Monday 23 October 2017 / 10:43 PM

2014 season just around the corner

I turned to my wife this morning and asked her the same question I pose every year right around the first of August: “Is there anything you’d like to talk to me about before the start of football season?”

Every Sunday for six months, give or take, I turn into a stationary, sofa-warming, tortilla chip disposal unit. I love football season. Honestly, it’s the only thing I truly miss living away from my native land.

Sure, it’s just the pre-season, the NFL’s version of Junior High slow dancing that involves plenty of arousal with no real touching, but it still mostly looks and feels like real football. They’ve even got the cheerleaders out there complete with skimpy hot pants.

These days August football prep generally involves fixing the final pieces into your fantasy draft board, but as always pre-season games give coaches and management a proper look at recent draft picks and free-agent signees. Week by week team rosters are whittled down to the 53 players that will start the season to battle for the Lombardi trophy.

Now’s the time to get involved.

 

This article kicks off Commentary Box Sports’ American football coverage for 2014 and so I’d like to cordially invite any of you fence sitters to pop your proverbial NFL cherry.

I know the ball’s pointier than what you’re used to, the games are on in the middle of the night, and we silly yanks stubbornly insist on wearing protective equipment and tossing the ball in the wrong direction, but I guarantee that football’s just slightly less addictive than crack or heroin once you get a real taste for it. If that’s not a glowing advertisement for the sport, I don’t know what is.

Plus, you’ll get the opportunity to ‘listen’ to me jibber-jabber all season as new readers stroke my not-so-fragile ego.

OK, enough of the foreplay and onto the good stuff.

Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

Just over a week ago the news broke that Marshawn Lynch uses red velvet theater ropes to demarcate a space when parking his brand new Lamborghini in public.

No biggie. Right? So Beast Mode doesn’t want to get any scratches on his new ride. Makes sense.

Truly, in today’s world of social media it’s incredible to see what pops up as news sometimes.

However, a few days later we did have something to Tweet about when Lynch decided to sit out of training camp in an effort to hold the Seahawks hostage and demand more money to pay for said half-million dollar car (he didn’t actually ‘say’ this part about the Lambo by the way.)

Team management took a hard line approach, with GM John Schneider unwilling to waver from the system that’s already won a Super Bowl.

He and Head Coach Pete Carroll were adamant that while they’d love to see Marshawn back with the team, they’ve put a plan in place to move on past the Beast Mode era and would be willing to roll with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael should Lynch opt to retire in lieu of honoring his contract.

One week into the ordeal Lynch finally rejoined the team on Thursday. The team reportedly agreed to roll $1 million worth of 2015 bonuses into his 2014 base salary to patch up the dispute. So he’s keeping the same contract but getting some of next year’s money a little earlier.

Face-saving compromise aside, the Hawks called his bluff and won.

For now we’ll table the discussion about whether or not this early payday is a premonition that #24 will be waving bye-bye to in 2015 as a salary cap casualty.

Instead let’s ask this question:

Why did Seattle play hardball with Lynch when Kansas City dished out millions in new money to Jamaal Charles after just catching a whiff of the phrase “hold out”?

A tale of two running backs.

While Lynch didn’t point directly to Charles’ new deal as the impetus for his decision, it’s plain to see that KC’s star back’s success in holdout roulette certainly played a role.

But these two holdouts only appear similar on the surface.

First off, Lynch’s 4-year $31million contract from 2012 averaged nearly $8 million per season with the signing bonus. Beast Mode is already compensated as a top-5 back at $5.5 million for 2014 (now bumped to $6.5). Charles, who without argument belongs in the same tier, was scheduled to earn just $3.9 million and he never collected a fat signing bonus.

And while Mr. Skittles is a huge component of Seattle’s offense, Jamaal Charles IS Kansas City’s offense. In 2013 he accounted for over 40% of the team’s total yards.

Plus he’s young. As he creeps towards 30, Marshawn Lynch is approaching doomsday as a running back. Even for the game’s all-time greats, father time always gets the best of you, especially for workhorse-type backs that endure 250-plus carries each and every season.

Statistically RBs peak at 27 and then dip 15%, 25% and 40% in the following three seasons. Sure, not all backs are Beast Mode, but any way you shake it Charles is sprinting head first into his prime and Lynch will soon be teetering into the twilight years of his career.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Marshawn doesn’t have any gas left in the tank. But when it came to leverage, he was holding King-high and Jamaal Charles had pocket Aces. Lynch didn’t quite own the clout he thought he did and that’s why he’s going back to work sans a big extension.

Oh, and by the way, the Chiefs reportedly said #25 did not “hold out” of camp, but had just run out of gas on the way to practice.

Coaches, fans, owners and players: they’ve all got different opinions on holdouts.

Predictably most current and former players empathize with any given player’s decision to hold out and ask for a new contract. Equally predictable is ownership and management’s disapproval.

Fans seem to be split just about 50/50 on the issue. Some point to the fact that teams routinely threaten to cut underperforming players that don’t restructure their contract and so it’s a case of tit for tat. Others assert the notion that a player ought to honor his deal no matter what and renegotiate instead at the end of his contract.

Others still contend that players make enough as it is. This is a crap argument that is quickly discounted, however, as overall team salaries are set by the salary cap and any ‘left over’ money remains in the pockets of billionaires and is not dispersed out to the fans.

The league, of course, would love to squash this whole idea of holding out for more moolah and in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement implemented a $30,000 per practice fine for any player who refuses to show up to work during training camp.

But the business side of the game is complicated and there is no simple answer as to whether holdouts are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

Personally, I think that the silent hand of the market quickly and easily deals with nearly ever hold out scenario.

If a player is truly deserving of a mid-contract raise due to a rise in the value of his stock, then management will be more than willing to draw up an extension and lock him down for additional seasons.

If a player’s hold out is unwarranted, then management will draw a line in the sand and the player can either walk or get back to work with his tail between his legs.

Hold outs make great news stories and rile up fans, but very rarely do the implications reach Maurice Jones-Drew like proportions.

Jones-Drew famously dug in for a long and unsuccessful hold out with the Jags before learning the hard way that even the best of the best need to practice. He put up dismal numbers after returning to the team and never again threatened to win another rushing title.

At the end of the day fans shouldn’t make too much of hold outs and just enjoy watching the games.

We like to suspend all belief in the fact that professional sports are simply a business, but it is a business. We want to accept as true an imaginary code of loyalty where players and owners value the team logo over the bottom line, but money does matter. We try desperately to cling to the idea that sport is more than what it truly is (entertainment in exchange for dollars.)

And all that is fine. It’s great. Sports are brilliant and reality sucks. So why not grab a six pack, turn on the telly and imagine that we’re out there diving over the pile for a touchdown?

As I said, if a player holds out he’ll get what he deserves for better or for worse. Let him worry about his job and you worry about your face paint.

Countdown to kick-off.

In two days the NFL kicks off the 2014 season with the Hall of Fame Weekend. Each year the pre-season’s opening game is played at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio the day after a new class of players are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The game features two teams that are poised to improve on their 2013 campaigns as the Buffalo Bills will host the New York Giants.

The Bills play in a very tough AFC East with the Patriots, Dolphins and Jets, but their team has been slowly inching towards a return to the playoffs and a break-out season by E.J. Manuel could have Buffalo earning a surprise trip to the post-season.

The Giants play in the “up for grabs” NFC East and are well-known for being a roller-coaster franchise, bouncing between abysmal seasons and Super Bowl victories. Chip Kelly’s Eagles appear ready to take the reins in the division, but Romo and the Cowboys have been one win from the playoffs in three straight seasons and RGIII is looking to bounce back in Washington.

This Bills-Giants match-up is certainly equally as intriguing as any other pre-season duel and hey, even if the starters are eating hot dogs in the fourth quarter, football is football, and it’s back.

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Michael Airhart

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