Is Kam Chancellor Right to Hold Out?

I think I write one or two football articles per year. Usually it’s to celebrate something great the Seahawks have done, But I confess, I’m not a devoted No. 12. I watch the games.  I like our home team, appreciate their considerable talents on the field as well the work John Schneider and Pete Carroll do to keep good players who are the heart and soul of this team.  But at bottom, I’m a baseball person, and I only have so much energy to give to football.

But another reason is, that while I love my hometown team, I have absolutely no respect for the NFL. I have a natural aversion to big, greedy corporations in general. There is no question in my mind the raison d’etre for Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, all the way down to profession lacrosse is to make money for their owners and themselves. And they all go about it in similar but profoundly different ways. I find the NBA to be ridiculous, kind of a cross between organized crime and professional wrestling. MLB is like the “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” rich, conservative and corporate, and a bit freer with its considerable cash. But the NFL is beneath contempt.  Their goal is big, big dollars for owners. Branding and control of its brand is everything. It’s run like a gulag in which players are suspended and fined without evidence of wrongdoing, and then made to look foolish when any court with half a brain reminds President Roger Goodell there are such things as contract law and due process. The NFL wants to be organized crime, but they’re run by corporate tools too stupid to pull it off.

Which brings me to the real topic of of this story and that is the Kam Chancellor hold out. I like Chancellor.  I like the way he plays, that he is a leader in the clubhouse, that he is a good and decent man. We all know the story: Chancellor, with three years remaining on his contract, wants a new contract, one more in keeping with his achievements as possibly the best strong safety in pro football.  The Seahawks have refused to tweak any part of his contract, including moving guaranteed money forward to sweeten the pot for No. 31 at this time.  Rumor has it the league has put pressure on the team not to give in to Chancellor in any way.

Look, I’m a teacher.  I’m a rules guy.  Contracts are agreements freely entered into, and legally binding, period, the end. Players, having signed contracts, should honor them.

Of course a contract is a contract, except when it’s not. In Major League Baseball, when a player signs a contract it is binding on both parties.  Robinson Cano signed a 10 year $240 million deal with the Mariners in 2014.  If Cano’s skills go in the toilet in year six, the M’s must continue paying him $24 million per year for the length of the contract.  Does this sometimes lead to difficulty? Do you remember the four years of the Chone Figgins deal?

But in the NFL, in fact, a contract is not a contract. Kam Chancellor can be cut at any time after the first year and be paid zilch except for the guaranteed part of his contract. If Chancellor plays this year and suffers a serious injury that reduces his effectiveness, slows him down, suffers concussions, the Seahawks can choose not to bring him back next year. This is not a theoretical situation. Robert Turbin-gone; Zach Miller-history, Anthony McCoy-cut; all suffered from injury in the service of the team and were waived or cut.  Chancellor’s contract through 2017 is worthless. The risk is all his. It actually makes no sense for a player to sign a multi-year deal, because a player may not be adequately compensated as his game improves, and after the first year it all means nothing anyway.

I understand that the sporting press and Seahawks fans are unhappy about Chancellor’s holdout.  He’s an important part of the Legion of Boom, an incredibly important contributor to the team’s success. But ultimately this is about more than the Seattle Seahawks and Kam Chancellor, it is about the basic inequities of compensation in the NFL.

One can piss and moan all one wants about millionaire players and they should be happy to being raking in loads of cash while playing a game.  But let’s be clear, the average career for an NFL player is three years. Not that many players make loads of cash (ask Russell Wilson about his pay in his first three years)  And playing a long career isn’t necessarily a prize.  You can check with Junior Seau or Dave Duerson’s family for confirmation on that. Or maybe ask Jim McMahon or Refrigerator Perry.

And one has to wonder too if there isn’t something fundamentally wrong about a league that earned about $10 billion last year and distributed $226.4 million in revenue sharing cash to each team.  Yet the salary cap for each team, the amount that can be spent on player salaries was only $143.28 million. The NFL has no minor leagues to sustain.  Where did the rest of the money go? NFL charities?  Settling Ray Rice’s lawsuit? Paying off the players for covering up concussion related injuries?   They aren’t paying for stadiums because American taxpayers have kicked in $4.7 billion toward new ballparks for NFL teams since 1997.

The NFL may want to convince you this is a simplistic approach to the economics of football.  Maybe it is, but I think it simply comes down to this: the NFL is awash in cash.  It’s well documented goal is to reach $25 billion in revenue by 2027.  But what will it do with the money?   It’s clear that the money isn’t intended for the players, for the Kam Chancellors and others. They are simply the mules that pack in the money for the league and the owners.  The NFL has proven again and again its disdain for the players with the 2011 lockout, its suppression of medical evidence in the investigation of chronic brain injury and concussions, and a discipline policy every bit as fair as the Spanish Inquisition. It is a sport that is slowly killing its biggest stars every practice and every game, but wants only more games while squeezing out the biggest bucks possible for the owners.

I have no idea what the NFLPA was thinking when they extended their current contract to 2021 and accepted a paltry 47% of revenue toward salaries, but the current collective bargaining agreement keeps labor peace, while decisively unbalancing the financial arrangements between the players, without whom there is no NFL, and the league and its owners. Perhaps that worked before the dramatic increase in revenues, but the money is so big and getting so much bigger every year the deal simply seems foolish.

Yes, any Seahawks fan should be rooting for Kam Chancellor to return to the practice field and the playing field They will need him.  But there is more at stake here, and Chancellor’s criticisms of his deal clearly shine a light on the inequities of the way players are compensated in this sport.  The NFL demonstrates on a daily basis they are happy to do what all big, greedy corporations do: suppress labor costs while maximizing profits for their share holders (the team owners.)  Roger Goodell and his brethren would have been quite comfortable hanging out with Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan in the Gilded Age.

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