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It's a game of the heart

Posted Feb 27, 2013

Fans have to achieve the proper perspective to fully enjoy football


Ryan from Phoenix, AZ

Given the contract Tom Brady just signed, which freed up about $15 million in cap space for the Patriots, could this set a trend for franchise quarterbacks taking smaller contracts in order to better set up their team, and is it something we could see with Aaron Rodgers’ next contract?

Brady was due $15 million in salary in each of 2013 and 2014 in the old deal. The Patriots gave that to him in a $30 million signing bonus. The paragraph fives (salary) are $1 million in ’13 and $2 million in ’14 and both are fully guaranteed. He was going to get $30 million over the next two years; now he’ll get $33 million. They added three years to the contract at salaries of $7, $8 and $9 million. Those are guaranteed against injury. If he’s on the roster on the final day of the ’14 season, all of those paragraph fives are guaranteed for skill. His cap number went from $21.8 million in each of ’13 and ’14 to $13.8 million in ’13 and $14.8 million in ’14. He did not take less money, and if he gets to the last years of this contract, they’ll likely do a new deal and that’ll give him more money. He created more cap room now by back-loading his contract and pushing money out. It’s not uncommon for star players to agree to restructure their deals to create cap room. Usually that’s done by converting salary to signing bonus one year at a time. What’s different about this deal is that it’s been restructured and extended to guarantee all of the money in the deal. In contrast, when the Patriots did a $100 million deal with Drew Bledsoe that made everyone guffaw, the bottom line in that deal was that it was structured so that it was unlikely Bledsoe would ever see the end of it or the money in it, and he didn’t. Most of that $100 million was dummy money. All of the money in the Brady deal is real money. The gamble in the Brady deal belongs to the Patriots. They’re gambling that in the final years of the contract Brady will be worth the money they’ve guaranteed. It’s a risk most teams aren’t willing to take. Of course, most teams don’t have Brady as their quarterback. What if Brady is either dead money on the Patriots’ cap or his skills aren’t the equal of the money the Patriots have to pay him? It’s a big gamble. By the time they hear the train’s whistle, they may not be able to get off the tracks. None of this applies to Rodgers because he is in the shank of his career.

L.P. from Muskego, WI

In consideration of your response of it being “unrealistic and unfair” to consider Greg Jennings giving a hometown discount, I give you Tom Brady, who just signed for about a third of the money he is worth. Is this a hometown discount, or is there something underhanded and nefarious at work? I think the latter. This is a fantasy that Brady is willing to play for $7 million when he could easily command $21 million. Patriots cheating once more.

It is neither a hometown discount nor is it cheating. It’s a gamble the Patriots are willing to take. L.P., you have to know the cap to know pro football.

James from Wausau, WI

Is 30 really the primary age for most players to be let go for teams like the Packers, as of late? It seems the only player that stays with a team the longest (if they are great) is the QB. Could you give your thoughts as to why?

Football chews up knees, hips, shoulders and necks. As the joints calcify and stiffen, the players’ athletic skills decline. More importantly, older players miss more time with injuries than younger players, and that’s becoming a problem teams are desperate to avoid. That’s why it’s a young man’s game. Usually, by the time a player has played long enough to have played his way into the fans’ hearts, it’s time to find his replacement. That’s the edge to this game I love. It’s dramatic, it’s sudden and it’s unforgiving. Chuck Noll never did endorsements, because he believed that’s money that had to be left for his players. He believed his players’ careers were so short that they had to have access to all of the endorsement money they could earn in the short time it was available to them. Maybe changing the culture of the game will lengthen its players’ careers, but I don’t see any evidence of it, yet.

Harold from Chippewa Falls, WI

“Time is the school in which we learn; time is the fire in which we burn.”

George Young likened football players to Marines; the younger the better.

Kevin from Springfield, MO

What do you think of Brandon Williams? He seems like a good nose tackle.

I loved what I saw of him at the Senior Bowl. He plays really low and with leverage. He’s a guy I would target.

Daniel from Copenhagen, Denmark

How do you think the Brady contract extension will play into Rodgers’ next contract?

I don’t think it’ll have an effect. Joe Flacco’s deal will.

Kary from Sheboygan, WI

It’s not that I believe plays are more important than players, but I think it’s foolish to dismiss plays completely. You’re basically saying coaches are irrelevant. Something about that is distasteful.

That’s not it. Plays and schemes are very important. Good players need good schemes for those players to be able to fully express their talent, but it’s always players, never plays, because plays on paper don’t move, only players on the field do. Only players can execute the play, and they determine whether the play works or not. If the players give a bad effort, the play fails. If they give great effort, the same play that failed might succeed. That’s all it is. I have never known a coach that believes his plays beat an opponent. Yeah, you can pencil-whip an opponent, but only if your players make it happen.

John from Union Grove, WI

I went to high school with Aaron Mellette, who played at Elon. Have you seen or heard anything about him? Any chances he might be a late-round pick for depth at the WR position?

He’s a big guy, 6-4, 220. His size caught my eye at the Senior Bowl. I think he’ll attract a team looking for a big possession receiver. He’s not a burner, but he’s not dragging an anchor, either. He’s a guy you can hit a home run on.

Walt from Toms River, NJ

Vic, you recently mentioned the draft where the Vikings let the clock run out on their selection. Actually, they let it run out a couple of times. You stated they did this to move back since the value was not there. I was surprised of this since I thought they just goofed and managed the time inappropriately. Which is correct?

They didn’t let the clock run out on their spot at No. 7 in the 2003 draft. They just didn’t get the trade with Baltimore done in time. The Jaguars jumped up and drafted Byron Leftwich, who the Ravens were trying to trade up to pick. Then, at No. 8, Carolina quickly stepped up and drafted Jordan Gross, and then the Vikings picked Kevin Williams at No. 9. Did they sit back and let Carolina pick Gross? We’ll never know, but I strongly believe Williams was the Vikings’ guy, and picking him at No. 9, two spots lower than they would’ve picked him, probably saved the Vikings some money. Carolina was probably afraid the Vikings would try to trade the No. 8 pick to someone who wanted Gross. The Vikings had picked Bryant McKinnie the previous year.

Michael from Altamonte Springs, FL

David Pollack was a very talented player whose biggest issue coming into the NFL was his short arms. He came in and was playing well until he had a career-ending neck injury. Manti Te’o is a guy who maxed out his speed at 20 yards and just isn’t the physical specimen that can excel at the professional level. Your analysis of him is correct, but the player comparison is off.

I wasn’t thinking in terms of arms. I was thinking in terms of heads. David Pollack and Manti Te’o have small heads. I don’t like small heads. Did you ever go to the Professional Football Hall of Fame? All of the busts of the Hall of Famers are the actual size of their heads. I’ve never seen so many big heads. It should be called the Professional Football Hall of Big Heads.

Erik from Debary, FL

What will you be looking for from Nick Perry in year two?

I wanna see him do more of what he did in that Indianapolis game. I’ll let the officials sort it out.

Zbigniew from Cracow, Poland

Vic, I’m following your column daily, seeking more info to understand salary cap rules. In your career as a journalist, did you happen to know a significant player that gave up some of his income so his team would be able to hire better players for positions in need?

Jerome Bettis took a big paycut in 2004. Bettis was going to retire but Bill Cowher sold Bettis on the notion that he would only be used in short-yardage and goal-line situations, then Cowher burned the tires off the “Bus” by running him 250 times for 941 yards and 13 touchdowns. Of course, Bettis had all kinds of endorsements going on in Pittsburgh that would benefit him from playing another year. He stayed on for another year in 2005, and this time he truly was used as a short-yardage and goal-line runner, and he won a Super Bowl in his hometown. I don’t remember the Steelers giving Bettis any money back for using him so much in 2004.

Ben from Milwaukee, WI

Do you like safeties that can lay the wood, ball hawk or some combination of both?

I used to love the wood layers. I was a big El Kabong guy, but they’ve kind of gone the way of Dodo Bird in this change-the-culture era of professional football. Nowadays, if you have a wood layer, you’re probably going to get a lot of penalties and cause officials to look more closely for wood laying on your team. Nowadays, you’re looking for a safety that can get to the sideline on the deep ball, cover the slot receiver as a nickel back and wrap up in tackling. If on top of all of that he can catch the ball, you have something special.

Shay from Peoria, IL

I believe everything in life is cyclical and will eventually make its way back around. There are only so many truly new things that are created anymore. So over the next few years, the read-option quarterback may be what every team is using, but in 10-15 years a team will try this new kind of quarterback that changes the game. That quarterback will be a passer. The same thing will happen at fullback. Kind of like when certain fashions come back into style. What do you think?

Used sparingly and at opportune times, the quarterback as a runner can be successful. I’m not talking about a scrambler – a scrambler is a passer – I’m talking about the quarterback as a runner by design. Overused, and I think the era of the quarterback as a runner will be short-lived. Overused, and he will get hurt. The passer isn’t going anywhere, Shay. The passer is here to stay. As for the fullback, he’s just taken a new name. The fullback in split backs or pro set is the running back of today.

Justin from Decatur, AL

Vic, as a big-time Packers/NFL fan, I’ve enjoyed learning from you more about the sport we love that isn’t on TV. When it comes to discussions on who to draft, what is usually the final tell in determining who a team picks?

Ultimately, it comes down to who the best player is for the team to pick, and that’s a decision that usually involves at least four people in the process: the area scout, the cross-checker or cross-checkers, the head coach and the GM. It starts with the area scout. He’s the team’s expert in the field. He’s had dialogue with the players’ coaches. He’s got the inside information. The cross-checkers take deep looks at the players the team has targeted. Cross-checkers are usually veteran personnel people that can offer seasoned perspective; the player reminds them of this guy or that guy. The head coach usually has a plan for how the player might be used. The GM takes it all in. He’s got his own opinion of the player, but he considers everybody else’s before he makes the final call.

Matt from Sun Prairie, WI

Vic, I don’t understand the sentiment of some fans begrudging players who leave in free agency. Why should a player stay in Green Bay for less money? I know I would leave my current employer if I could get a significant raise by leaving. It's not even about the money, it's about feeling that you are valued and appropriately compensated for that value. I will miss Greg Jennings if/when he signs elsewhere, but it won’t make me stop liking him. I am thankful for all the good memories he gave Packers fans for seven seasons.

I’m delighted that you’ve achieved a perspective that allows you to fully enjoy professional football, but I also understand why it bothers fans to see a player leave in free agency. For those fans, it’s a game of the heart. They would play the game for free. I don’t want to ever disparage that kind of thinking because football is an emotional sell; we need fans to feel that way for the game to remain popular. What I ask of fans is to achieve your perspective without losing their heart for the game. You’re proof that it can be done.

Jake from West St Paul, MN

The Eagles just cut Cullen Jenkins.

Again?

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