Roquan Smith, the Chicago Bears selection with the 8th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, remains in a contract dispute with his new team.
On Monday, it was confirmed that the dispute keeping Smith from signing his contract was in regards to the new NFL rule regulating use of the helmet. Under this new rule, players (tacklers, ball carriers, linemen) initiating and making contact with his helmet against an opponent will be penalized 15 yards and be subject to potential ejection, even on the first instance.
This rule replaces the previous, somewhat more lenient rule that focused specifically on the crown of the helmet in regards to penalties.
So how does this rule affect Smith’s contract? The Chicago Bears are currently insisting on contract language that would allow them to void part (or all) of Smith’s guaranteed money if he were to be punished under the new rule.
Do The Bears Have A Leg to Stand On?
I hate when I ask myself stupid questions. FUCK NO.
Theoretically? I mean, I guess. In a vacuum, you can understand why an employer would not want to be paying wages to an employee who is not able to contribute to their product due to “violating rules.”
But by any logical or reasonable level? Not even fucking close.
What’s the Purpose?
To retain control.
While the Bears would want you to believe that the rule itself is to blame for the holdup (the NFL just can’t figure it out!), this is simply not the case. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, the 16th overall pick in the draft, reported to Bills camp on time with a signed contract. And there were no bullshit stipulations about violating rules that are almost impossible to avoid violating over the course of a whole season.
No…this is about retaining as much power over their situation as possible. If this were a concern about how new players would be able to adapt to the rule (as the Bears would have you believe), the situation would be handled much differently.
They would guide him in developing a complete understanding of the new rules and helping him overcome pitfalls as they arise. Because they will. It’s a tough rule to get accustomed to in a sport where you have likely been using, and often taught, techniques that run a bit different than what is being asked of them now.
What wouldn’t they do?
They wouldn’t force Roquan Smith into a situation where he has to worry that playing the game in the most correct, rule-abiding manner possible could still result in him losing out on a ton of money that had been “guaranteed” to him.
They wouldn’t essentially threaten their newest draft pick with outrageous monetary consequences at rule violations, even though the rule is notoriously difficult to abide by when trying to help make plays while relying on lightning-quick reactions in order to perform your job at even an average level.
Again, this is about the Bears retaining the ability to dig into as many pockets as they need as deep as they want. And just because they can.
No Guarantee In a League Void of Guarantees
Roger Goodell’s NFL is a league already tilted heavily in favor of the owners and teams at the expense of the players. The league has frequently taken actions that make it clear that they view the players as adversaries, not allies when it comes to drawing up contract guidelines. The rulebook is stuffed with terminology that exists to limit the ability of players to get paid what they are worth. Systems like the Franchise Tag and the rookie wage scale are designed to limit the amount of control a player ultimately has over his contract terms and where to find his next one.
But the fact that the NFL only guarantees a tiny sliver of contracts, to begin with, is why this move is so offensive.
A League of Their Own
In the MLB, salaries are guaranteed completely. It’s tough to find many NBA contracts where they don’t guarantee most or all of the money. At some point during collective bargaining negotiations, the owners of the teams in those leagues understood and implemented a simple concept: treating the people who make the league run as equals and worthy of security is a good, sustainable, and fair long-term framework.
In the NFL–a league where players are in danger of losing their careers every single play–the goal of contract negotiation seems to be limiting the amount of money you are obligated to pay a player simply because you can. Players often have only the first year of their contract guaranteed, if they are so lucky.
There is no consideration for the risk they are taking in busting their ass for those same owners that reap the rewards of their Sunday showcases. It is simply “I will pay you as little as I can until I decide your services are no longer necessary, at which point you will be flushed down the toilet and compensated in zero ways.”
All of the economic dynamics of the NFL favor the owners, and they don’t relent in digging in on each and every one of them. It views the surrounding components as items that either contribute to your bottom line, or do not, at which point you are an expendable sack of bones.
Is this a new low for the NFL? No, it’s not. It’s just business as usual.