Ross Tucker
Tuesday June 17th, 2008

The NFL, much like the calendar year, is made up of distinct seasons. There's the preseason, the regular season, the postseason and, of course, the offseason.

But the increase in players either publicly griping or failing to show up for certain activities to express displeasure with their contract status has spawned a new term. Welcome to protest season.

Never before, perhaps, have so many felt so compelled to reveal their frustration through either public words or personal absences. Kellen Winslow wants an extension in Cleveland. Anquan Boldin says he may skip training camp if he doesn't get a new deal from Arizona. Heck, some teams -- like the Bucs with Jeff Garcia, Earnest Graham and Chris Simms or the Giants with Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey -- have more than one player sitting out or spouting off.

It has become commonplace for players frustrated with their current lot to skip any and all voluntary activities, from offseason workouts to Organized Team Activities (OTAs), both critical building blocks for a team as it progresses towards training camp. If that doesn't work, and it rarely does, the next step is to sit out a mandatory event, even at the risk of being fined. Giants wideout Plaxico Burress is adding a new twist to that ploy by attending minicamp but not participating in any activities as he seeks an upgrade of the $10 million he has remaining over the next three years. Bengals receiver Chad Johnson appeared to be subscribing to the same plan last weekend before reversing his field and participating in the final practice session.

The other alternative, of course, is that players and their agents speak out -- both publicly and privately. The war of words usually starts how it should, with a player's agent talking with management, making sure the team realizes the player is unhappy with his current situation. Typically, if the agent senses a lack of progress, he tries other methods, which can include leaking word to the media or an all out verbal offensive against the organization by the player, like the recent outburst by Jets tight end Chris Baker.

"It was really a last resort type of thing," Baker said on Sirius NFL Radio. "We had tried to talk with them earlier. This is not something I wanted to do at all. They kind of left me with no choice."

Most NFL fans have a tough time understanding players griping about their contract status, especially when they are already earning such large sums.

"People think that if you sign a contract, you should honor your contract," said Bengals safety Dexter Jackson, who has had a bird's-eye view of the Chad Johnson saga playing out in Cincinnati. "But the team can release you anytime."

Therein lies the crux of the problem and the major reason for frustration among NFL players, who are well aware of their football mortality. They recognize the contracts are one-sided in nature and the team can always ask a player to take a pay cut or release them outright should they have a subpar year or get injured. If a team can alter the contract if the player has underperformed, why can't a player attempt to alter the contract in a positive fashion if he has clearly outperformed his deal.

"Part of the reason I'm in this situation is I got hurt in the last year of my original contract," Baker said. "If I get hurt this year I would be right back in the same boat."

This insecurity especially comes to light when players see some of the contracts being given to their peers. Even old-school former NFL players can understand the mindset of the current generation. Former Bears great and current 49ers assistant head coach Mike Singletary said, "I understand it. You do a deal and then someone else at your position gets a whale of a deal."

Most intelligent players, however, realize the best way to get a new contract is to stay the course, be a good employee and keep your mouth shut. The Saints recently rewarded defensive end Will Smith with a monster deal, in part because of the way he handled the process. Some players clearly don't have the patience to do that.

Baker, a well-respected player in the Jets locker room who appears clearly uncomfortable with the attention his situation has been given, said, "You never want to take it to the press, you want to keep it in house. But he [Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum] hasn't attempted to make any type of resolution to the problem thus far. I just want the negotiation process to start. We haven't talked at all."

Though most players who hope to remain with their current organization certainly don't take the decision to go public lightly, there are still other players, like the Bengals' Johnson, who appear to subscribe to the philosophy that causing a scene or becoming a distraction is the fastest way to get a new contract -- with a new team.

The problem with Johnson's strategy is it's not working and he doesn't appear to know what he is going to do next. The game plan that worked for Terrell Owens in Philadelphia and Javon Walker in Green Bay does not appear to be working as the Bengals steadfastly refuse to give in to Johnson's demands. At this point, Johnson appears to be receiving a lot of attention but precious little else.

Most players point to almost every contentious situation and remark that the player almost always got what he wanted eventually. From Deion Branch in Seattle to Pete Kendall in Washington. The next couple of months will go a long way towards determining whether or not this trend continues. Will certain teams acquiesce to player's demands and pay them or trade them or will they hold their ground and use the disciplinary measures in place to entice players to honor their contract? Only time will tell.

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