There’s a bit of trouble in paradise (if you consider Florham Park, New Jersey paradise). The Jets flow of positive vibes this offseason – beating out the Vikings for LaDanian Tomlinson, trading for Santonio Holmes and the, uh, productive Antonio Cromartie, signing Jason Taylor and having their stadium selected as a Super Bowl site – came to a halt yesterday as two or the team’s core players voiced some rumbles of discontent. Along with the inevitable contract gripes of this time of year -- “me time” as I call it -- there appears a hint of distrust of the front office, something more worrisome.
Player discontent – some of it fueled by the unique rules associated with the uncapped 2010 – is a growing epidemic around the league (Reggie Wayne of the Colts is the latest), a subject I will address in detail next week. Every team faces it; if a team says all its players are happy, it is lying. I dealt with it annually in Green Bay and last year in Philadelphia; now Mike Tannenbaum, experienced in contract management and player discontent (we have talked about it often) has it front and center.
Nick Mangold is present for the team workouts, yet put the front office on notice that his situation is fluid depending on the temperature of the now-frigid negotiations between his agents and the team.
Darelle Revis has advanced the displeasure by skipping these workouts and may ratchet the stakes further training camp approaches.
Jets coach and spokesman Rex Ryan is saying all the right things, how this camp is voluntary (I wonder if he feels it is voluntary for all players?), no need for worry, etc.
At some point, Ryan is going to be in the awkward and sensitive position of both supporting his players and also aligning with management, a difficult position that a experienced coaches – Jeff Fisher, Andy Reid to name a couple – handle well. This is where we may see less bravado from Ryan.
The difficult conversation
There has been much in the air about contractual promises made that went unfulfilled, with now-former players such as Leon Washington, Pete Kendall, Chris Baker and Laveranues Coles.
Having been there, I empathize. Players hear what they want to hear and sometimes the memory of conversations is selective. I learned the hard way that there was no substitute for open and honest communication. The hardest part of player-management relations, in an environment where both sides work in the same building, is having difficult conversations.
It is easier and less stressful to tell players and agents broad statements about “taking care of you”, working out a deal favorable to both sides, etc. At some point, however, the difficult conversation has to happen.
The Raiders distorted the cornerback market in 2009 with the stunning three-year $45.3 million contract fully guaranteed contract for Nnamdi Asomugha. The Jets probably responded negatively to Revis’s agents’ using that deal as a guide, and that reaction – along with feelings that he’s been painted as greedy -- has caused Revis’s retort, as true positions have been revealed after the preliminaries.
Hiding behind 30% Rule
With Mangold and Revis, the Jets have the comfort of a rule in place due to the uncapped system, the 30% rule, explained here. Just as the Titans are doing with Chris Johnson, the Eagles with DeSean Jackson, the 30% rule prevents teams from providing top-of-market contracts for top young players without 80% or more of the deal in signing bonus, a structure untenable for teams. Agents understand that.
A game-changer, however, may have been the deal between Patrick Willis and the 49ers. Although Willis, with an escalated salary, had a bigger number to jump off of than that of Revis or Mangold (or Johnson, Jackson), the 49ers gave Willis a second bonus, a “supersede” bonus next year not subject to the 30% rule.
When the 49ers-Willis-deal surfaced, there was irritation around the league. I was even told that the 49ers received a call from the NFL wondering the reasons behind taking that unprecedented step.
Was their second superseding bonus a clever way to structure around the rule or circumvention of the rule? That is a matter of interpretation, but it is not a structure that other teams want to follow, despite a road map laid out for teams like the Jets to follow with players like Revis and Mangold.
So the low rumbles of discontent begin with the seemingly happy Jets begin. As if scripted for an upcoming episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks, stay tuned.
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