You've got to love the "protest season." It's the time of year when the draft is over and training camp is still a couple of months away. The news has less to do with the X's and O's and -- without games to cover -- the media attention turns to any storylines available. As usual, players refusing to show up for voluntary practices takes center stage.
This year is no different, though there seems to be fewer players than usual missing. Sure, Chris Johnson and Andre Johnson are getting daily coverage for their absence from organized team activities, but there really aren't that many guys staying away. Probably because it doesn't work.
As Bill Cowher has said to me on a number of occasions, the most important thing he learned about the "protest season" was to not overreact when players were absent. Coach the guys that are at practice and don't create controversy about the ones staying away for contract reasons.
Apparently, today's NFL coaches are mostly in line with Cowher's way of thinking. Jeff Fisher has Chris Johnson, the league rushing champ, and tight end Bo Scaife using this time of the year to cry out about their contracts, but the veteran coach seems unrattled by their actions even though there are different circumstances in each case. Johnson is extremely underpaid at $550,000 for 2010; eventually a new deal will get done. Scaife, on the other hand, signed a $4.9 million tender and is under contract -- one some would claim pays him too well for his production.
The Andre Johnson protest in Houston is a potentially dangerous situation, but there's no way coach Gary Kubiak will fuel the fire with any comments about his star receiver being MIA. It really helps the contract negotiator and the general manger when the coach stays out of the issues surrounding the absence.
Andre Johnson had his rookie deal renegotiated with two years left on it, which was the right thing to do at the time. Now he wants to redo his contract again with five years remaining. Why? He feels underpaid in comparison to Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and any other receiver that makes more money than his scheduled $5.8 million. As my old boss, Jim Royer, would say when an agent came back looking for a new deal shortly after we did a contract: "No one put a gun to your head and forced your client to sign this contract."
When I negotiated contracts, I never liked dealing directly with players. When a player walked into my office to negotiate, I would hand him a copy of all the agents that represented players on our team and told him to go back down to the locker room and interview his teammates until he found a representative.
Andre Johnson might think he knows the market well enough to do a deal, but no one wins when the contract is outdated in a few years. Where's the language in the deal that provides an escalator if he outplays the terms? Johnson shouldn't blame the Texans for his contract; he should blame himself. And before he goes any further, he should hire a reputable agent and stop thinking he has it all figured out.
As for the Texans they are in a tough spot. Opening up negotiations with five years left on the deal is problematic because it sends a message to the other players on the team. Don't think for a second that Andre Johnson is the exception to the rule because he's so good. Agents representing other very good players will come marching into team headquarters looking for more of the same.
Oh, by the way: Andre Johnson is due $362,500 per game in 2010. So I'm fairly confident he will not miss any contests.
Then there are the more ridiculous protests. Albert Haynesworth doesn't like the new 3-4 defense in Washington. While he doesn't like to practice in the springtime, he had no problem signing a $100 million deal under the previous regime. New Redskins GM Bruce Allen has a poker face and has dealt with this type of issue many times in his career. Haynesworth will not win a thing in his spring protest and it might even be a blessing that he's not around to influence any of the young players.
Haynesworth is a rental player and if the Redskins could get respectable compensation, he would be gone. But they can't, so he'll line up in the fall with Washington and a year from now, he'll be working for a lot less somewhere else. It's a shame, because Haynesworth is a very good player when he wants to be and a smart guy when he wants to be. But he is over his head with coach Mike Shanahan and Allen. It's not their fault he got paid so much to come to Washington; sooner or later, they will get that contract -- and the antics -- off the roster.
Dumervil's no dummy
I do have a soft spot in my heart for the restricted free agents caught in an uncapped year. These players are missing a chance to get the big-money deals that could have been waiting for them on the open market. With that said, Denver's Elvis Dumervil isn't using the "protest season" to state his case. He's at practice and -- believe me -- that goes a long way to getting the coach to march down the hall to the front office people and push to get a deal done.
Guys like Donald Penn (Tampa Bay), Atari Bigby (Green Bay), Richard Marshall (Carolina) and Ray Edwards (Minnesota) are staying away from voluntary OTAs -- but they have little leverage, if any. They need to just get back to work and hope they have the best season of their careers to hit a big payday next year. The protest will not work and all they will do is fall behind in their preparation for the season.
It's interesting when you think about a rookie like Toby Gerhart from Stanford. He can't show up to the Vikings facility until his college graduation on June 13, and you know he's just dying to get to work. He'll miss most of the spring yet still have a good chance to contribute in the fall -- so maybe the whole concept of the spring practices are overrated. And maybe that's why the coaches don't overreact to the few veterans protesting this spring.
Then again, some veterans that used to protest in the spring have realized work is the foundation to success. Terrell Suggs, who hadn't participated in OTAs since 2007, saw his sack production slip to 4.5 last year and has figured out that being at the Ravens' facility is a good thing.
Players protest now because they don't lose a penny to do it. Most will show up the second it's mandatory and there is the risk of losing a buck. And all of them will be in on time to collect those game checks.
Teammates will rarely say a negative thing about a player protesting. They will say things like, "They are taking care of their business right now." The truth is, some young guy at practice is seizing the moment to take the place of a protester sitting at home. The door is being opened for someone else -- or worse, for a talented veteran out of work sitting by his phone waiting for the call. Proven players such as Kevin Mawae, Marc Bulger, Flozell Adams, Terrell Owens, Adalius Thomas, and Brian Westbrook, to name a few, are looking for work. So protesters best beware.