Time to take on the Josh Cribbs contract situation through some Q&A:
Another selfish athlete who just can't seem to live on a million bucks a year. Don't we deserve to be outraged?!
Well, you can be outraged if you'd like but don't be mad at Cribbs. Think about this: He may make $1 million a year but he's an NFL kick and punt returner who also serves as a special-teams gunner on the kick coverage teams. Basically, aside from kamikaze pilot, he's got about the most dangerous and physically destructive job you can think of. He'll turn 26 next month which means he has maybe three or four more good years left in him. Basically, the money he makes over the next few years is going to have to last him for about the next 50. Yes, I understand he has a Kent State degree but without sounding too . . . I don't know, condescending, I have my doubts about Cribbs' ability to add substantially to his fortune in any post-football business endeavors (unless of course one of the major networks decides to syndicate "Josh's Cribbs," which is highly likely). So, while you may bitch about your 40k a year, remember that you can probably continue to earn that for the rest of your life. Cribbs, on the other hand, has to make bank now or deal with the very real possibility that the money is going to run out some day. $1 million a year is a lot of money but when you can only make it for a few years and then you have to live on it and support your family on it for decades, it isn't quite as much as it seems.
But Cribbs willfully signed his contract! Nobody forced him to sign for six years!
A fair point, and in any other sport, that would be the end of the argument. In football, however, it isn't quite that simple. For the most part, football deals are what the law calls "illusory" contracts. They contain virtually no mutuality of obligation. Most NFL players, aside from the select few that get gobs in signing bonuses and guaranteed money, are at-will employees. The franchises, on the other hand, can control players' rights for years without really promising anything other than a set salary contingent upon the individual team's desire to have the particular player on the roster for that year. It's a very one-sided way of negotiating which is why you don't see it in the other major sports.
So then we should feel bad for Cribbs for being forced to sign this contract of adhesion?
Nope. NFL players have nobody to blame but themselves for being stuck in situations like this. If they don't like the way the current system works, then they need to get a better union. Everything that happens to a player like Cribbs is a product of the collective bargaining efforts of the NFL Players Union. Unfortunately for Cribbs and many others like him, the NFLPA is by far the worst union of any of the three major professional sports. That's why even though football players subject themselves to the most occupational danger, they're the only ones without guaranteed contracts. It's also why rookies make 100x more than valuable veterans and aging players don't have adequate health coverage or decent pensions. For years, the Union was run by guys like Gene Upshaw, who cared more about backroom handshake agreements with player-agents than about protecting the interests of the players who really make the game special. If NFL players don't like their current predicament . . . if they're tired of a system that pays Matthew Stafford about $41 million more in guaranteed money than a pro-bowl player like Josh Cribbs, then they need to get off of their asses and elect better Union leadership.
Ok, I get it: The NFLPA is horrible. But with that aside, didn't Randy Lerner promise Cribbs more money?
Who knows, but it certainly sounds like a very convenient thing to say when you're trying to get gain the public's support to put pressure on the owner. Randy Lerner throws around millions of dollar on free agents every year without even batting an eye. He knows he's already on thin ice with the fans and media in Cleveland so do you really think that now of all times, he would decide to renege on a promise to one of his best and most liked players for the sake of saving a little cash? It's not out of the question but I highly doubt it. And I also doubt that Mangini and Kokinis showed up and told Lerner not to pay the man. Again, it's not out of the question but it certainly sounds farfetched.
So what should the Browns do to resolve the situation?
Well, there are two competing forces that deserve consideration here. Force 1 - Leverage: Simply put, the Browns have all of it. As stated, the clock is ticking on Cribbs as a valuable NFL player. Once his speed goes or his body starts to break down, it's over. He can't afford to sit on the sideline all year and miss 16 game checks. What's more, unlike a player on the cusp of free agency, he can't just hold out for 10 games and then play the last six to get credit for the year. Basically, he's stuck. The Browns hold all of the cards. Now, I know some of you are probably thinking, "Well sure, the Browns can turn this into a standoff but then they'll risk being without one of their best and most popular players." I understand this argument, but unfortunately, it doesn't really matter. The Browns are going to be bad with Cribbs or worse without him. What exactly are they risking by having him hold out? Going 5-11 as opposed to 6-10? It's not exactly like we're gearing up for a Super Bowl run this year. As for Cribbs' popularity with the fan base, if you haven't figured it out by now, Randy Lerner could go around taking dumps on the front stoops of the homes of every single Browns fan and it wouldn't deter them from spending money to support the team. Demand for the Browns, as insane as it seems, is completely inelastic. They'll sell tickets and merchandise with or without Cribbs.
Force 2 - Goodwill: NFL teams don't usually get very far by alienating their own players. As an organization, you have to strike a delicate balance between holding players to the letters of their contracts and taking care of your own. Cribbs' market value is certainly more than what he's getting paid and god knows the Browns waste tens of millions of dollars every year on carpetbagging manslaughterers like Donte' Stallworth. Would it really kill them to take care of Cribbs? No, it wouldn't. It would make Cribbs happy, it would make the fans happy, it would improve the team's image, and it would preserve the peace within the organization.
I'll ask again: What should the Browns do to resolve the situation?
Well when you weigh the two aforementioned forces against each other, I think the answer becomes that the Browns should seek a middle ground with Cribbs. He's going to show up and ask for Devin Hester money at the very least: 4 years, $40 million, $15 million guaranteed. The Browns, rightfully, should laugh at the demand given that they have ALL of the bargaining power. At the same time, an olive branch in the neighborhood of a couple million dollars a year in extra base compensation would probably be appropriate. Cribbs and his agent may put on a tough face and continue to hold out, but in the end, he has no choice but to accept the offer. He can either have a year in the prime of his career where he makes $0 or he can show up for work and make 2 or 3 times what he initially thought he would be earning. He wouldn't be completely satisfied, but at the very least, he could return to the team without completely losing face. In the end, I think this is probably the best solution for all parties involved.
So now that we know what the Browns should do, what do you think they will do?
Based on the front office's response today, it seems like they're going to go the route of publicly calling Cribbs a liar, refusing to negotiate with him, and making the organization look completely foolish yet again. They wouldn't be the Browns if they didn't turn ever morsal of discontent into a full blown public relations debacle. Hopefully, they'll come to their senses and reach a compromise with Cribbs, but for some reason, and by some reason I mean everything I've come to know about the Browns, I just don't see them resolving this one peacefully.