's good, not great. He does score TDs and the Chargers score a lot of points, but one must assess whether he is the cause of the success or the beneficiary of the team's success. I don't watch LAC enough to know. PFF gives Gordon a pass-catching grade of 60, which is low compared to Kamara's 89.

RB Austin Ekeler rushed 106 times for 554, a 5.2 yd average, and caught 39 of 53 passes (73.6%) for a 10.4-yard average and a very healthy 7.6 yds per target. Ekeler scored 6 TDs in this limited role. LAC has another RB who averaged 4 yds/carry and 9 yds per reception.

I don't think I'd give any RB a second contract except on a pay-as-you-go basis. The good Lord made many more 5'11", 205-pound men who can move than he did 300-pound linemen with good feet.

Sportrac suggests Gordon is worth $11.7M in one of their more dubious comparisons. I wouldn't even think about paying him that much.

Bure9620's picture

Frankly, I do not understand the Bahktiari comparison, Bahktiari is on a second contract and was one of the highest paid tackles when he signed it, he has been surpassed by some since due to the market. Melvin Gordon is on a rookie deal, his
option. We all know these guys are playing for their 2nd contracts, this is where their real earnings are.

Holecrap's picture

A lot of this has to do with the agents. Example, every agent knows what Rodgers is getting. Doing the math they can easily get a handle on how much is available for others. Thus, many FA`s pass on the pack interviews knowing the money they want isn't there.
Gordon and Bell clearly get it that they need to pressure for a new contract before the team has to shell out the big bucks on someone else. His agent knows who is on deck and how much of the pie is left. It's all business.

Ferrari Driver's picture

Walter Alston was the manager of the LA Dodgers for many years and operated on a one year contract. When offered a longer term deal, he said he was fine with his one year deals and thus remained the same. What does it infer, paid for performance. Alston was not a greedy man and was honorable as well as were the owners of the Dodgers. We may not find those types so plentiful in the NFL and it would be a nightmare to negotiate a contract for all players on an annual basis. Bottom line: worked for Walter Alston and the Dodgers but not feasible in the NFL.

Brian Ringwood's picture

your whole comment can be boiled down to 3 words......not greedy ...honorable

Since '61's picture

In my world contracts are everything. Failure to perform or meets the terms of our consulting contracts means we don’t get paid but more importantly the end of our reputation as a firm anyone wants to hire.

On the other side if a client fails to pay or meet their end of the deal word gets out quickly as well and no consulting firm will take on a contract with that company.

The problems with NFL players are the agents and the owners. Agents support their players to hold out and they know that an owner somewhere will pay for the player’s services, just as the Jets overpaid for LeVeon Bell.

It comes down to how much revenue does a player actually generate for their team. The Steelers didn’t believe that Bell was worth the price versus the revenue he generates for his team. The Jets who are somewhat desperate and compete with the NY Giants for fans were willing to pay the price.

The fact is RBs are a dime a dozen and there is no reason to overpay for the position. None of these guys are Gale Sayers after all. If not for the OL these guys are going nowhere.

While I support players getting all they can, I don’t believe that in this era of FA players under contract should hold out when they have FA to achieve their legitimate contract value. Thanks, Since ‘61

Rossonero's picture

Well said Since '61. I'm in a similar line of work. It also depends on how the contract was written. Lots of gamesmanship and negotiating involved.

The devil's in the details. What clauses are in the contract that benefit the team or the player? Are there any penalties or damages if one side breaches contract? I'm sure there's a Disputes clause in there somewhere.

When I hear nowadays, "so-and-so signed a 6 year contract," -- in any sport -- I usually shrug and say "Good for them, but between injuries, performance and cap hit, will they even stick around that long?" Probably not.

So I won't fault a player for trying to cash in when they know their shelf life is limited. Roger Goodell ($45+M per year if not more) and the owners make stupid amounts of money as it is and don't have any of the health risks these guys do.

flackcatcher's picture

I would add that players like Gordon have been giving the short end with the massive shift in rules favoring the pass. RB, LB, SS are positions that have been devalued, or if trends continue, wiped out in the pro game altogether. Not fair to them, but that money goes to positions that before the rule change were underpaid. Just like in life, value goes up and down depending on what a person brings to the organization, job, or society at large.

stockholder's picture

Contracts are made/ Signed in GOOD Faith. Some people just can't deal with whats good for everybody. They want more. It has the Look of insubordination to me. Negotiating with Greedy ass holes turns my stomach. I'm glad their not on the packers.

CheesyTex's picture

I don't understand why this is not addressed in the CBA.

It seems to me that players unwilling to live by contracts written under terms approved by the CBA should be protected by the CBA if they breach their contract -- i.e., if they will not live up to the contract, they should be booted from the Players Association and go it on their own. That way both sides, players and teams, would have a level playing field in future contract negotiations. Either join the union or go it on your own without the protections of the CBA -- "can't have your cake and eat it too".

For the reasons Since '61 and Rossonero say above, this issue makes the derriere tired.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

It is addressed in the CBA. The veterans voted to shaft rookies, and the owners were happy to go along. RBs get it the worst.

There is very little negotiating possible for rookies. The salary is slotted. The four-year term is mandated, and a 5th-year option for first rounders is required. The NFL is the only real employer, and the player is drafted and doesn't even have a say where he goes. That's all good for GB and make the Packers possible.

I have no respect for players who don't honor a second contract. The rookie deal is another matter.

Ryan B Dub's picture

Javon Walker
Mike McKenzie
(To qualify I am foggy if they just said they wanted out because they wanted to get paid or if they also tried the hold out...) The Packers haven’t been immune to guys being vocal, wanting more money... it’s nothing new. Totally agree one should operate with class and use your agent and the proper channels to negotiate. Perhaps a lot of this spans from a players mismanagement of their own income.

Rshero34's picture

It's his rookie deal so it was already structured for him limiting what he could negotiate. Players need to get what they can when they can before the teams use them up and toss them to the curb. This article is a terrible take

Qoojo's picture

Teams don't have to standby contracts at all, and can cut a player at any time before the end of the contract. NFL contracts have been a joke for years. It's a contract for the player, and toilet paper for the teams. The only thing holding teams to the contract is guaranteed money and signing bonuses which adversely affect the salary cap.

Also, RB has long been the shortest career span in football for many years now. They are battering rams, and they all deserve to get their fair compensation. Rookies pretty much have no leeway but to sign their rookie contract after getting drafted, and that includes the 5th year last chance cheap option for team.

So I have no issue with Gordon holding out. The clock is ticking on his career, and he needs to maximize his earnings while he can, as the NFL doesn't care about players once they are out of the game unless forced to via lawsuits.

flackcatcher's picture

What he says...........

Lare's picture

The article doesn't mention it, but Gordon would be making $5.6 million this season under his present contract. So the question is if he's willing & able to go without $330,000 per week this year in order to get another contract.

flackcatcher's picture

Giving his injury history, he be a fool not to report. RB has the shortest life span the league, and he needs to prove his durability if he wants to get even what he thinks he deserves.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Ah, $330K per the 17-week regular season. It is 107K per week over a year.

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