No Contract Negotiations in Season Carries Risks

There are a number of articles this morning in the local papers and on the blogging sites about the fact that general manager Phil Emery has decided that no negotiations for contract extensions will take place during the 2013 season.  This entry from ESPN NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert is typical:

“In telling reporters Wednesday that any contract extensions ‘will happen in 2014 and not during the 2013 season,’ Emery has guaranteed himself a team of highly-motivated players and also given new coach Marc Trestman maximum flexibility to evaluate the roster. At the same time, however, Emery has risked the traditional side effects of a team consumed by
individual contract status. He has also handed his highest achievers more negotiating leverage.”

There are a couple of things that surprise me about all of these articles.  One is that they all focus on what this means to quarterback Jay Cutler.  The most common refrain is that Emery will “happily pay up” for Cutler in the highly unlikely event that the Bears win a Super Bowl.  Emery’s not going to “pay up” Cutler for anything.  Right or wrong, the Bears will almost certainly franchise Cutler as quickly as possible if he performs this season.  And if I know my Bears, he won’t get a dime more in guaranteed money than is already guaranteed under that tag for the two years they can apply it.  The guy who will cash in, assuming both he and Cutler perform, is this year’s franchise victim, defensive tackle Henry Melton because if Cutler gets the tag, Melton can’t.

The second thing that surprised me is that no one mentioned the fact that half of the Bears starters will be playing for themselves as individuals in what is the ultimate team game.  Granted, that’s always true. Its one of the great paradoxes of team sport [1].  Place kicker Robbie Gould did finally articulate this even if none of the writers did.  Via Seifert:

“‘At the end of the day if you have all these guys [unsigned], they have to take care of No. 1,’ Gould told ESPN 1000 co-hosts Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright.

Its ironic that this is coming from arguable the only player on the whole team who can play entirely for selfish motives.  You kick the ball through the uprights, buddy.  The one guy who only has to put his head down and do his job as an individual is the only guy who always feels the need to sound off.  Gould can afford to be selfish and don’t fool yourself.  That’s exactly what he is.  A real team player would have done what the rest of the team is doing – kept his mouth shut and minimized distractions.  This has more to do with the fact that they wouldn’t extend his own contract in the off-season than it does with the fact that they aren’t extending the guys who have to actually play together as part of a whole.

That aside, I think he’s right.  Putting so many players in such a position exacerbates the problem and encourages selfish play.  Its bad enough if the occasional individual is doing it.  If a significant number of the potential free agents on this team lean more in the direction of making themselves look better at the expense of the team, it could be fatal, especially with a rookie head coach.

I’m not saying that Emery is making a mistake.  Given the Bears salary cap situation, you could argue that they have no choice, anyway.  But let’s get the story straight.

[1]: See North Dallas Forty if you’ve never watched it.  Every football fan will love it.

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