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Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Jerry Rice Slams Deion Branch's Decision to Holdout

New England Patriot Deion Branch is one of the NFL's premier wide receivers and most clutch players (he was MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX). By all accounts, he's also well liked and respected by teammates, coaches, fans, and the media--and in the interviews that I've seen of him, he seems genuinely humble and appreciative. He's also overcome very difficult life circumstances.

But he's not happy about his salary for the 2006 season or the Patriots' unwillingness to assent to his demands for a new multi-year contract. Specifically, he is in the last year of his five-year rookie contract, which over the last four seasons has paid him about the league-minimum (plus a $1 million signing bonus), and he is slated to earn about $1 million this year. He wants a new contract that will pay him at least $12 million in bonus and gauranteed dollars. The team has refused, and to show that he's serious/angry, he's decided to holdout of Patriots' minicamp, which began today.

Earlier this afternoon, Branch's holdout generated a very harsh reaction from Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, who was debuting as co-host of the new SIRUS radio show "Afternoon Blitz":
That’s crazy. You go to minicamp, show your loyalty. Get in there and fight and show them you’ve still got it and you just need them to step up to the plate now.

Why are you going to hold out? You are still under contract. It makes no sense. I did that once and I felt stupid. I really felt stupid because you are sitting on the outside looking in. You need to be there. You need that type of interaction with the team. You need to develop that chemistry.

Get in there. Work your butt off. Prove yourself. Let them know, ‘I still control this area. This is what I do. This is the area where I play the best football.’ And he’s going to get compensated for that. But don’t hold out. I think it’s a big distraction and I think it is going to hurt him down the road.

Is Rice right? Should Branch honor his contract? He did agree to it, after-all. And shouldn't Branch be loyal to his organization--the same organization that took a chance on him in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft, even when most draft experts projected him as a 4th or 5th round pick?

Or is Branch right? He's vastly underpaid, his contract--like almost all NFL contracts--is not guaranteed (meaning one injury could obliterate his career at any moment), and he was likely pressured by the Patriots into signing a 5-year deal as a rookie.

Branch might also wonder (as we did here in February) why most fans don't seem angry when NFL teams force players into renegotiating their contracts, under the threat of being cut: If Branch isn't being loyal to the Patriots, then shouldn't we say that the Patriots weren't loyal to Willie McGinest and Ty Law and other popular veterans who wouldn't take pay cuts and were released?

So who's right?


Rice is wrong, wrong wrong. The relationship he's describing is not an employer-employee one -- it sounds more like a parent-child thing.

Look, its one thing to say "he signed a contract, he's got to live up to it." But when (a) you have no other really viable option other than signing the contract (since that team controlled his rights and there is no other league where he could have reasonably shopped his wares); and (b) like y'all said, when the team has shown that they have no silly ideas about sticking to the contracts that they sign... well, you'd be a fool not to hold out. Hell, I'm shocked he didn't hold out after he was the Super Bowl MVP.


Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/14/2006 1:34 AM  

I think of hold outs, more or less, as a product of free agency. There is nothing wrong with demanding for the highest salary in the respective labor market and i think it is neither a novel nor inappropriate conduct. However, I do think that breaching a contract in attempt to demand re-negotiation is unlawful and improper. No where does it say that the considerations need to be fair in order to make the contract enforceable and no one, including a premier wide receiver like jerry Rice, should be above the law. His exceptional playing ability should NOT be a justification for Rice to renege on his obligations—though some athletes cannot seem to swallow that concept. I don’t think the club will be up for the re-negotiation because it would not be smart to do anything that might open the floodgate for future cases. I do not have the specific provisions relevant in the National Labor Relations Act here, but I think Rice would also have hard time getting the back-up from the NFLPA for his decision to hold out as well. This, though, doesn’t mean that I do not feel sorry for Rice’s meager salary these past couple years for his propably is a harsh reality for him.

Anonymous Sokki -- 6/14/2006 4:33 AM  

The club/Rice is right and Branch is wrong. The reason is because when the club tells the player that he will be released if he doesn't renegotiate, the club is acting in compliance with the CBA. The player can seek to renegotiate, but he has no leverage whatsoever, and if he doesn't play then he's in breach. It's as simple as that. It may not be fair, but that's the system the players have agreed to. Branch and T.O. (and any other player that wants to renegotiate) needs to convince the union to change the system with the league -- but it's a little late for that now.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 6/14/2006 8:25 AM  

Thank you all for your comments.

I agree with Collin that Rice's remarks were a little bit over-the-top. I suspect the dogmatic language he used reflected that it was his radio show debut, and that he wanted to sound bold/daring etc., but still, and as Collin notes, his words seemed to veer towards paternalism, and probably undercut the merits of his argument.

I also agree that Branch had no other options when signing his rookie deal. The Patriots, like most teams, require long-term rookie contracts, which works great for the Patriots since those are non-guaranteed contracts, while the players absorb all of the risk.

But then again, and as Rick notes, Branch's beef should seemingly be more with the NFLPA for allowing these types of contracts than the Patriots for taking advantage of them.

Along those lines, Sokki lays out a good argument for why Branch should abide by the terms of the contract he agreed to.

Blogger Michael McCann -- 6/14/2006 8:27 PM  

I wonder what a major league baseball owner would do in this situation?


Blogger Jeff McFarland -- 6/15/2006 10:47 AM  

I agree with Rick. The NFLPA agreed to a CBA that allowed for five year deals (although that has now changed) and optional guaranteed contracts. The CBA represents a number of compromises with the owners; for example, in return for only partially guaranteed contracts, the players received something in return. Now, Branch wants those benefits, plus the right to renegotiate his contract before it expires. If Branch has a problem with the system, he should take it up with the NFLPA. Holding out is not the answer.

And as an aside, I think reasonable minds can differ as to whether the current guaranteed contract system in the NFL is good or bad for the players. There is a defined pot of money that will be paid to the players. It's certainly reasonable for the players to take the position that that money should be paid to those players actually playing, versus players who are no longer contributing.

Anonymous john -- 6/15/2006 11:26 AM  

I think Sokki is partly right in attributing hold outs to free agency, but the NFL has an added quirk to its contracts. With a "hard" salary cap teams get creative in terms of payments and years, making contracts longer than they intend them to actually be in place simply for the purpose of prorating bonus money over a longer time.

Teams and players end up with contracts that are completely unfeasible either for a player in terms of market value, or teams in terms of cap space, near the end of contracts.

Add in roster/workout bonuses that basically exist to force a teams hand when it comes to cutting/renegotiating and it's not too surprising the NFL ends up with as many cuts and non-rookie hold outs as it does.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/15/2006 7:17 PM  

Aren't Branch, TO, H. Ward, etc. really doing themselves more harm than good with their approach in these instances?
Couldn't they expect more success by flexing some collective muscle through the PA and having these contracts guaranteed, at least on some level? The blood and money is supposed to flow both ways in a contract and I think it's safe to say that the "me against them" attitude that has been copped here in place of an organized front is cementing the Owners in the control position.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/17/2006 5:48 AM  

Rice is right. Deion Branch has been somewhat less than durable in his four season and sat out 4 preseason games last season to insure against injury. I'm sure the Pats would like to resign him when they know the signing bonus is going to a health player (after the season ends) but holding out wont help his situation in reaping the most dollars available in free agency. The Pats realize that and his value will increase as the season progresses. Rod in Jerry Maguire said SHOW ME THE MONEY!

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/28/2006 5:02 PM  

I agree 100% with Rice. The team can cut Branch at anytime, just like my employer can fire me if it's not in the organization's benefit to have me. Would you stop working to renegotiate your salary? All this does it give the patriots time to find ample and affordable replacements for Branch. He should be out there proving why he should be getting paid more while renegotiating behind the scenes.

Blogger TomHamilton30 -- 9/04/2006 4:13 PM  

Rice is absolutely wrong. The nature of football means your value (and hence salary) can plummet with one ACL tear, especially for WRs.Players get pressured to reduce salaries all the time. This isn't a moral issue.Branch had to pay the negotiated CBA fine b/c of the hold out. If the owners don't like it, they should've negotiated a stiffer penalty for holdouts. Just like the players should have negotiated better guaranteed contracts provisions.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/13/2006 5:34 AM  

Rice is absolutely wrong. The nature of football means your value (and hence salary) can plummet with one ACL tear, especially for WRs.Players get pressured to reduce salaries all the time. This isn't a moral issue.Branch had to pay the negotiated CBA fine b/c of the hold out. If the owners don't like it, they should've negotiated a stiffer penalty for holdouts. Just like the players should have negotiated better guaranteed contracts provisions.

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