Tebow, the Jets and Rex Ryan: The Powerless in the NFL
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Towards the end of every summer, at least one NFL headline involves a high-profile athlete holding out of training camp for contract negotiations. Often times, these players are criticized in the media. However, exercising the right to hold out of training camp is the player equivalent of what Rex Ryan is doing to Tim Tebow in New York.
Tebow was acquired by the Jets this past offseason when the Broncos decided to pursue Peyton Manning. Jets head coach Rex Ryan had plans of utilizing Tebow in the offense in multiple formations and alignments. At one point in the season, it was a headline that Tebow was participating in special teams.
In the last three weeks, Mark Sanchez, the Jets' starting quarterback, had completed 51.5 percent of his passes while throwing one touchdown and seven interceptions. During that time, Sanchez had failed to reach 135 yards passing in any individual game. Sanchez's average quarterback rating (QBR) the past three weeks was 17.6 with performances less than 7.0 against the Cardinals and Titans.
Any other team would have replaced their quarterback already. Ryan stuck with Sanchez and continued to echo his feelings that Sanchez is "my quarterback."
All the while, Tebow is being the model citizen of the NFL. He shows up on time to practice, he's ready to work, he works hard, he helps fellow quarterbacks Sanchez and Greg McElroy in the film room, and yet he doesn't receive any type of reward for his efforts.
The sad truth is that players get are given the short end by coaches and organizations all the time. For example, how did Alex Smith lose his starting job in San Francisco over a head injury that he recovered from? Why did Matt Forte have to fight for so many years only to receive a one-year contract (he finally earned a four-year, $25 million deal this past offseason)? Also, why wasn't Tebow starting for the Broncos earlier last season?
The list goes on and most of the names on the list are ones that football fans have never heard of: practice-squad players, players who get injured with a handful of games left before they qualify for their pension, small-school players like Danny Woodhead who have an uphill battle to impress personnel staff.
There are few ways for players to counteract this behavior other than to hold out of their individual contracts or strike as a group, more commonly referred to as a lockout. We know all too well how a lockout affects the league. It's fair to say that all parties involved hope to avoid lockout situations. Therefore, the only way that players can throw their weight around is to sit out of training camp and the preseason until contract negotiations conclude.
It happens all the time. Darrelle Revis held out in 2010 after several months of negotiations. Every year it seemed like we talked about Matt Forte holding out since the Bears wouldn't sign him to a long-term deal until this past offseason.
The most notorious player to hold out would have to be Brett Favre. Favre took it to the extreme by holding out every season towards the end of his career. It was clear that he just didn't enjoy training camp. He preferred to launch nine routes at 17-year-olds in Hattiesburg, MS until Week 1. While it was annoying to hear his name in retirement and holdout talks for what seemed like a decade, Favre knew that his power off the field was limited so he leveraged what he could.
It appears that the NFL and the players have gotten into an arm-wrestling match, and both sides are flexing their muscles. It looked like the NFL front office was establishing a stronghold that the NFL Players Association would have trouble penetrating. That was until former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped in and ruled in favor of the players in the Saints bounty case where several players and even Saints officials were suspended. Since then, Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman has won an appeal to an accusation that he used performance-enhancing drugs (via ESPN).
The only offenders who have had any trouble with appeals lately has been head injury persecutors: Ed Reed, James Harrison, Ndamukong Suh, etc.
Ever since baseball All-Star Ryan Braun proved that the handling of urine samples is as important as the contents, it seems that football players have a similar loophole, hence Sherman.
The players are gaining ground. They're winning appeals and negotiating contracts. The front offices are losing, and thinking the idea that players and front offices must prove their gusto against each other is why Tim Tebow isn't starting in New York.
The sad thing is that Tebow doesn't have the power to hold out, no two teams want him bad enough. According to ESPN, the Jaguars are very interested in taking him, which is the best scenario that could happen. Tebow is from around Jacksonville and has every Gator fan on his side if he signs. The Jaguars need the ticket sales and merchandising of a high-profile player and they could also use the wins that Tebow has historically brought with him as well.
It's sad that Tebow can't defend himself off the field more. He has become a victim of one of the most drama-laden organizations in the NFL the past decade (Super Bowl promises, Plaxico Burress, Revis' holdout, Tebow's unfortunate lost year). That's why I'm happy that the Jets can stop toying with Tebow and allow him to utilize the unique skill set that he has in a place where it's wanted.
This fight between front offices and players has gone on as long as the league has existed. However, players and teams have become much more public about these issues. It'll be interesting to watch how this plays out.
Front offices have all of the money. Players have the product that brings in the money. Which side will win? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
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