Sign in / Join

A dynasty, at a modest price

Money wins championships, goes the refrain, particularly in major league baseball. Being able to afford top players matters, of course, but what you do with them matters even more. Case in point: the New England Patriots.

Pop quiz: which of the following is true about the Patriots' $77m payroll?

a) it ranks 24th among the 32 NFL teams

b) the Redskins' payroll of $117.9m is more than 50% higher

c) it's $22m less than Peyton Manning's (7 year) contract

d) all of the above are true

The answer is d).

The facts in the list are taken from Maske and Shapiro's column in today's Washington Post. The column focuses on the secrets of the Patriots' success, in an era when the salary cap supposedly ruled out sustained championship level performance.

The column is a useful and interesting account, but the following made me think twice:

The Patriots pick players that they think will fit their system, and many end up being willing to take less money to stay with the club. Middle linebacker Tedy Bruschi negotiated a contract extension last summer, without an agent, that included a $3.5 million signing bonus and salaries totaling $3.9 million for the 2005, '06 and '07 seasons. Otherwise, he would have been an unrestricted free agent after this season. Some agents and players leaguewide were upset that Bruschi settled for such a modest deal.

In most walks of life, people routinely work for less money if the job is in the right location or with the right organization. This is a common everyday occurrence, and one never hears any grumbling when a worker turns down money in exchange for something more valuable to him. In Bruschi's case, this "something" would seem to be the opportunity to win. Can you blame him?

I imagine the gripe is that Bruschi's contract would help "set the market" wage for linebackers. I can envision a small impact in an arbitration system such as baseball, but not in the NFL's system. The absence of Bruschi from the labor market equates to the absence of a substitute, which raises the demand for other linebackers.

But the bad economics aside, it's the greed that gets me here. If Bruschi wants to re-up with the Pats for a $3.5m bonus, that's none of Junior Seau's business (to pick a name at random). I always side with the players when they are criticized for taking what owners are willing to pay them. But they can't have it both ways. Criticizing Bruschi for placing championships ahead of their income exposes both their greed, and how little they care about winning themselves.