Thursday, August 19, 2010
Two Big Holdouts, One Big Similarity
Football is making its way back into the mix of our everyday lives, and with it comes the inevitable story of The Big Holdout. For years, training camp holdouts have been as much a part of August as two-a-days. Some holdouts can go down in history as blips on the radar screen and do nothing to derail the long-term success of the team and player (i.e. Emmitt Smith, 1993). Other holdouts can cripple a player's development and turn out to be little more than a supremely expensive punchline for the team (i.e. JaMarcus Russell, 2007). There seems to be one high-profile holdout each year that gets the lion's share of media attention and controversy. Last year it was Michael Crabtree holding the 49ers hostage until October, and this year it's Darrelle Revis all but telling the Jets to feel free to give out his #24 to someone else this year if he doesn't get every last dime.
So what's strikingly similar about these two scenarios? On the surface, nothing. Crabtree was a rookie wide receiver dealing with an NFC team on the west coast. Revis is a 4th-year cornerback dealing with an AFC team on the east coast. But both holdouts were essentially done as a reaction to a previous decision/contract struck by a totally uninvolved third party - the Oakland Raiders. Crabtree was widely thought to be the best receiver in the 2009 draft, yet Oakland infamously drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey #7 overall, dropping Crabtree down to San Francisco at #10. The ensuing holdout was based on the belief that Crabtree deserved to be paid as if he were taken higher than tenth, since he was clearly a better overall package at his position than Heyward-Bey (who has yet to show himself to be more than a track star in shoulder pads). Revis, who in 2009 staked his claim as the best corner in the game (a title that seems to change hands every 18 months, but we'll tackle that topic another day), grew envious of the fact that Oakland was paying Nnamdi Asomugha an average of $15 million a year. One thing has led to another, the rift between the Revis camp and Jets ownership has been allowed to fester for the entire off-season, and now the holdout has gotten bigger than Rex Ryan's mouth (and his gut).
It's very easy to mock the Raiders for throwing their money around the way they do, and to blame all these holdouts on them. I'm going to go in a different direction here. The Raiders are allowed to do whatever they want (within the rules, of course) in order to build a winning team. So what should they really care how the rest of the league is going to react to them making a questionable high draft pick or giving a cornerback (albeit their best player) the kind of money that HOF-bound quarterbacks make? Neither the Jets, nor the 49ers, nor any of the other 29 teams are the Raiders' problem. The problem is the copycat nature of the NFL. On the field and off of it, teams are constantly basing how they do things off of how everyone else does them. If one team wins with the Cover Two, the Wildcat, or the two-back system, then the whole league has their own version of it within a month. If you're a high draft pick, your contract does not get done until the deal of someone drafted in a slot close to yours is signed, thus giving your agent and your team something "to use as a guideline." Same thing goes if you're a free agent - whatever your deal is, it's going to be based off of whatever a player of similar caliber received recently.
It's probably asking too much, but what I want is for people to stop being so obsessed with using the whole rest of the league as a measuring stick. I know it's just natural competitiveness and a desire to earn what you are supposedly worth, but to me the whole NFL in recent years has begun to take on the form of 1980s yuppies comparing business cards. Whatever happened to having your own idea of what constitutes a legitimate salary, and not being preoccupied with the goings-on of all the other teams? I know it's probably a lost ideal of long-ago, but a man can dream can't he?