When it Comes to Negotiations, it’s All About Leverage
Let’s talk contract leverage for a second.
Now granted, if you ever get lucky enough to get drafted (or make a team as an undrafted free agent) you’ll have to wait at least four or five years before you’d probably ever have to deal with this, but it doesn’t hurt to know it anyways.
Let’s talk about a few examples of situations that shift the leverage to either the player or the team’s side, when it comes to asking for, or negotiating a contract with an NFL team.
Quite often, leverage is out of your control, but when you control it, you’d better take advantage of it.
It’s not about being deceitful, it’s just the way it goes when it comes to negotiations in any industry, not just pro football.
Because of all of the different scenarios that could exist, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all of the different scenarios that could take place.
What I’ll do is list a high-level explanation of the scenario in bold letters, followed by a brief example of a situation that occurred recently in contract negotiations between a player and an NFL team.
Note: I don’t have inside knowledge of the strategy of the players in these situations, so I’m only going off of how things appear from the outside. The players and their respective agents (as well as the teams involved) could very well have other plans.
Leverage just tends to be something that’s available for the world to see when it comes to pro sports because details, such as acquisitions, salary cap space, and contract details are pretty much readily available for public knowledge).
Let’s start out with some of the ways a player can gain leverage.
How Players Can Gain Leverage
1. Holding Out
Even when a player lacks any true leverage, holding out is something players do anyways.
It’s like a trump card that the player always holds.
While it’s indeed similar to a trump card, it doesn’t always work.
When players lack true leverage, it doesn’t have as much of an effect, but when it’s all you have, it’s all you have.
The player can hold out, hoping that the team wants him there so bad that they’d be willing to rework his deal or give him an extension.
As I type this, in mid-May 2012, Dwayne Bowe appears to be going this route.
He was given the franchise tag by the Chiefs earlier this off season, and he still hasn’t signed it.
It appears that he’s going to holdout, to try to see if him missing workouts is going to convince the Chiefs to do a new deal with him so he can report.
2. Being a Pro Bowler, All Pro and/or Super Bowl Winner
Even though he’s 37, linebacker London Fletcher has some pretty decent leverage in his attempt to get what will likely be the last deal of his career.
As a three-time Pro Bowler, and being in the Pro Bowl as an alternate as recently as the 2012 Pro Bowl, it sweetens the deal for him, because it’s proof that he’s still a top-level linebacker, despite his age.
Don’t get me wrong, being a pro bowler and having a Super Bowl on your resume doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get anything you want in a negotiation.
Still, the leadership, experience, productivity, and pedigree someone like London can bring to your defense can definitely give you some much-needed leverage when it comes to negotiating for a new contract.
3. Being Irreplaceable
Now this one kinda goes along with the previous point, but you don’t always have to be a current Pro Bowler.
Yes, Wes Welker has been to the Pro Bowl four times now, and he didn’t go to the 2012 Pro Bowl, but it doesn’t take a football genius to know that Wes Welker is irreplaceable.
Unfortunately for Wes, he’s trying to get a new contract with the Patriots, which is a team that is known to make any player feel replaceable.
Wes might’ve normally been able to use that leverage for a new contract with any other team but the Patriots.
In fact, he’s already publicly stated that there’s no way he’s going to miss games in the 2012 season.
4. Being a Leader in Important Statistical Categories
Some say Wes Welker could’ve threatened not to report to camp and holdout for his new contract partially due to leading the league in receptions, yards after catch, for several years in a row, even though he was offered a $9.5 million one year deal as a franchise player.
On the flip side, as we already discussed, he gave up some leverage by making it clear that he didn’t plan on holding out of any games during the 2012 season.
5. Threatening to Retire
You can gain leverage by threatening retirement, if you’re a future hall of famer type player like Ed Reed, espcially since Terrell Suggs is injured, and may be gone for the entire 2012 NFL season.
Ed Reed has said that he wants a new contract.
He’s also flirted around with retirement. Situations like this can put the team in a position where they need the player more than the average player, which gives Mr. Reed the leverage in this situation.
You can only get away with this one when you’re an irreplaceable player like Ed Reed, who’s arguably the best safety in the history of the NFL.
I’m not saying Ed’s been bluffing on his thoughts of retiring, but even if he’s serious, it’s smart to play your cards right, and it appears that Ed Reed intends on doing just that.
6. Team Lacks Solid Options on the Roster at Your Position
Even though it appears Forte is serious about holding out now in 2012, many believe that the 2011 season provided more leverage for Forte, because not only was he a year younger (and we know that every year counts as a running back, especially), but the only other running backs the Bears had was an aging Marion Barber and Khalil Bell.
Forte was holding out, but decided to come back and join his teammates in training camp in 2011.
That very well could’ve been a great opportunity to get what he wanted.
In part two, we’ll continue looking at some more ways players can gain leverage, then take a look at ways the teams can gain leverage.
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