Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Non-Guaranteed Contracts & Saints Bounty Gate

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has vacated all suspensions in the Saints bounty case, while upholding the fines. In doing so, Tagliabue shifted most of the blame from the players to the Saints organization citing “broad organizational misconduct.”

An important question to ask is this: do what extent do non-guaranteed contracts encourage players to ignore their better judgement and comply with the direction of a coach?

Non-Guaranteed Deals

NFL players don’t have guaranteed contracts, which means they can be cut if they are under performing. While it may not seem reasonable or fair, this condition of employment was collectively bargained by the NFL and players, and as a result, that’s how things are for the players.

However, it is reasonable and fair to ask whether non-guaranteed contracts make events like the Saints Bounty program more likely. 

When you look at the surrounding circumstances, they are a contributing factor.

NFL Coaches Are Powerful

Perhaps more than any other sport, NFL players fear their coaches. NFL coaches often act as de facto general managers. They can cut or sit players if they are not performing as directed. Indeed, NFL coaches wield a lot of power. Players appreciate that coaches have the power to impair their careers, or worse, end them.

Tagliabue agreed, writing this in his decision:
NFL players on average have short careers; their careers can end suddenly through injury or declining skills; players want to be good, cohesive members of the team, or unit, not complainers or dissenters; and players accept that they work for coaches, in "programs" conceived by coaches. These are programs for which coordinators and assistant coaches are often specially selected and hired to execute. Here we have a classic example: Head Coach Payton hired Defensive Coordinator Williams with directions to make the Saints' defense "nasty."
In such circumstances, players may not have much choice but to "go along," to comply with coaching demands or directions that they may question or resent. They may know -- or believe -- that from the coaches' perspective, "it's my way or the highway." Coaching legends such as George Halas and Vince Lombardi are not glorified or remembered because they offered players "freedom of choice."
Average NFL Salary & Career Span

About half the NFL population makes about $500,000 or less, and the average playing career is somewhere around 3.5 years (depending on who you ask). Agreed – some NFL players are very well paid, like Brees, Manning and Rodgers. However, many players don’t play long and don’t make a lot of money, which can represent an added incentive to follow the direction of the coaches.

And don't forget, players can and are replaced in the NFL.

Socio-Economic Status

A number of players come from disadvantaged backgrounds and want to avoid a return to that life.

Take DE Anthony Hargrove, who was suspended 8 games for his role in the Saints Bounty program.

When Hargrove was 6 years old, the Brooklyn tenement where he lived with his mother and two of his four half-siblings burned down. He ended up living in homeless shelters and foster care homes until his mother died when he was 9 years old. Later, an aunt in Port Charlotte adopted him. In June 2011, Hargrove's older brother Terence Hargrove died after being stabbed numerous times in North Port Florida. Hargrove himself has suffered from drug addiction and spent a year in rehab.

Was the incentive there for Hargrove to follow orders and injure other players? We can’t know for sure since we can’t crawl into his head. However, you have to wonder if the threat of being cut or benched, together with all that comes with it, may have encouraged his compliance.

Background aside, many players may think twice about not following the game plan. Players who make it to the NFL want to stay there – irrespective of background or previous socio-economic status.

Ultimately, in light of a player’s limited earning potential and limited career length, non-guaranteed contracts may make players more likely to ignore their better judgement and comply with orders to injure other players.

Or at the very least, non-guaranteed contracts may create an environment where a player would seriously think about it.

No comments: