Sunday, April 13, 2014

What the Market Will Bear Is Sometimes Hard to Bear

It is oddly funny and at the same time sad when an aging  football player who was making say $4 Mil. a year last year walks away from a new contract that would have paid him $2 Mil. in his last season or two in the league Some players in this situation, when asked about, snarl that "it's business"--suggesting that they play from a pure athlete's standpoint, but the team managers see things in dollars and cents.  These players ignore the fact that they and their agents are looking at dollars and cents as well.  Under a kind of take the money and run approach, a veteran player may  walk out of town for some extra money and he may end up playing one more year only to retire on a strange team in a new city.  Right at the end of his career, he's got a beef with his old team and he has ruffled a few fans' feathers by leaving.  And then at some point, he wonders whether he made a mistake on many levels.

On the other hand, the player could end up some place else and play several more years at a high level at a much higher rate of pay.

Of course, in many cases, an older player who still has some juice can get a better price out of town.  There are a lot of teams that can bid on a free agent--it's an auction.  Sometimes it's more difficult for the home team to hold on.  Even if the team's personnel decision-makers say they don't pay any attention to the press, their home town player may have been roasted pretty bad in the press for a few years on his fading skills. Do they pay the seemingly fading guy his asking price, or are they better off using the money elsewhere.  If they bring someone new in and he fails, he might get lost in obscurity as a player that just didn't make the grade.  But if the team keeps a guy who doesn't perform, the criticism is likely to be much more intense because it's been building for years.  Sometimes the team pays the fading star a premium price, he has a sub-par year and comes back looking for the same deal.  At some point, players retire--either "at home" or away.  That's really the business side of the deal as much as anything. But in a high stakes game like professional football, a graceful exit can be difficult to accomplish for either side.

If the team is not looking ahead, the team managers will find themselves falling behind in the very competitive National Football League.  On the other hand, even players who have made great sums of money may not see retirement coming. Some players can lose their skills very quickly.  In today's economy, there are stories in the press about athletes losing money selling real estate that they bought before the recent recession.  Even players who are good with money can run into problems with the economy like ours that has a long bad run. Some like to criticize professional athletes who run into financial problems, but financial problems are financial problems for everyone.  

Not all football players are dealt with on equal terms.  As insane as it may sound, it seems to me a few million here or there does not matter on a super star salary.    If you are a team with a franchise quarterback and you get outbid by two million and your star walks, it's going to be painful with fans, players and the press. On the other hand, with most of the other guys on the team, management must work with far less money--it can't gamble a couple million on each player--even if those players are veterans who have been great players.

Injuries may occur more often in the later stages of players' careers and they may play fewer games each year.  As fans, we can hardly imagine what it must be like for a veteran going through a painful and ambitious rehab to get a call from his agent telling him that his old team wants to sign him for half of what he made in the last year of his contract.  At the same time, new draft choices come in signing big contracts without proving their pro performance in a single game.  It's got to  be aggravating from both sides. But maybe what is roughly called a business, is pretty much how  life works. 

Whether you think of professional football as a business or not, it is a tough "business" that comes down to dollars and sense.

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