Tuesday, July 31, 2007

He was drafted 22nd, for what it's worth

Rookie quarterback Brady Quinn still hasn't reported to the Cleveland Browns, and one theory spinning around the league holds that Quinn's agent -- and maybe even Quinn himself! -- is demanding that he be paid like a top-10 draft pick, even though the Browns drafted him at No. 22. This argument comes up from time to time, usually with quarterbacks: A player is generally considered a top 10 talent, but on draft day he is passed over by teams that either don't need a QB (Atlanta, San Francisco), don't think they need a QB (Minnesota, Miami), had greater needs at other positions (Washington, Tampa Bay), or play in Detroit and need another receiver for noodle-armed QBs to throw to. What's especially curious about Quinn's case is that the Browns were one of those teams. Picking at No. 3, Cleveland took Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas. Later in the day, they swung a trade with the Cowboys to pick up Quinn at No. 22 -- which is closer to the second round than to the top 10.

Now Quinn's agent, Tom Condon, the guy responsible for getting Eli Manning in over his head in New York, is said to be demanding top-10 money for Quinn because that's where he "should" have been picked.

Who on Earth understands this kind of thinking? For people who spend a lot of time pining for more free-market economics in football (meaning: no draft, no salary cap, every player goes to the highest bidder), Condon and his ilk choose to ignore the single, fundamental truth of capitalism: The market is never wrong. Never. If you are worthy of a top-10 pick, then you will go in the top 10, no ifs, ands or buts. Twenty-one teams (including the Browns) had a chance to pick Quinn but passed because they thought they could get someone better. That fact is all that matters. It wasn't until the 22nd selection that someone judged Quinn's value to be commensurate with that of the pick. The fact that some other team might have chosen him in the top 10 if the draft had been held under different circumstances is utterly immaterial.

Think of it this way: I'm an editor by profession. A good one. I can make a lot of money working for someone who needs a good editor. General Motors, however, does not need a good editor. Or maybe it does, but it doesn't think it does. Or maybe it even thinks it needs a good editor, but it already has one. Either way, GM is simply not going to hire me under its current circumstances. Further, I can't use the fact that GM might hire me under different circumstances in the future to leverage more money out of someone who needs an editor right now. Their competition for my services is limited to those organizations that need an editor immediately. If GM wants to hire me down the road (when I'm say, a "free agent"), then I can use that interest to squeeze more blood out of the stone. So it is with Quinn. Only one other team, Oakland, felt it needed to take a quarterback in the first round, and the Raiders (foolishly) took JaMarcus Russell with the first pick. There was no other demand for Quinn's services, so his price -- his draft status -- dropped, and fairly precipitously, too.

A lot of people, me included, think Miami should have picked Quinn at No. 9, as the Dolphins have been spinning their wheels at QB since Dan Marino retired seven years ago, and 37-year-old Trent Green is nothing like a solution. But they didn't. They went with Ted Ginn Jr., a ... good kick returner who might be a good second receiver if he puts in a lot of work. The consensus is that Ginn went far too early. Do you think his agent is telling the Dolphins, "Hey, since we know you overreached in taking my client, we're willing to take less money -- say, top 25 rather than top 10"? Of course not. Ginn went at No. 9 and will receive a contract equal to the pick. Remember: The Dolphins, as brainless as they may be, constitute 1/32nd of the NFL labor market, and the market is never wrong.

All that said, I continue to be annoyed by the media's insistence on referring to Quinn's situation as a "holdout." Quinn is not under contract. He is under no obligation to report to the Browns, take part in any team activities, or place himself at risk of career-ending injury without indemnity. Yes, if he wants to play football in the NFL, then he has to sign a contract. And once that contract is signed, he has a legal and ethical responsibility to live up to its terms. But until there is a contract, there is no obligation. Nor is there an obligation to sign whatever contract the Browns are offering.

"Holdout" is loaded language. It implies that someone is withholding his services in violation of his obligations. When Larry Johnson, with three years remaining on his rookie contract, refuses to report to the Chiefs' training camp, that can rightly be called a holdout (though probably a smart one in his case, considering how Herm Edwards destroyed Curtis Martin's career through overuse in New York and appears to be doing the same to Johnson in K.C.). When Quinn or Russell or any other draft pick continues to haggle over a contract into August, it's just that: haggling. Call it what it is.

What's going on with Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel, meanwhile, is something else entirely. To keep him off the free agent market, New England applied the franchise tag to Samuel, which guarantees him a salary among the top five players at his position -- so long as he signs the contract tender that comes with the tag. Samuel has refused to sign. Is he "holding out"? Not in my opinion, because he isn't under contract anymore. The collective bargaining agreement effectively allows the Patriots to keep him off the market for a year with the tag -- a team that signs another club's tagged player has to surrender two first-round picks and two second-rounders -- but it doesn't require Samuel to play if he doesn't like the terms. Samuel says he won't play the first 10 games of the season to protest the rules that keep him from earning all he could on the free market(!). Gee, you may ask, why not sit out the whole season, if the principle is so important? Because you need to be on an active roster for six games in order to get credit for a year of service for veteran minimum salaries, pension benefits and all the other goodies that nobody gets in a free market anymore. Principle only goes so far.


Nick Bergus said...

To be fair, Samuel also needs credit for a year of service so that he isn't wearing the franchise tag next year.

PCS said...

You are indeed correct. I should have made that clear. Now, if he would just take the $8 million!