Football season has been over for weeks. Pittsburgh fans are still starting fires in trashcans, though these days it’s to keep warm, not to celebrate their team’s championship. The Washington Redskins still managed to make headlines yesterday, with the start of the free agent signing period. On the day teams begin talking to available players, the Skins went ahead and dumped large piles of money on players’ doorsteps. If only I were a player… or had a doorstep…
The team signed or agreed to terms with three sought-after free agents. The contracts will total $182 million, $72.5 of which will be guaranteed. Pro football contracts are generally not guaranteed, due to the sport’s high risk of injury. Otherwise teams would be stuck paying players who had stopped playing due to injury. And we wouldn’t want injured unemployed people collecting money now would we? That would be Robin Hood Socialism or worse, France.
The annual Redskins sweepstakes winner this year is stud defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. The most coveted free agent signed a deal worth more than $100 million. That amount includes $41 million in guarantees – the highest amount in league history. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall agreed to a $55 million deal, with about $23 million guaranteed. He played for the Redskins half of last season after the Oakland Raiders – his former team and maybe the NFL’s most dysfunctional team – cut him for not being a team player. Offensive guard Derrick Dockery will sign for $27 million, $8.5 million of which is guaranteed. Dockery started his career in Washington before a two-year stint in Buffalo.
Congratulations to these players for taking what they can get. I would happily sign away much more than they did for much less than they’ll be paid; I’m not getting much use out of my spleen these days anyway. But this spending spree begs a couple of larger questions…
- Why would anyone ever think education is the path to success and give up sports? (I really blew that one.)
- Why did the team lay off 20 team employees (not players or coaches) earlier in the year if it has all this money just sitting around?
The answer to the first question is pretty easy… I was never that good of an athlete. I could catch a football, but didn’t much like getting hit. I could field a groundball and catch a throw in the dirt from third base, but was average at best with a bat. My sports career was over with high school. Education seemed to provide opportunities for me – a determination a lot of people make. Good grades and test scores, as I’ve discovered the hard way, don’t lead to financial security. They don’t even ensure employment. But running into people at full speed sure seems to. Pro athletes are receiving and signing mammoth contracts while the rest of us are losing our relatively low-paying jobs.
The laid off include rank-and-file Redskins employees. The huge contracts proffered to players make this hard to explain away. Maybe the layoffs were a PR move. Fans identify more with their team if they see it experiencing troubles similar to their own. And this builds fan loyalty, and leads to dollars down the road. Big organizations also have different budgets for different things. So staff salaries might be drawn from one pot and player salaries from another. Given that owner Dan Snyder lords over everything and can do whatever he wants, I don’t buy this explanation. A mere $1.5 million could have kept all of these people employed for another year (assuming an average annual salary of $50,000 plus another $25,000 in benefits). And that’s pocket change to moneybags Snyder.
The signings are likely designed to make money in the long run. Big-time talent gets fans excited in the off-season, driving sales of tickets and merchandise, regardless of the economy. Big-time talent wins games (at least that’s the thinking), which will excite fans and again drives sales when the economy is better. And good teams get more national exposure and more advertising revenue. In practice, the Redskins rarely get their money’s worth.
Big-time free agent signings have never made the team more than average. And that will be the case this time. Individual players get hurt and have bad seasons. Rarely if ever do they make mediocre teams into Super Bowl contenders. They just expose weaknesses in other areas. So I can look forward to disappointment when football season comes around again.
But this fan is a little pissed off for another reason. It’s not the staff layoffs, nor the high player salaries. Businesses do what they feel they have to. I understand that. What bothers me is when businesses blow smoke up my ass. The team laid off staff to save money and then turned around and overspent on free agents. Haynesworth is a great player, and was due for a payday. But even he was surprised by the offer, meaning he would have signed for a lot less. Making a huge splash like that when many of your fans are struggling makes the owner look out-of-touch. Given that he still thinks he can buy a championship through free agency, I guess that shouldn’t surprise me.
Throwing around record amounts of money at a time like this (and after laying off average people for purported financial reasons) is also disrespectful to the team’s fans. Athletes, as employees, deserve every penny someone is willing to pay them. But they’re not like the rest of us. Laid off office workers are. And this is an insult to them, and everyone else suffering through difficult times.
Thanks, Redskins, for thinking about your fans. That’s some good looking out.