Bringin’ A Knife To A Gunfight

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This post originally appeared at the House of Georges. Predominantly Orange’s Old No. 7 and Arrowhead Addict’s Bankmeister occasionally swap e-mails about the Broncos-Chiefs rivalry and the state of the NFL, and this is the latest installment.

Old No. 7: Tank Johnson was cut by the Bears Monday. He’s a good player, but couple his constant legal troubles with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s take-no-guff policies and Chicago was in an untenable situation. Now let’s assume for a minute that Goodell was going to let Tank play this season, and he’s an available free agent. Let’s say the Chiefs have a shot at signing him to a contract that is cap-friendly with multiple outs should he repeat his bad behavior. As a fan, do you support the move? What if it were Pac-Man “Adam” Jones, who in my opinion is a much better player (and much crazier brand of miscreant)?

Bankmeister: I’d be into signing Johnson, but only under these circumstances: a) we sign your boy Adam Jones as well; b) we talk Just Give Me the Damn (Redacted) out of “retirement/announcing” and ink a deal with him; c) we send the Houston Texans Larry Johnson in exchange for Andre Johnson, Wali Lundy and Matt Schaub, the latter of which we ship back to Atlanta, along with Damon Huard, which lands us a healthy dose of Ron Mexico; and d) we scoop up the Titans’ Albert Haynesworth in exchange for future considerations. That way, on October 14 (which will be — knock, knock — my dog’s 13th birthday), when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town, we’ll scare the living f*** out of those wanna-be criminals. Seriously, though: who’d play us? Everyone would be scared to. Only problem is the Arrowhead magic; fans might not come out for fear of that massive mangle of unwarranted posse that would be in the stands. And you? What if the Broncos were in the same position to acquire Johnson?

7: I typically don’t mind attitude problems coming to the Broncos, because it’s a team that has veteran leadership and a coach who’s not afraid of losing his job. The whole Maurice Clarrett thing never bugged me once, other than the fact that they wasted a fairly decent draft pick on him. He cost the Broncos zero money, didn’t affect chemistry, and was gone before anyone even noticed he was there.

That episode was evidence, however, of a troubling trend among megalomaniac coaches like Shanahan. They’re such control freaks, and so drunk on their own omnipotence, that they feel they can “fix” even the most psychotic players. Both Andy Reid and Bill Parcells, normally smart, reasonable guys, thought they could “fix” your boy TO. Some cats are unfixable. Marvin Lewis went through a phase where he gobbled up every talented thug he could get his hands on, and two things happened: the Bengals got really good in a hurry, and Goodell unleashed the martial law to reign in the gangstas.

I’ve been very interested in the pattern of behavior–or, specifically, misbehavior–this offseason. Normally June is one-DUI-a-day country for the NFL, as the players get their last bit of irresponsibility out of their system before camp. But outside of Tank, Mex and Adam, the police blotter has been barren. Could it be that Goodell’s penalties are being taken seriously by most? Furthermore, could it also be that Tank, Adam and Chris Henry are just truly the most brain-damaged players around right now for pushing the envelope?

In a roundabout way, I believe that the answer to both of those questions is yes, and that the answer to your original question is no. I think Tank is messed in the head and lacking the basic judgment required to be a productive, accountable NFL player. I don’t think that about your average jock who gets a DUI or gets into a bar fight, although those both show incredibly poor judgment. So Tank, no. Adam Jones, no, even with the new haircut. Clarrett, Henry, no, no. Mexico, no way. Garden-variety misdemeanor hoodlum? Sure.

So since you refused to take my original question seriously and chose to crack wise, I’ll move on. You’ve always been Mr. Morality on this stuff, but perhaps the annual run-ins with the River Falls PD have left you jaded. No matter. You mentioned a trade of LJ, and I’ve heard that discussed by more than a few Chief observers. You’ve also speculated earlier that you felt that the Chiefs would re-sign Larry, but with low guaranteed money. In my opinion, he’ll never accept that, and guaranteed money will be the biggest sticking point in these negotiations. I also feel that Carl’s ego will kill any legitimate trade, because he’ll simply ask for too much. This leaves, to me, two possibilities: either Larry signs for $20 million-plus in guarantees (LT got 21), or he has a prolonged holdout. What’s your read?

B: Interesting take on the MoClo’ bit. I’ve never been able to morally distance myself like that with guys on my team’s payroll. Kinda ties in with that idealism I spoke of last time we did this. As far as the questions you asked/answered, don’t you think it’s a little early for “most” to be taking Operation Reign in the Gangstas so seriously? I have a hard time believing that this large group of rich, in-the-spotlight men all altered their behavior so quickly. I’m sure some have, and I’m even more sure that more punishments will be handed out before the season starts.

Brain-damaged? I don’t think so. I theorize that it has much more to do with self-absorption and flat out not caring. I wouldn’t call these guys veterans. They haven’t made it. They’re still young and arrogant. Half of the time, I think they enjoy those qualities, too. Jones, for example the epitomizes, like you said, the unfixable cat. I’ve come to accept the garden-variety hoodlum presence in the league. You have to. Like you said, poor judgment, but I’m not sure I could stomach being a Bears/Titans/Falcons fan through any of those hyper-exposed situations with these guys.

I believe my commentary on the Larry Johnson scenario included the term “minimal.” I think you have to recognize the relativity of the term, there. Of course it will be the sticking point. This is where I feel like Carl Peterson’s a very shrewd man, though. I’d guess he might be one of the best around at familiarity with the intricacies of the cap and of contracts. I don’t pretend to understand them myself, but he seems to layer deals with years that may or may not happen, incentives, clauses, bonuses, etc. Obviously, so does every other GM, but the Chiefs have never gotten themselves in trouble in those neighborhoods, and athletes and agents have been outspoken through the years about how hard-headed that front office can be.

The rumor mill produced the speculation that, when Johnson was allegedly on the trading blocks, the Packers were interested but backed down when the Chiefs wanted 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-rounders in exchange. He may very well sign for $20 million. I think Peterson can pull the trigger on that kind of a deal, make it fit the cap and not shoot the Chiefs in the foot by having too long an expectancy out of Johnson producing numbers “worthy” of that money. Tying the two topics together would be behavior-related stipulations in his deal that might eliminate some of those guaranteed dollars; Johnson’s slate isn’t exactly spotless.

My question(s) for you is this: In any job market, employees and employers must always consider inflation/increase in cost of living, right? But that just applies to guys like you and I, doesn’t it? I know, barring any slip-ups, that my boss at the juice factory will give me my annual fifty-cent raise, just like your seniority at the gas station will earn you yours. These guys aren’t buying that extra gallon of milk a week, they’re puttin’ rims on their great grandkids’ tricycles. At what point do we stop and say, “the cap, along with the salaries, are R-I-diculous?”

7: I think that, by and large, NFL players are intelligent and responsible. You have to be to succeed in a sport like football. Yes, these guys are young and rich and they sow their wild oats, but it seems as though the current disciplinary landscape has curtailed shenanigans this offseason–we’ll see.

The Tanks and Adam Joneses, by contrast, are missing the self-control mechanism present in most NFLers (and most real people too). I’m no psychologist, but I watched a lot of Sopranos, and they have sociopathic tendencies. There’s a big difference between wanting to go party and crossing the line to felonious behavior. And most guys who are faced with losing millions of dollars and a career they’ve worked a lifetime for will chill out. These maniacs have not. I still say brain-damaged.

My take on King Carl’s track record of not crippling the Chiefs with bad contracts is this: Part of it is shrewdness (which he deserves credit for), part of it is luck. He gave Priest Holmes a big contract, and that could have sunk him when Priest got hurt, but it happened to coincide with the new TV contract and the cap going up by 40 per cent. Through sheer coincidence, Priest’s deal became more cap-friendly relative to the rest of the NFL. As for the lunacy of what these guys make, I have long separated any real opinion about finances from my role as a sports fan. It is what it is. Larry Johnson is “worth” $20 million in guaranteed money because Arrowhead is packed every Sunday, because you spend a big chunk of your disposable income on gear and tickets, because you and all of your neighbors watch the games religiously and patronize the businesses that align themselves with the Chiefs. He’s “worth” that money because I give my cash to Sunday Ticket, CBS Sportsline fantasy football, and I once bought a Jay-Z record. The NFL is a giant ATM with a seemingly bottomless bin of cash, and the finances work. This analogy is tired, but Tom Hanks gets $20 million for a movie, and if enough people see that movie he’s “worth” that paycheck.

We’ve seen the downside of this pattern, which is the NHL. In the early days of this century, teams were handing out $10 million contracts to guys like Peter Forsberg and Jaromir Jagr. They were great players, but it was spectacularly irresponsible to give NFL-level money to stars of a sport without an NFL-level financial foundation. And it basically killed the NHL. Could it kill the NFL too? Of course, because the ATM is never really bottomless. But for now the money is there because we the fans put it there, and there’s no end to that trend in sight. There were five games on the entire NFL schedule that were not sold out last year. Five. The Arizona Cardinals sold every game out last year, and this season they’ve done it again. I have zero problem with these guys making the money they make, it’s the American way.

How about this: We thus far have paid what it costs to be an NFL fan. Would you still watch if the games went to pay-per-view at $20 a game? Would you go to the Broncos-Chiefs game if the tickets were $500 each? Would you support a new stadium if it raised your taxes by $3000 a year? What are your limits, not so much with your personal budget but when it comes to the principle of these owners/players digging deeper into your pockets?

B: Well said. All of it, really. Those are tough, tough questions. The idea of paying $20 per televised game rings with immediate irritation, the $500 ticket even more so, and the stadium thing is a bit far-fetched, not that it’s unlikely, just that the premise would be getting into fractions and percentages and large numbers I can’t wrap my head around. It might be interesting to calculate what percentage of our income we as fans spend on the NFL; if it was delivered in pie-chart form with varying colors, I’m sure I could justify spending some of that money. If things went to that extreme though, one might tinker with the idea of swapping out other compensation-package perks offered by an employer in exchange for season tickets or a pay-per-view package deal. It might be easier for the individual to stomach while simultaneously adding employee incentive to not show up hungover and work hard instead of surfing the Web for images of well-endowed women and essays by dudes blogging in their underwear.