The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

Conflict brewing in Cortland


As the cameras from the reality show "Hard Knocks" coincidentally and conveniently zero in on the a small hamlet in upstate New York, also known as the 2010 edition of the New York Jets training camp, in my home town of Cortland, this year's large stake game of "Chicken" plays out for all to watch in HD. This is reality TV at its best mixed in with some Cold War themes. The critical question is how does this saga play out and who if anyone will win?

The Jets have spent millions of dollars in acquiring new talent and in a new stadium gearing up for what they hope is a Super Bowl run in 2010. On paper, they have all of the pieces in place, save for their best defender and arguably the best cover cornerback in the league Darrelle Revis, to accomplish this ambitious task. The Revis side, however is trying to rain on the parade by withholding his services and refraining from participating in training camp in the hopes of securing a large and new contract from the club, the Revis camp believing that he has outplayed his rookie contract which warrants a substantial increase in his compensation package. The two parties are stuck in a fatal posturing mode akin to the freighters loaded with nuclear warheads steaming towards Cuba in the early 1960's. While a fatal move will not ignite World War III, a mistake on either side could ruin the Jets' Super Bowl dreams, and on the other side, Revis's career.

There is no doubt that Darrelle Revis is one of, if not, the top cornerback and defender in the NFL today. His skills and talents are immense and even more critical, hard if not impossible to find. The Jets realized this when they drafted him in the middle of the first round in 2007 and cleverly locked him up to a six-year deal when all other players in his draft area where signing 5 year deals. It is quite ironic that the same agents who were pounding their chests as to how well they did in negotiating the longer contract for more money in 2007 (after a lengthy holdout by the way) are now the same ones complaining about the same contract's inadequacies today. The Jets were extremely generous to Revis with his rookie deal. They gave him more guaranteed money and upward mobility in his deal than those surrounding him in the draft. For that they bought six years and guess what, they hit on the player! They took a gamble and won, both by drafting Revis where they did and by paying him handsomely on his rookie deal. Why then should they be prematurely penalized or ridiculed for having won on their bet?

There is also no doubt that Revis' talents, skills and productivity warrants under the current NFL system compensation greater than the one million dollars he is scheduled to earn for this season. The Jets, to their credit, realized this and approached the Revis camp after the 2009 season, and offered to work on a new deal. From all of the recent reports and the fact that Revis is not in Cortland, the parties are having a impossible time of determining and agreeing what the proper value and structure for this new contract should be given a number of impediments, nuisances and natural roadblocks that stand in its way. The current NFL system is not a pure meritocracy where cash is simply reapportioned to those playing at the highest levels. Rather it's an allocation system that establishes values based on draft order for rookies and free agency for veterans. Once a deal is signed, the player gets value in the amount of guaranteed money as well as the level of future earnable salaries. The club gets value in continuity when having a player under a feasible contract for a number of years. So it's not as simple as adjusting every contract when the play of the player merits it, otherwise the Jets should be asking for money back from all underachieving players to help reward Revis.

Revis is not a free agent after this year and will not be for the next three years, even though he is demanding free agent type money from the Jets. All of the major cornerbacks who secured significant and landmark contracts over the past decade, (Bailey, Asomugha, Clements etc.) where all free agents at that time. The Jets have him under contract for the next three years. We are also six months shy of a potential labor lockout and labor uncertainty. Teams have been very reluctant to lock up "cash" with this uncertainly looming. The Jets could make this problem go away by writing a $40 million dollar signing bonus check as they would have in years past, but with the impending lockout looming, that option seems remote at best. Then there is the issue of whether or not given these issues should Revis be paid as the top Corner in the League (Asomugha currently hold that title at 15.1 million dollars per year) and if so how much in excess of the Raider star should he receive. A cursory reading of the press reports indicates that the Revis camp thinks that this number should exceed by significant amounts the $15.1 million figure. The Jets, while unilaterally agreeing to adjust Revis's compensation, clearly are opposed to a contract at this level. The last impediment has to be if the Jets do a new deal for their star and given his camps history of holding out for more money, then how many years of labor peace are the Jets actually buying from their star whose history is to refuse to participate in training camps when he is dissatisfied with his contract?

This is in some ways similar to the Cuban Missile crisis of the early 1960's where the Russian missiles were loaded on freighters and headed directly at the tiny island nation of Cuba; standing in their way a flotilla of American war ships blockading their paths. Only the clever and intelligent maneuvering of then Secretary of State and brother of president John F. Kennedy, Bobby, who traded obsolete American missiles in the tiny Country of Turkey for the Cuban missiles averted a nuclear holocaust. Kennedy realizing that Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev could not just turn his ships around without losing face within his own nation and hence the removal of the Turkish Missile allowed him to save face.

The question for the Jet nation of 2010 is how do these two entrenched parties find the proverbial obsolete missile in Turkey so that both sides can claim a victory and both sides can save face allowing Revis to return to the Jets in sufficient time to assist them in their quest for Football's Holy Grail. The true art of negotiations is not just to find out the issues that separate and divide the parties but how to find solutions to these divisive issues so both parties can positively move forward and be happy. The real positive scenario is that it would be easier on all parties to work out a positive resolution if Revis was participating in camp. Withholding a player's services is easy, negotiating a contract that all parties can live with when numerous competing impediments and complex outside issues are involved is the difficult part. The beauty is that our football nation will have the best seats in the house by turning on Hard Knocks every week to see how this reality drama plays out.

By Peter Schaffer  |  August 11, 2010; 11:40 AM ET  | Category:  Collective Bargaining Agreement , NFL , New York Jets , Peter Schaffer Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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