Sunday, July 30, 2006

Reggie Bush, the NFL, and the City of New Orleans

In December 2005 Reggie Bush of USC was selected as the 71st winner of the Heisman Trophy. Widely acknowledged as the most exciting college football player in recent memory, Bush was drafted by the NFL’s New Orleans Saints with the second overall pick in April 2006. Until late yesterday evening, Saturday, July 29, 2006, Reggie Bush had not yet signed with the Saints. He and his agent were threatening a holdout. They said that Bush was willing to miss training camp and possibly the entire season if he was not offered a deal to his liking.

Well, we can all breathe a little easier now. Reggie Bush and the Saints have agreed to a 6-year deal for a reported $51 million. Hallelujah. He should be at practice first thing Monday morning.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for Saints fans that their #1 pick is signed, sealed, and (soon-to-be) delivered. I was just amused by the sportswriters who were seemingly beside themselves at the thought that his holdout might have lasted even longer than it did.

A lot of sports pundits felt that Reggie Bush was making a mistake. Some even cited Hurricane Katrina as a major reason. They claimed that, even if he ended up signing with the Saints, a holdout would send the wrong message to the populace of a city and the population of a region who have already gone through enough. I won’t argue that the people of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulfcoast haven’t had it rough. I just don’t see what Reggie Bush’s contract negotiation with the Saints has to do with it.

  1. Remember that this is the NFL. It’s an owner's league, not a player’s league.

    Out of the four major professional sports in the United States, NFL players arguably receive the least love from their league. I know, I know. These guys still get paid quite a bit of money for putting on the pads, and I’m not cueing up the OBA string quartet. Everything’s relative, and I’m just trying to point out that, from a relative standpoint, NFL players are, as a group, not as well off as their counterparts in baseball and basketball. They’re the poor relations at the family reunion; the cousins whose great-grandfather sank his share of the inheritance into a series of get rich quick schemes. They’re not really poor, just poorer than the rest of the clan.

    The National Football League Players’ Association (the "NFLPA"), the labor union of NFL players, is one of the weakest in all of professional sports. NFL players receive a lower percentage of revenue than do players in the NBA. Unlike NBA players, players in the NFL do not receive a cut from the sale of their jerseys. The typical career of an NFL player is a whole lot shorter than that of a major league baseball player. Roger Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball in 1986, the year in which he won the American League’s Cy Young Award and MVP Trophy. He’s still throwing smoke for the Houston Astros 20 years later. Lawrence Taylor was the NFL MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in 1986. He’s still been retired since the end of the 1993 season. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed.

  2. Holdouts happen.

    Reggie Bush was not Curt Flood here. The rookie holdout has become an NFL rite of passage. Eli Manning forced a trade from the San Diego Chargers to the New York Giants before he ever took his first NFL snap. John Elway was the #1 overall draft pick by the Baltimore Colts in 1983. Elway did not want to play in Baltimore. He held out, and eventually forced the Colts to trade him to Denver. He used every ounce of leverage available to him. He talked about playing professional baseball, even though the curveball baffled him far more than NFL defenses ever seemed to. In hindsight, all parties involved in the Elway situation, including the city of Baltimore survived. John Elway had a Hall of Fame career with the Broncos, the Colts moved to Indianapolis (where Peyton Manning currently stars), and the Ravens brought a championship to Baltimore by way of Cleveland. I’m equally convinced that the Saints, the city of New Orleans, and Reggie Bush would have survived a lengthy holdout.

  3. Reggie Bush’s image would not have suffered.

    Since the Saints drafted him in April, Reggie Bush has been one of the most visible faces involved in the continued post-Katrina relief effort. He’s given his time and his money. The goodwill he’s engendered for his charitable efforts will last long after memories of the contract squabbles fans in every city have come to accept and expect have faded. Even if he'd never suited up for the Saints, the worst he could have expected was some boos when he came to town playing for another team.

  4. I don’t think Katrina victims begrudge him the pursuit of the top dollar.

    I have yet to speak to a displaced Katrina victim whose primary concern is or was Reggie Bush’s contract. Give him a dart and a choice between aiming it at a Reggie Bush poster or a FEMA logo, and I can just about guarantee that he’ll choose the latter as his target. If you’ve survived the loss of your job, home, and community, did the prospect of Reggie Bush missing training camp really keep you up at night?

    Also, let’s look at what the Saints have done since drafting Reggie Bush. They’ve made him the centerpiece of their advertising campaign. This sends a definite message to the fans. It also sends a definite message to the player and his agent! If my prospective employer featured me prominently on the front page of the company’s web site, I would think twice before signing the first contract this employer placed in front of me. I just might want to reevaluate my bargaining position first. The Saints have raised ticket prices. If they’re not lowering their asking price, why should Reggie Bush have lowered his?

    As previously mentioned, Reggie Bush will not receive a red cent from the team (or the league) when his jerseys start selling like hot cakes. Color me cynical, but I also doubt that the funds from these jersey sales have been earmarked for Katrina relief.

  5. If New Orleans is counting on the ‘Aints to make all the bad times good again, history is NOT on their side.

This is not the Green Bay Packers, folks. Despite being around since 1967, the New Orleans Saints have never played in a Super Bowl, let alone won one. The only other teams never to appear in "the game" are the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans. They didn’t even win their first playoff game until 2000, and this remains their one and only playoff win in franchise history.

This is also not the first time the team has drafted a Heisman Trophy winning running back. Maybe the third time will prove to be the charm, but the first two were hardly the stuff of NFL legend.

The Saints drafted George Rogers, of University of South Carolina fame, in 1980. He started out with a bang, leading the NFL in rushing in his first season. He ended his career after 8 seasons with the Saints and the Washington Redskins. He was solid, but not the savior Saints fans were hoping for.

Then there was Ricky Williams. It sometimes seems like ancient history, but then-coach and GM Mike Ditka mortgaged his team’s future to select Ricky Williams with the 5th overall pick in 1999 out of the University of Texas. Ricky posed in a wedding dress for the cover of Sports Illustrated, gave interviews in his football helmet, but didn’t take the Saints to the Promised Land. Ricky was traded to the Dolphins in 2002. In Miami he helped all of us learn a great deal about holistic medicine and the details of the NFL’s drug policy.

So, good for you, Reggie. On its surface your deal seems like a good one. If you decided to give the Saints a "discount", that’s your business, just remember that if you suffer a career ending injury, I doubt that the Saints will even honor the remainder of your contract, much less hold any fundraisers for you. Don’t feel obligated to implicitly donate any of your services to them. Saints fans, you've got yourself a potentially great player. You're adding him to a backfield that already boasts Drew Brees and Deuce McAllister. There are plenty of NFL teams that wish they could say the same.

1st down!


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