Emmanuel Sanders will play for the Denver Broncos in 2014, but reportedly agreed to terms with division rivals the Kansas City Chiefs first
An NFL team official has claimed that Emmanuel Sanders broke “every rule in negotiations” during the recent free agency period. Sanders, reportedly reached a hand-shake agreement with the Kansas City Chiefs, before opening negotiations with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and finally signing with the Denver Broncos. Teams are angry, but has left many asking, do the old ways still apply in today’s NFL, and if so, should they?
Emmanuel Sanders claims he did nothing wrong. He claims he had met with the Chiefs, and that the two sides “were close to a deal, but it wasn’t anything official just yet.” However team insiders have claimed otherwise, insisting that a deal had been reached, and that unwritten rules have been broken.
Sanders and his agent Steve Weinberg have broken no laws. But in continuing to meet with other teams, and not disclosing the Chiefs deal with either the Buccaneers or Broncos, i widely accepted practice that once a deal is reached, and terms agreed upon, negotiations are over. At least in the mind of the Chiefs’ staff, Sanders had agreed to terms, and would be joining their team.
If true, it is indeed poor form to continue to meet with other teams after accepting terms—Sanders also had a scheduled meeting with the San Francisco 49ers which he reportedly pulled out of as well. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk has suggested that the deal may result in the filing of a grievance by the Chiefs, as under the collective bargaining agreement players have a responsibility to negotiate with teams “in good faith”, however any such claim would come down to his-word-versus-ours. And begs the question, do the unspoken “gentlemen’s agreements” of old have any place in the modern NFL?
Much has changed in the negotiating space in recent years. Not only is the money involved greater by an order of magnitude, but players have much more direct involvement in the process, and negotiations take place under a much greater level of public scrutiny.
In years gone by, agents handled almost every part of the process, with the player only taking part in a short interview and workout prior to negotiations, and then a pre-signing physical examination if required. Agents would handle all talk of finances, contract terms and even agree to the deal on his clients behalf.
Today, though agents are still an integral part of the process, players are much more involved directly with in-person negotiation with the team. Add to that, the added dimension 24 hour news cycles, Twitter. and the public awareness and scrutiny these deals are under, and it’s easy to see why traditional “understandings” and “in principal agreements” may be seen by some to carry much less weight than in previous years.
Take, for example, Antonio Cromartie’s recent visit to the Arizona Cardinals, and the media frenzy caused by a single follow or tweet by a player.
Soon after arriving, fans noticed that Cromartie had followed a local fan-made Cardinals twitter account, leading many to assume that an announcement would be forthcoming. Some time later, a series of tweets between Cromartie and Patrick Peterson, including a now-deleted tweet which read “We going to make it happen,” lead many to assume it was deal-done.
Even the fact that Cromartie tweeted out about his visit to church on Sunday was read into by some fans. Cromartie visited a church back home in New Jersey, but listened to Pastor Tommy Barnett, a Phoenix based minister speak, leading some to speculate that Cromartie was in the process of finding himself a spiritual leader once he arrives in Arizona full-time.
More than 3 days after the initial meetings, of course, there is still no deal for Cromartie—there isn’t even any firm information to suggest that the Cardinals even made him an offer—but undoubtedly, this sort of thing put’s paid to the idea that such negotiations are the exclusive domain of agents and general managers.
Which brings us back to Sanders.
Sanders is a good player, who clearly believes in himself, and has a value in mind as to what he is worth. Traditionally, Sanders would let his agent know what dollar figure he wants to get, and his Agent would do his best to get him as close to that number as possible, continuing to shop around until he reaches a figure his client will find acceptable, or runs out of teams to negotiate with. In this arena, where players may not even have spoken to a team by this point, a hand shake deal would be the norm, until the player themselves can get to the city and make it official.
But in today’s NFL, it’s hard to blame Sanders for continuing to shop around, even though his agent may have implied that it was “deal done” with the Chiefs, if Sanders himself felt like he could get a better deal elsewhere.
I’m not excusing how they went about it. I honestly believe that if his agent wasn’t confident in the deal, he should have held off until Sanders was sure. And not telling either the Buccaneers or Broncos about the fact that there was already a deal on the table certainly wasn’t great form.
But is it all that different from what many of us have done at one time or another? Who among us hasn’t accepted a job, university placement or lease on a house that isn’t your first choice, only to keep shopping around, and backing out when the dream deal comes along.
Although the terms of the Chiefs deal are not know, for Sanders, even if the deal was just 1% more, that means potentially an increase of $150,000, more than many people will earn a year. In reality, the deal could be worth much more.
Teams will argue that bad-faith negotiations prevent them making plays for other players. They will claim that, when Sanders agreed to a deal with the Chiefs, they stopped looking for other receivers, and their cap guy accounted for his salary, limiting their ability to shop for more expensive free agents. They will claim that when he pulled out of the deal, he harmed their chances of finding another wide receiver, as big names continued to be snapped up. And of course, they would be right to claim this.
However, the argument goes both ways. Players will claim that all to often, they will believe they have found a home, only for the contract to be voided at the last moment. Take, for example, Rodger Saffold, who’s $42 million offer with the Oakland Raiders was withdrawn as his parents arrived in the city to watch him sign the contract. Technically, the Raiders will claim that Saffold failed a physical, but it is widely accepted that this was an excuse for their owner to veto the deal which was viewed as overpriced.
Indeed, a team can rescind any unsigned contract, at any time up to it’s signing, for any reason they like. Seemingly the same rules of negotiating don’t always apply to owners in the same ways as they do for players.
Worse still, even once the contract is signed, players are regularly cut mid-way through their deals if they fail to perform. However, players rarely have the same privilege to walk away from an organisation if the team fail to live up to their expectations, or even just fancy a change of scenery. In almost no other arena, other than professional sports, is an employee, even one under contract, forbidden from quitting their job if something better comes along.
If all goes to plan for Sanders, he will not be negotiating a new deal for another three years. In signing any contract, he is tying himself to a city, a franchise, and a contract for the next three years of his career—a significant percentage of the average 6-9 year career of an NFL starter. It’s really hard to strongly criticise a man in those circumstances for wanting to make sure he gets the best possible deal, and doesn’t leave a better offer, in a better circumstance, on the table elsewhere.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.