Friday, February 24, 2012

4 comments Howard Bryant Hates the Franchise Tag

Howard Bryant doesn't like the franchise tag the NFL allows team to use in order to keep restricted or unrestricted players under contract for one more year. He thinks NFL free agency should be adjusted to not allow teams to franchise players and NFL players deserve full free agency if they don't want to play for a certain team. Specifically, Bryant thinks DeSean Jackson deserves the right to leave the Eagles if he doesn't want to play for them. Jackson is being "forced" to get the franchise tag at $10 million this year...assuming the Eagles choose to franchise Jackson. Bryant thinks this gives teams too much power and he commits several violations of wrongness on the way to making his point.

He was the public scapegoat for a dream season gone horribly bad, so the smart money might've been on the Philadelphia Eagles letting DeSean Jackson go. They could've just let him become a free agent, let him start a new life as a football player.

It sounds mean, and this comment may only serve to prove the point Howard Bryant believes he has, but why would the Eagles let Jackson become a free agent when they could franchise him or try to trade him? The Eagles know what Jackson is capable of, so why would they let him go in free agency and not try everything they can to keep him?

The organization gave big-money contracts to Michael Vick, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Vince Young and Nnamdi Asomugha, but they ignored Jackson -- ostensibly because the club had reservations about his character and behavior. Jackson responded by holding out of training camp.

Reservations proven.

Then he missed meetings and supposedly wasn't giving maximum effort, supposedly was one of the reasons the Eagles didn't live up to their preseason marquee billing.

I would say if the Eagles best receiver is missing meetings and not giving maximum effort he probably is a part of the reason the Eagles underachieved during the year. That and the fact the Eagles probably could have used better linebackers.

But this being the NFL, the Eagles get to have it both ways.

This is very short-sighted analysis when making this comment. Didn't DeSean Jackson want it both ways also? He wanted a multiyear contract, but didn't want to prove to the Eagles he was worth a multiyear contract.

They don't have to think enough of Jackson to commit to him with a multiyear contract, while at the same time they think too much of him to allow him to leave town.

Just like Jackson wants a multiyear contract, but he doesn't want to show the Eagles he is worth investing a mulityear contract in his skill set. There is a reason fans joke about a player having a "contract year." This is because a player gets all of his shit together and tries extra hard for one year to prove he deserves a contract extension. If a player can't even get his shit together and try hard for one more year to earn a contract extension, shouldn't this give the team pause about guaranteeing him $20-$30 million in a contract extension?

Jackson will receive big money, probably about $10 million for the 2012 season. As a franchise player, he'll be one of the highest-paid receivers in football.

What a horrible state for DeSean Jackson to be in. He essentially gets to play his contract year all over again and possibly increase his value on the open market next year. Jackson gets a do-over while making $10 million for playing football. Yeah, he wants a multiyear extension, but he will only be 26 years old when he hits the free agent market. That's not old and maybe by then he will have answered some of the questions about his maturity.

But the lack of an opportunity for him to be an unrestricted free agent is exactly what the players should have been fighting against during last year's lockout. Unrestricted free agency should have been the line in the sand for them then, and they should still be after it like the holy grail now.

I wonder if Howard Bryant was saying this during the lockout or he just conveniently forgot about this line in the sand he believes the player's union should have drawn in the sand? Let's look at Bryant's archive. I can't seem to find any article he wrote while discussing this line in the sand the union should have drawn. For an issue Bryant considers to be so important now, he certainly didn't mention it very much (or at all) during the lockout.

Outside of the military, it is difficult to think of an industry other than professional football in which an individual is not afforded the right, after some reasonable amount of time, to change jobs within his or her given field.

It is also difficult to think of another profession where a person can work for one year and earn as much as the top five other professional individuals in the same position. Most jobs don't offer large raises like this for one year's work.

Being able to choose a place to live and work is a simple American concept -- this isn't Cuba ... except in the NFL.

Employees in "the real world" can also be subject to working with a restrictive covenant such as a non-compete agreement to where they can't work in their field of choice for a given amount of time. Also, Americans can't simply choose where they want to live and work, they are subject to budgetary restrictions. This simple American concept isn't like the NFL where a player like Jackson can almost choose with which team he would like to sign. So the simple American concept of choosing a place to live and work doesn't necessarily apply to all Americans due to budgetary restrictions. Maybe I'm being argumentative, but what Jackson lacks in choosing where he works, he makes up for with fewer budgetary restrictions.

The lack of freedom and power on the part of the players is, of course, the fault of the players themselves and their leaders who came before them.

Of course, that's why Howard Bryant is framing this as an NFL problem where the owners are too greedy to give this to the players. Naturally, because the players can't/won't negotiate complete unrestricted free agency the owners are the bad guys for just not handing it to the players.

The players have been too short-sighted to envision a world of unrestricted free agency, or have been too afraid to take on the owners, or have been too selfish to see the world in a larger context.

But again, the owners are bad for not ruining any future bargaining position by simply handing complete unrestricted free agent to the players.

Baseball owners responded with anger, frustration and collusion, of course, but they've never rolled back free agency. And look at baseball now: a different World Series winner every year, $200 million players and nearly $100 million in average payrolls -- and guaranteed contracts.

As a fan, I am pretty torn about this. Baseball does have guaranteed contracts, which can prevent small market teams from taking on the burden of signing top tier free agents because that player could take up a good portion of the payroll for the next 5-6 years. Some baseball teams spend a lot of money on players and other teams don't spend much money on players. The infield for some baseball teams make more than another team's entire roster. Some teams have no chance of re-signing their best players who aren't willing to either take a hometown discount or sign an extension early in their career to take away their arbitration years. Baseball's economic structure probably isn't terrible, but it isn't the greatest success either.

The NFL also has a different Super Bowl winner every year and teams can turn around their entire fortunes in one year. So it isn't like the NFL doesn't have close to the parity baseball has with non-guaranteed contracts. There is also a salary cap in football so teams won't have a $200 million payroll regardless of how free agency is given to players. The existence of a salary cap is another difference from baseball that works for the NFL. I don't know if the NFL needs to be more like MLB in payroll structure.

In major league baseball, free agency boosts the game and the individual players.

In the NFL, free agency boosts the game and the individual players. The NFL has had free agency boost competition around the league and individual players who have deserved large contracts have gotten the large contracts. I don't see the franchise tag as being this all-encompassing evil that Howard Bryant does.

It just doesn't make sense for a team to spend a good portion of their salary cap room on a player who doesn't want to be there for 2-3 seasons. It isn't as if keeping Jackson on the roster for one more year at $10 million is probably going to happen every year going forward. So Jackson should have a great year, up his free agency value and enjoy being paid $10 million to do it. Then after this upcoming season Jackson will either be a free agent or get paid by the Eagles.

Basketball players, too, fought for free agency; and while they had to wade through restrictive free agency in the form of matching offer sheets, they eventually won their freedoms.

And we all know what a rousing success NBA free agency has been with the combination of guaranteed contracts and idiot owners handing out these contracts.

But football players, who are the engine driving the train of the most lucrative, popular sport in America, still can't choose where they play.

Yes, they can. Players can usually choose where they play unless they are tagged with the franchise tag, which would mean they will make as much as the top players at their position for that one year. The very next year these players often become unrestricted free agents if they don't sign with their current team during the season.

The predictable response in support of the NFL's rules is to frame an argument around money, and the conventional wisdom that the fans just want players to shut up and play.

No. The conventional wisdom says NFL players many times are able to reach free agency and choose where they want to go. The exception are the players who are given the franchise tag. Generally players who are franchised tagged either (a) don't mind the tag or (b) are tagged until a long-term deal can be reached. There is maybe one player every year who gets tagged, doesn't want to be tagged, and doesn't want to play for that team anymore. This isn't a huge issue.

This is a thin and specious contention at best, and plain stupid at worst. Money cannot patch everything.

Boy, you really bitch-slapped down the fake argument you just created and stated the opposing side of this issue believed. Also notice how Howard Bryant's entire argument revolves around money...yet he says the opposing side is over-fixated with the money issue.

That the NFL is willing to compensate a player at such a high rate is indicative of how much the league fears the power of the player to have unrestricted free agency, and how much it understands the true value of real free agency --

Howard Bryant is complaining the franchise tag is unfair to players, but he is also arguing the large amount of money players who have been franchised make is also a negative. It's just financial proof of how much the owners know they are screwing players over for a benefit they haven't fought to receive. You have to work hard to paint $10 million for one year as a bad deal for a player. The NFL does understand how valuable free agency can be to a team, so they compensate the player for receiving the franchise tag, but I don't see this as further proof of the owner's greed.

The league is happy to let Jackson be paid an enormous amount for one season because it knows his franchise-tag salary will be just a fraction of what he could command on the open market.

Maybe in terms of a long-term contract, which Jackson will probably receive next year one way or another, the guaranteed money is larger. In terms of getting paid for 2012 I am not sure Jackson could make $10 million in 2012 on the open market. Howard Bryant himself said Jackson seems to have personality problems and is coming off a bad year (for him). It actually makes sense for Jackson personally to get franchised and have an incredible year to raise his stock in the eyes of other teams for next season. Making $10 million for a year's worth of work and getting to possibly increase your value on the free agent market isn't a bad deal.

The Patriots' Brady, who has been a starter for 11 years and has played in the Super Bowl five times, has never been an unrestricted free agent. Neither has Peyton Manning nor Drew Brees.

Drew Brees is a free agent right now. Like in a few weeks he will be a free agent. He was also an unrestricted free agent in 2006. So that's twice Brees has been a free agent. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady haven't ever been free agents because they (a) haven't wanted to be free agents at this point and (b) were given huge contracts by their current team.

Using an example of two quarterbacks who didn't want to leave their current teams and a player who has been a free agent once, and perhaps twice, isn't very persuasive.

Brees' contract has expired. Chicago running back Matt Forte's contract is up, too. But the Saints and the Bears can use the franchise tag to keep those players from the open market.

Here is the big question for Howard either of these players want to leave their teams to become free agents or do they just want to be paid? I will submit Brees doesn't want to leave New Orleans and Forte just wants to get paid. I will grant the franchise tag is holding Forte back, but earning $8 million this season probably isn't the worst worst-case scenario for an athlete when it comes to wanting a new contract. Yes, Forte wants a long-term deal, but $8 million isn't a bad consolation prize and he will be 27 years old after the 2012 season is over. Supposedly the Bears are working on a long-term deal with Forte, so it makes sense to franchise tag him, especially if Forte wants to still play in Chicago.

In effect, teams rarely lose control over their best players.

Because they usually end up giving them large contracts.

Manning is owed $28 million by the Colts, who can opt not to pay it and allow him to become an unrestricted free agent; but the critical element is that the option belongs to the club.

This was part of the contract Manning and his agent negotiated. How the hell can Howard Bryant use a negotiated part of a contract as proof the franchise tag is evil? This has nothing to do with the franchise tag, but is a club option the Colts and Manning negotiated into his contract extension last year. This is Bryant trying to mislead readers by bringing up bilateral agreements as if they were unilateral agreements used by the NFL team to keep the player down.

Manning cannot choose to reject it and test the market. If he becomes a free agent, it will be the Colts' decision. Not his.

As negotiated by Peyton Manning. Also, Manning will either be an unrestricted free agent or make $28 million. There isn't a bad part in this deal.

The players have no one but themselves to blame.

But it is more fun to blame the owners.

During the lockout, the league was shrewd enough to structure its public commentary around money (there was a $9 billion pie that needed to be divided), when two real issues -- eliminating the franchise tag and curbing commissioner Roger Goodell's power -- were nearly as important.

Funny how Howard Bryant didn't mention these two important issues in print at the time of the lockout.

The only players who become unrestricted free agents are the ones whose teams no longer want them. (See: Moss, Randy; or Owens, Terrell. And perhaps quite soon, a damaged Peyton Manning.)

That is pure bullshit. Here is a list of 2012 NFL free agents. Granted, some of them will be hit with the franchise tag, but there is still talent in this list.

Last offseason the following players were free agents and were not franchised:

Matt Hasselbeck
DeAngelo Williams
Darren Sproles
Vonta Leach
James Jones
Sidney Rice
Santonio Holmes
Kevin Boss
Brian Waters
Ray Edwards
Charles Johnson
Nnamdi Asomugha
Jonathan Joseph
David Akers
Quintin Mikell

In 2010, Julius Peppers, Karlos Dansby, and Dunta Robinson all hit free agency AFTER they had previously gotten the franchise tag and still received long-term deals. It is true most teams keep their best players by either re-signing them or giving them the franchise tag and then re-signing them. Most of these situations aren't applicable to DeSean Jackson's situation in that these players don't mind being franchised and usually those that want to leave their current team are able to do so.

the owners must be aware of just how morally illegitimate it is to run a league that does not allow players the freedom to change teams.

Players are allowed the freedom to change teams. Some players get the franchise tag until a long-term deal can be worked out. Here is a list of players who have been franchised since 2008.

If you notice, nearly all of these players have two things in common.

1. They are currently still with the team they were franchised by.

2. They did reach free agency the year after they were tagged and weren't tagged two years in a row.

Karlos Dansby is an exception. He got franchised two years in a row, then signed a large contract with the Dolphins.

Terrell Suggs is another exception. He got franchised twice and then signed a long-term deal with the Ravens...the same team that franchised him twice.

Jeff Reed is the last exception. He was franchised two years in a row and then released because he wasn't playing well...and in general seems like kind of a douchebag.

So the franchise tag is used as a way to keep a player around, but I don't believe it is used often as a way to restrict a player from leaving his current team over the long-term or as a way to prevent a player from ever hitting free agency to receive a long-term deal.

But no convincing argument can be made that pro football will collapse if, say, Aaron Rodgers is given the option to test the open market after five years with his current club.

No convincing argument can be made the NFL will collapse if DeSean Jackson gets franchised this year. His situation isn't representative of most players who get franchised. If Howard Bryant wants to use a good example of a team refusing to pay a player and possibly franchising him to decrease his value, it is the Bears with Matt Forte. Running backs have a limited shelf life and Forte is 26 years old. It is probably in his best interests to be a free agent. I'm not sure it is in DeSean Jackson's best interest to be a free agent if he can get paid $10 million and possibly increase his free agent value after a great 2012 season.

The Jackson case should be the latest example for the players of how football is an unpalatable business for them. They run the risk of career-threatening, even life-threatening, injury. Yet they have little financial certainty and a minimal amount of freedom.

I'm sorry, I'm not buying a guy who is going to be paid $10 million this year has little financial certainty. Howard Bryant just said the opposition (me) frames their argument around money, which is ironic since Bryant is framing his entire argument around money.

They are subject to a disciplinary system in which their appeals are heard by the same person -- Goodell -- who levies the original penalties. And after their careers are over, far too many of them die early, evidenced again this week by the death of former star wideout Freddie Solomon, who was only 59 years old.

So more guaranteed money and becoming a free agent will make all of this worth it? So much for the opposition being the only ones to frame their argument in terms of money. Money seems to be Howard Bryant's only argument.

But compared to the other three major sports leagues in this country, professional football certainly isn't that great to play.

It's a shame we are forcing these NFL athletes to play football at gunpoint. It seems like many NFL athletes aren't worried about the safety issues in their sport nor are they overly concerned about completely unrestricted free agency. If the franchise tag was such a huge issue, why didn't the player's union fight to get rid of it during the lockout?


rich said...

Outside of the military, it is difficult to think of an industry other than professional football in which an individual is not afforded the right, after some reasonable amount of time, to change jobs within his or her given field.

No one is denying him the right to play football, he can go play in the CFL or the arena leagues. He just can't play in the NFL. Same field, different employer, nothing unheard of.

after some reasonable amount of time, to change jobs within his or her given field.

Eventually a team has to come to terms with the fact that franchising a player every year is expensive. So the player will be let go, traded or given their extension because it's more economical for the team.

Maybe I'm being argumentative, but what Jackson lacks in choosing where he works, he makes up for with fewer budgetary restrictions.

We're talking about a job that lasts six months. A lot of players don't live where they play, so Bryant's "live wherever he wants" argument is hilariously unconvincing.

Then you add in that Bryant just said that the problem with Jackson (and most NFL holdouts) is the desire for a long term contract and I have this question:

If Jackson wants a long term contract from the Eagles, then how is the franchise tag keeping Jackson from working where he wants to?

while they had to wade through restrictive free agency in the form of matching offer sheets, they eventually won their freedoms.

Bryant clearly doesn't follow baseball or he'd know that they still have a form of restrictive free agency called arbitration, which typically screws the player over, just ask Lincecum and his two Cy Young awards why he wasn't able to get CC Sabathia money.

But football players, who are the engine driving the train of the most lucrative, popular sport in America, still can't choose where they play.

So is Howard Bryant also against the NFL draft? I mean, they should be allowed to choose their team!

The Patriots' Brady, who has been a starter for 11 years and has played in the Super Bowl five times, has never been an unrestricted free agent. Neither has Peyton Manning nor Drew Brees.

This is the best he can do? Brady and Manning were always signed to lucrative extensions because they showed up, played their asses off and stayed quite.

Brees became a Saint because the Chargers had Rivers and was coming off a career threatening injury.

Desean Jackson bitched and moaned for the past two years, skipped meetings and basically acted like a complete asshole. Shocking a team wouldn't be ready to keep him around long term.

The only players who become unrestricted free agents are the ones whose teams no longer want them.

Here's the problem with this:

There is precedent in the NFL that a player can demand that a clause be put in his contract that if he is franchised this year, that he cannot be franchised the next year.

the owners must be aware of just how morally illegitimate it is to run a league that does not allow players the freedom to change teams.

Or the owners must be aware of what's happening to the NBA where players are allowed to do this shit and there are like four teams that just kill everyone.

A team being able to keep a star player is good for the team and is good for the player in that it typically leads to a long term contract and pays him on par with one of the best at his position.

They run the risk of career-threatening, even life-threatening, injury. Yet they have little financial certainty and a minimal amount of freedom.

The fuck? How is 10M+ this year not financial certainty?

Again, if this is the biggest problem Bryant has, then the franchise tag is nothing compared to the NFL draft, which he hasn't said anything about.

Anonymous said...

Desean Jackson, meet Antonio Bryant.

Justin Zeth said...

Goodell doesn't hear suspension appeals. Art Shell and some other guy do. Granted they almost never overturn or shorten suspensions so it works out the same.

So with that and Brees that's at least two blatant factual errors in this column. ESPN's editorial and fact-checking staff get more embarrassing by the day.

This is a really horrendously bad column for a million different reasons, and almost every paragraph suggests Howard Bryant doesn't have a clue how sports as a business works. Especially when he gets to ranting about baseball and basketball.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, that is a good point about Jackson not having to live in Philly.

I think you get to the heart of the matter when saying if Jackson wants a LT deal from the Eagles, then his freedom isn't really being compromised. He doesn't want to leave, so he is just getting paid more with the opportunity to be a FA after this year.

Another good point about arbitration and offer sheets for baseball players. A baseball player can get drafted out of college at 22, make the majors at 24 and not become a FA until 30 years old. That doesn't generally happen in the NFL.

$10 million is financial certainty. What I find to be interesting is Jackson's value probably isn't at its peak right now. If he has a monster 2012 season he could make more on the FA market simply by waiting one more year.

Justin, naturally I agree. I thought the idea Brees, Brady, and Manning were put down as players who weren't ever able to hit FA was unconvincing simply b/c they signed huge contract Brees has been a RFA already in his career.