Don’t misunderstand what it means to give your word in sports, signing your name. It’s not actually a commitment, but more of a plan.
It’s not a promise, but an idea, an intention, based on the way things are now.
Breaking your contract, your word, then, is not an ethical principle.
It’s a financial one. That goes for a player’s signature or for an owner’s.
So linebacker Lance Briggs is causing a commotion in Chicago with his last-minute demand that the Bears trade him. But contracts, much like records, are meant to be broken.
“The Bears made their decision, now I have to make mine,’’ Briggs told the Chicago Tribune.
“It’s just how the business works. It’s not going to take away from what I do on the field.
“I’m 100 percent a Bear, until I’m not a Bear anymore.’’
See? This is what always upsets fans. They have their team in their heart, and want a player to feel the same way. Briggs says he does …
Until he doesn’t.
Don’t blame him for that. Don’t expect him to be emotional. It’s the system. Kids in Chicago might grow up dreaming of playing for the Bears, but Briggs is there for work.
If you found out that someone at work — someone who does less than you — makes more money, wouldn’t you be upset, too? If you had leverage, what would you do?
The Bears need Briggs. They have had this defensive system in place for years, but haven’t managed to draft solid replacements for Briggs. They were one game from the Super Bowl last season.
Briggs had to strong-arm the Bears a few years ago to get the contract he agreed to and now finds insulting. You win the lottery one day, and next thing you know, inflation kicks in, and $36 million isn’t what it used to be.
The truth is, Briggs might be a Hall of Fame linebacker. He has been to six straight Pro Bowls. Yet he is only the 20th highest-paid linebacker in the NFL.
So is he underpaid? Yes. Did he give his word on his contract? Sure.
But that’s a false debate. It’s not about right and wrong, but about can and can’t.
Briggs should ask for a trade and demand more money because he can.
It’s just a curious play from Briggs’ agent, the notorious Drew Rosenhaus, who tends to get his way. (Does he represent writers?). The Bears aren’t likely to trade Briggs now unless they decide that he is causing too much of a distraction.
So that has to be the plan. And if it is, then Briggs’ plan is to hurt his team until the Bears pay him more or trade him.
That’s risky, because Briggs can’t allow the other players to resent him. That’s the buzz in Chicago. Rosenhaus reportedly asked for the trade by sending a fax to the Bears just as the team is getting ready for the opener against Atlanta.
More likely, players won’t see it that way. They will separate money from play. Many of them would do the same thing if they could.
Brian Urlacher, a team leader and longtime Briggs linebacking teammate, isn’t going to be in position to stand up against Briggs. Urlacher re-did his contract when he was unhappy, and Briggs stood behind him.
Bears coach Lovie Smith strong-armed his way into his new deal, too, when his signature was already on a contract.
You do this because you can. It worked for Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans. He sat out, claiming, rightly so, that he had outplayed the contract he had agreed to. And in the end, CJ got paid, with a $10 million signing bonus.
That’s the term players use. Getting paid. It’s actually kind of irritating. Earlier in camp, Briggs told reporters that he didn’t mind being behind Urlacher as the face of the Bears, but “all that matters most to me is you pay a man for his work.’’
Some people would consider a 6-year, $36 million deal to be getting paid. But whatever.
Briggs was a second-round draft pick, and didn’t get the big contract at the start. He worked his way up, became a star, and still couldn’t get paid. Just when he thought he was going to, the Bears stuck him with the franchise label, which allowed them to continue paying him less than he could have gotten.
Remember, the big money with these deals is the guarantee at the front, the signing bonus. Briggs wanted a new deal with a guarantee.
He finally got it three years ago, signing a six-year deal.
The Bears can cut the deal off when they want. Briggs can’t. Yet salaries have gone up and Briggs is now a star making non-star money.
NFL contracts are too one-sided. That’s why you sign a guy like Rosenhaus to get you a new deal, a new contract to sign.
That way, team and player can give their word to live together happily ever after. Until they don’t.