Tim Benz: NFL contract issues aren’t just for the Steelers anymore
I was in Ireland recently.
At a pub.
I walked up to get a beer. An Irish guy was conversing with two Americans about sports.
One of the Americans seemed to be talking about the differences between U.S. sports with and without salary caps, as opposed to transfer rules for European soccer.
Here’s the last thing I heard one of the guys say before ordering my drink.
“Why do you Americans make everything so complicated?” he asked.
By that point, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t just talking about sports.
Whether he was or wasn’t, he had a point.
I don’t think the two Americans had even gotten close to introducing the concept of the franchise tag into the conversation yet, either.
At this time last year, those of us in Pittsburgh were eyeballs deep in that concept because of Le’Veon Bell’s complicated contract status.
Bell ended up staying away from the Steelers — and football entirely — for the 2018 season, and the Steelers were left with a $14.5 million empty roster spot.
Why? Well, because Bell could get away with doing that, I guess.
We all know how that turned out.
A few months later, receiver Antonio Brown forced himself out of a valid contract and into a trade that pushed him out to Oakland.
And into a big contract extension.
Why? Again, because he could.
Those things happened because the NFL collective bargaining agreement is complicated enough that it cedes just enough power to the players to muddle the control teams should have over those who are under valid contracts.
In other words, the Irish guy at the bar was right.
The popular thing to do on Twitter — and in most media outlets — these days is to take the side of the players on matters such as this.
It’s very progressive and forward thinking to portray multimillionaire athletes as downtrodden working-class citizens who are painfully mistreated by their draconian owners.
That’s stupid. But it’s what social media causes, nonetheless.
The cliche move of the day is to let the NFL players cry over a collective bargaining agreement their own union signed. Then praise them for manipulating the rules of that same CBA.
Ignoring that inconvenient reality is easy to do because NFL owners are largely the billionaire products of rich, white privilege so … whatever. Screw ‘em, right?
Any opinion against the controlling class gets you lots of likes and retweets. So let’s all rage against the machine, n’at.
But the truth remains that Brown weaseled himself out of a valid contract. And Bell went back on his stated intent to report under the franchise tag as he did in 2017.
At least Bell and Brown played through that barrier.
When the Steelers were going through contract drama with those two stars, I wrote a column stating that the NFL needed to change its collective bargaining agreement when the deal expires in 2020 because too many other players were going to follow their example.
I was excoriated for that online because the forward-thinking Twitter elite said it was silly of me to suggest the NFL players had too much power in a system that could cut them from valid contracts.
Is that true for the rank and file? Sure. But young stars sure seem to be manipulating the intent of the agreement lately, don’t they?
I was repeatedly told after writing that column that the Steelers were specifically to blame for their state of affairs, not the players whose actions precipitated those issues in the first place. I was told this was a Pittsburgh Steelers problem, not an NFL problem.
Guess not. Unless Gordon and Elliott came to Pittsburgh while I was in Ireland and I missed that memo.
I reiterate now, what I have said before. Per the advice of our Irish friend, the NFL needs to go to a simpler, more restrictive salary cap akin to what we see in the NHL.
Sorry, pal, hockey is a more tangible comp for me than European soccer.
But his point is right. Simple is better. A deal for the player should be a deal for the player.
And the team.
You shouldn’t be able to cut him. And he shouldn’t be able to renegotiate — aside from an extension a year out from the contract’s conclusion.
If contract simplification doesn’t happen in the next NFL CBA, what Brown and Bell did will just be the tip of the iceberg.
The recent threats by Elliott and Gordon are proof of that.