Marshall plan has precedent

Before getting to my opinion and similar experiences regarding the Brandon Marshall imbroglio, it’s worth noting that we are down to one unsigned rookie in football.

Andre Smith has agreed to terms with the Bengals, leaving Michael Crabtree as the last pick standing from the 2009 NFL Draft. I’ll have complete numbers on Smith soon, but it appears the Bengals have successfully disregarded the Raiders’ contract with Darrius Heyward-Bey immediately below Smith, the No. 6 pick, and used the Jaguars’ deal with another offensive lineman, Eugene Monroe, picked No. 8, as the most relevant comparable. As to reports that Smith’s deal is for four years, do not believe it for a minute. No team in the first round is going to pay the type of guaranteed money required and not tie up the player for at least one year of potential free agency. The option on Smith will be exercised in March. The Bengals would not commit $21 million in guaranteed money for a four-year contract.

As for Crabtree, my strong sense is that he and his agent, Eugene Parker, have a date in mind when they will close this deal and finally report. That date is in the next two weeks, probably Sept. 6, 7 or 8. Do not fret. Crabtree will sign. They all do. More on him later this week.

Baby Brandon

Brandon Marshall has become the latest test case in the NFL for players who engage in insubordinate and team-destructive behavior in their ongoing attempts to get out of their current situations. Marshall is the latest in a line of players who resort to conduct that’s detrimental to the team and their teammates, all orchestrated to become such a pain in the you-know-what that the team just wants to rid itself of the player/problem.

The most celebrated of these distractions were Keyshawn Johnson with the Buccaneers and Terrell Owens with the Eagles. In those cases, the coaches and front office literally paid the players to stay away, lest they infect the locker room any more than they already had with their petulance.

Packer Petulance

In Green Bay, I dealt with these situations a couple of different times with Mike McKenzie and Javon Walker. For reasons I still don’t completely understand, both players wanted out of Green Bay. Their initial problems were with their contracts, but there was much more to it than that – they felt disrespected by coaches, they felt uncomfortable with the social scene in Green Bay, they felt some animosity from teammates, etc. Simply, they wanted out.

As I said, both players claimed it was not about the money (which translates to “It’s all about the money”). In the case of McKenzie, he perceived racist comments about his dreadlocks. In the case of Walker, he felt that Brett Favre had betrayed him in criticizing his contract stance and had an ongoing rivalry/jealousy/competition on and off the field with Donald Driver. In both cases, these players were not the same people who came to Green Bay as high draft choices. Success had clearly changed them. Ultimately, they were dealt for second-round draft choices (who turned into Pro Bowlers Nick Collins and Greg Jennings).

The Marshall Plan

The game plan for players such as Marshall has been laid out repeatedly. Step One is a request to have the contract renegotiated to reflect the new marketplace, pointing to recent deals of players who the player thinks are inferior in talent. When rebuffed in those efforts, the player usually moves to Step Two: the trade demand. When the team expresses no interest in trading the player, it’s on to Step Three: express a rumble of discontent throughout the offseason and training camp, followed by a repeated request for the agent to be granted permission to seek a trade.

The goal of this behavior, usually orchestrated by the agent, is to try and create enough angst and worry among the front office and coaching staff that they feel like the best option is to try and get value for the player and move on. Marshall has taken the syllabus to another level – used by McKenzie in Green Bay and Owens in Philadelphia – in Step Four: not trying in practice, showing no respect for the game or his team and infecting young players in the locker room with negativity.

The Portis Principle

It’s ironic that the team involved is the Broncos. For those out there who do not like the tactics of one Drew Rosenhaus in his efforts to get players out of their current situations, this whole game plan began with a Bronco, Clinton Portis. Portis, who switched to Rosenhaus from his previous agent in hopes of getting out of Denver, hit the trifecta: he got out of Denver, got his wish with a trade to Washington and landed the biggest running back contract in the NFL -- all in the same transaction. Rosenhaus has traded on that experience in attracting many new clients, including McKenzie, Walker, Owens, Anquan Boldin, Lito Sheppard, Plaxico Burress and many others.

Tough Precedent

The Broncos were also the unfortunate losers in an arbitration involving former player Ashley Lelie, another player who wanted out and eventually got his wish. When the Broncos pursued arbitration to recover bonus money paid to Lelie after he refused to report to camp, they lost a landmark case that allows NFL players to keep option bonuses previously paid, a ruling that deemed those monies “earned,” unlike signing bonus money that has forfeiture provisions. The Lelie case has had dramatic ramifications in structuring contracts of top picks in the draft, including the deal for one of the Broncos’ two top picks this year, Robert Ayers.

And, of course, the Broncos dealt with a similar situation earlier this year with their quarterback, Jay Cutler. Cutler had an unpleasant introductory meeting with new coach Josh McDaniels and that relationship never recovered, leading to the trade of the year in the NFL.

Now the Broncos are dealing with this issue again. They have suspended Marshall and issued a warning of “escalating discipline” to come. Marshall will likely continue his bad behavior with the goal of a Portis/Cutler type of result. Meanwhile, the NFL Management Council is advising the Broncos’ front office to document, document and document some more, advising copious notes on every action or non-action by Marshall toward whatever discipline they want to impose.

The option of renegotiating Marshall’s contract has to be off the table now. It would not only set a terrible precedent in the Broncos’ locker room but also continue to enable Marshall and his questionable conduct. If Marshall – who barely has escaped a league suspension after two domestic violence incidents – has been a problem making lower wages, he will certainly not become a better citizen with money in the bank. Throwing money at this problem will not solve it.

A Common Problem

In talking to many people in NFL management, there’s a common theme that this is a problem that needs fixing -- soon. Agents and players are realizing there is little downside to this strategy. Marshall probably feels he can act out for a while during training camp and the per diem of less than $2,000 per week and eventually shape up to collect his $2.2-million s alary when the season starts. Or he can continue this formula and see if he actually gets traded and perhaps even a sparkling new contract. At this point, there are very limited financial consequences to Marshall for his childish behavior.

There will be a lot of focus on the economics of the coming collective bargaining negotiations between the NFL Players Association and the NFL in the coming months, specifically the percentage of football revenues shared with players, rookie salaries, etc. Beyond these matters, however, this Marshall issue of bad behavior to force a trade is something that will draw a lot of attention from the league.

Every team in the league has dealt with or is dealing with some form of this. If a team says otherwise, it is lying. This is a problem that’s getting worse, not better, and Marshall’s behavior is cause for concern for every team and league official. Something needs to be done here as it represents another important issue teed up for bargaining.

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