Monday, May 18, 2009

A Guide to the Josh Cribbs Contract Saga

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.


lenny k said...

Are you serious with this post? 1 million dollar contract has to last the next 50 years is not a whole lot. That may be a fair assesment if i made 40,000 and didnt get a tv show/endorsements/gifts from businesses who market these NFL players. If he were to make 1 million dollars for three years ( 3 million dollars) and I were to make 70,000 over the next 50 years (3.5 million) i dont get the luxury of endorsements NFL players get. get serious with this contract stuff. He plays a game for 3 years at just a 1 million dollars, and i have to work for 75 years at 40000 to just keep pace with this guy...Your crazy for thinking thats not enough money.

Biff said...

He's a professional athlete with a skill that only a hanful of other people on earth possess. He's probably justified in wanting to live a little bit better than the average middle-class guy for the rest of his life. His true market value should afford him the luxury of living a little bit higher than that. Imagine working your 70k job every year knowing that there is a line of employers out there that would just love to pay you 10 times that amount. Fair or not, you'd want to do everything in your power to maximize your earnings, would you not?

Also, in your calculations, don't forget that when you make all of your money at once, you get hit at a much higher tax rate. Cribbs is probably losing half of his salary in taxes every year. Finally you can't ignore human nature. It is far more difficult to make a lump sum last for 50 years than it is to live on a naturally budgeted amount over that same period of time.

I'm not saying Cribbs isn't making enough money. I'm saying that if it were me in his position, I'd be doing the same thing.

Art Brosef said...

I would expect the "he plays a game" argument from my great grandfather who gets pissed at 3 dollar beers and can ramble on end about the beauty and intricacies of the Harvard Yale football rivalry. But cmon, this is a big boy discussion.

It comes down to is his value in a free market economy. And the market hes in happens to pay people extremely well. The reason? Hardly anyone else on the planet can do what these athletes do. Its the same reason doctors and lawyers make more than teachers and mechanics, they possess a much higher and rarer skill set that is much more difficult to obtain.

I do not blame Cribbs one bit.

lenny k said...

I dont blame cribbs either, as his market value is higher than 1 million, but the way of your arguement is way off, comparing someone who makes 40,000 for 50 years, will get significantly less money than if you were to have a million a year for 3 years (hypothetical). Yes it will be taxed heavily, but you will have that value of money that you can invest currently, whereas you have to wait 75 years to make that much money 75*40000 is 3 million but you dont have the money you could invest over the next 72 years that you would have if you were josh cribbs. Im not disagreeing with your take on his situation- but rather on your stance that 3 million dollars is "not that much money when compared to what avg worker making 40,000 a year" argument.

Maximizing your earnings is a seperate argument than what you said at the beginning of your article, comparing the 2 salaries, regardless of how one feels he/she should be living.

Art thanks for your great insight on your "big boy discussion" I will not respond to you as in your mind Im not capable of being in your "big boy discussion" wont waste my time

lenny k said...

Also being a football special teams player is not basically the most dangerous job next to a kamikaze pilot. How many people die on the job in his profession. How about the policeman, firefighters, militia men whose professions are dangerous and actually has "real life" danger. Dont compare his job playing a game to the likes of these professions as it is an insult to people who actually put their life on the line everyday at work.

Biff said...

Lenny, I understand what you're saying but a couple of things:

I'm not really trying to compare what Cribbs is making to what the average Joe makes. The point I was trying to drive home is that the gap isn't as massive as a lot of people make it out to be because of the brevity of the professional athlete's career.

Second, I disagree with your point about comparing the dangers of pro football to that of police work or fire fighting. Yes, those professional obviously present a greater risk of death but unlike professional football, they do not present the almost certain fate of suffering from severe physical disabilities later in life. There are thousands of policemen and firemen that have long careers and then retire with thier health in tact. I think very few professional football players, especially ones that play the game like Cribbs, have the luxury of enjoying their post-career lives with their health in tact. I would guess that the overwhelming majority of them spend the rest of their lives dealing with pain and disability caused by the fact that their job essentially required them to get into the equivalent of multiple car accidents every Sunday.

But this discussion is irrelevant. The danger is obviously not what justifies Cribbs' demands. Obviously, it's the short supply of the skill he provides.

lenny k said...

The fact remains that say Cribbs played 4 years made 4 million dollars and retired. His NLFPA retirement package/benefits is alot better than the average american has. Especially now that many companies are failing along with their pension plans. I would say the gap is getting bigger than we think it is. the problem with athletes is the lack of knowledge on how to invest for their futures. Currently the NFLPA is getting greater medical benefits for former players and getting them the money they need, past and current. Americans see the bigger picture and invest for futures as NFL players are ina different lifestyle.
Its very hard to argue your second point about servicemen and the disabilities they face vs NFL players- theres a fine line between NFL head injuries suffered post career, but i wont argue bc every case is different. I know many that have been paralyzed/have disabilities from things that happened on the job, although they didnt die in the line of duty have to live the rest of their lives with the injuries suffered on the job, as do football players, but I will agree- not relevant. Biff, overall good article just wanted to chime in for my thoughts, with some meaningfull discussion, something i suppose Art thinks he is better than/above.

Biff said...

As always Lenny, I appreciate your loyalty to the blog and willingness to engage in a good debate.

Lenny k said...

In lieu of this article any chance we can get Cliff Lee #10 instead of Cribbs on the power rankings?

Biff said...

Nope. People care about the Browns far more than the Indians and although Lee is well liked in this town for his performance, he has not endeared himself to the fans the way that Cribbs has. For a lot of people, he's still the same guy that was picking fights with Victor Martinez in the clubhouse a couple of years ago.

lenny k said...

Fair enough, I will be on the lookout to try and get Lee in your top 10 may take some time though...

Art Brosef said...

Lenny K;

I never insinuated you were not capable of paraking in a "big boy discussion." I was merely saying that you and I both know the "play a game for a living" is a tired and outdated adage in the billion dollar industry that the professional sports has become. It was sarcastic, not malicious.

Biff said...

Agreed Art,

Nothing makes me discount an argument about sports more than someone who a) thinks it's a game, or b) ignores the economic ramifications of supply and demand.

Teachers are more important that pro athletes and they don't get paid nearly as much!!!!!

lenny k said...

thanks for the clarification Art I did read it differently, but understand worries.

Art Brosef said...

Of course.

Peoples compensation and their "importance" are not directly related. When you break it down to is core, pretty much every job is more "important" than professional athletes, who are merely entertainers. Teachers educate are children, mechanics allow us to get to work everyday, construction workers provide shelter for us, the list goes on and on.

But the fact of the matter is there are millions of people who can do the above occupations. There are only a hand full of people on earth who can hit a 98 mph fastball, go across the middle of NFL field and catch a football, or shoot 10 under on the hardest golf courses in the world.

Art Brosef said...

And evidently my teachers didnt do a good enough job of educating me, as I cannot distinguish between "are" and "our".