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Favrenomics

Since every other writer out there in sports media and blogdom has chimed in on the Brett Favre saga, why not somebody from the SE? Why not me! Of course, the whole thing may be settled by the time I post, but as of my writing, word on the street (or, Yahoo Sports) is that the Bucs or Jets have resurfaced as the likely landing pads for the semi-retired QB.

As an economist, the game theoretic backdrop caught my eye. The Minneapolis Star Tribune (and many other outlets) have dubbed it a "game of chicken" -- essentially a battle of egos between Favre and the Packer GM. I don't think that's really the case. Chicken is a simultaneous game. No doubt, there have been some standoffs in this situation, but the parties have moved in a sequenced series of steps.

Favre's retirement and re-commitment to it led the Packers to commit to Aaron Rodgers. (If Favre were 10 years younger, this commitment would mean little, but at 39, they have to move on some day -- so why not now.) Whether Favre exhibited the flighty whims of his inner17-year old, felt unwanted by the Pack, or schemed long term to jump to a new team all along, who knows. In any case, Favre could see that the Packers held the contractual cards. When the game is stacked against you, change the game. His "strategic move"in this regard? Make it one with the media involved rather than just him, his agent, and GB.

Favre's media gambit(s) placed the Packers GM in something of a prisoner's dilemma -- damned whatever he chooses. To appease Favre-loving Pack faithful, they could bring him back and throw Rodgers under the bus, but, again, Favre's 39. Thirty-nine year old QBs are not difference makers. (Check out Advanced NFL Stats article). Furthermore, Favre might pull the same thing each year until he's 50. After all, this wasn't the first retirement merry-go-round with Brett. At this point in the game, I thought, "why doesn't GB just ship him to just any team outside the division willing to give up a 3rd rounder. " I thought this more so after the $20 million "don't play offer." (I think I'll see if I can get that sort of deal from my department head.)

Brett complained through ESPN's Chris Mortensen that GB asked teams for a "king's ransom" in return, stalling trade efforts. As events transpired, however, it became clearer that Favre was the one making such a trade difficult and using the media as an extra player in the game. As quoted in the Star-Tribune article, Favre said:

"They say no, so I still want to play in this division for obvious reasons, which I made clear to management. If they won't let me play in Green Bay, let me play against you. That's where I am."

In other words, here's where I'll play ... Minnesota. If you don't play me, then I'll just show up in camp and that will really put you in the middle of the media circus. The Packers decided they could handle the brinksmanship and said, ok, we'll play your game. They then pulled a little strategic game shift of their own, with head coach Mike McCarthy being willing to tell the media that after a conversation, he didn't think Favre was really in a frame of mind to play for the Packers. As a result, Favre now appears willing to reconsider the Jets or Bucs.

The Packers GM has come under heavy criticism from the media and some of my friends. However, as I asked them, what would you have done differently as GM? Let Favre play for the Vikings with all of the problems that would cause among Packer fans? Would you just jettison Rodgers to reinstate a 39 year-old Favre after all of his maneuvering?

Beyond the game tactics and on a normative level, the whole episode has caused me to lose respect for Favre. I don't begrudge someone for trying to pursue objectives they desire, but in doing so, he's the one who has thrown Aaron Rodgers under the bus. As Michael Silver's article outlines. Silver quotes a 6 year old at practice shouting:

"We don’t love you,” the kid said. “You suck.”