Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tampa Bay...stop crying!

This is a story about a group of billionaires who are trying to use their traditional "legal" bulldozer tactics (utilized by NFL owners for decades) against a guy who just wanted to retire.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are starting the process of suing Jake Plummer for a big chunk of the $7,000,000 in bonus money that he was awarded by the Denver Broncos in 2003, some of which (as a result of last year's infamous trade) is counted against the Bucs' salary cap. Tampa was also fining him throughout 2007 for missing training camp, practices, and games.

First of all, we'll speak from the heart here, and this will definitely be the part of this posting where people will say "you guys are idiots." Hey, Tampa Bay (specifically GM Bruce Allen and the trust-fund-baby sons of ailing billionaire Malcolm Glazer)--just release the guy and agree he's, you know, RETIRED. Admit you should have kicked the tires before buying the car. Admit to jumping the gun on a trade and making a mistake. Live with it. Maybe before trading for the multi-million-dollar contract of a guy who plays what is supposed to be the "most important position" on a football team, you should find out if the guy actually wants to play for you, and when he says no...DON'T MAKE THE TRADE! Well, Jake didn't want to play any more. And he retired. And he went away, out of the public eye. And that's not good enough for Tampa Bay's front office.

The Glazer family is worth at least two billion dollars. That's "billion" with a "B." They want Jake to be held accountable for seven million dollars (that, oh by the way, the Broncos paid him, not the Bucs,)
because it represents a big fat mistake on the Buccaneers salary cap that the team's decision makers were blatantly warned about when they went ahead and traded for Plummer anyway--one day after Plummer made no bones about not wanting to go to Tampa.

Let's face it, in some form or another most NFL teams make yearly salary cap "mistakes" that range from one to twenty million dollars...but none of the other owners and GMs cry about it and try to get store credit. On the morning of Friday May 3rd 2007 the Broncos and Bucs put together the Plummer-for-a-pick deal but had not yet pulled the trigger. In the same afternoon, media sources widely reported that Jake Plummer had essentially told everyone he knew that he would rather retire than pull up his roots and play 3500 miles from his comfort zone.

On Saturday May 4th 2007, the Buccaneers shrugged their shoulders and rolled the dice anyway. And Jake, true to his word, retired from football, assuming that Tampa Bay would do what every other NFL team does when a guy under contract retires: accept the retirement and release him from his contract.

See, this is what pisses us off the most, and it's a huge point to make when looking at the big picture of NFL owners vs. players. The NFL, more than any other sports organization, has power over their players union and by definition their players, the guys who play with the possibilty of a thankless permanent injury nearly every time the ball is snapped. Between their personal law dogs and damn-near corrupt influence with city, state, and even federal governments (as multi-billion-dollar money machines for regional economies,) an NFL team will rarely lose when they decide to make an example of someone in court. The only people who ever seem to successfully challenge NFL owners are --surprise-- other owners (Al Davis and Jerry Jones are the first to come to mind.) So now, a team with roughly the third-deepest pockets in the NFL is going after a guy who, by all accounts, just wants to retire and be left alone. Bucs GM Bruce Allen said this back in June:

“You can’t unilaterally retire as a player in the NFL,” said Allen. “That’s because you have a contract.”

Well said. But this, of course, begs the question "When is a contract not necessarily a contract?"

Oh right...
NFL contracts are only guaranteed to the TEAM--

--not the PLAYER.

ANY team can "unilaterally" cut ANY player and void ANY contract whenever the team wants.
That's why up-front bonuses exist in the first place! Denver (remember, not Tampa Bay) paid Jake X-amount of up-front bonus dollars (as every team pays nearly every notable player) to sign a contract stipulating that if Jake wanted to play football in the years covered by the contract, it would be with Denver...and they would pay him a designated salary if they decided to keep him. However, NFL teams reserve the right to release any player without having to paying them for the remaining years on the contract.

Denver did not want to do this because they already had paid him the signing bonus and did not want to simply trash a good starting player with nothing to show for it--especially if Jake decided to sign with another team (and proved Mike Shanahan wrong.) Now, Tampa Bay doesn't want to do the same thing, for two reasons:

1. Bruce Allen and whichever Glazer okayed the deal don't want to look stupid. They traded for a guy who had already said "I DON'T WANT TO BE TRADED TO TAMPA" and the guy was true to his word. The Bucs made a bone-headed decision when they should have just left Denver twisting in the wind. If the Snake had no takers, the Broncos would have to simply release Jake (or act like dicks the way Tampa is acting now, however, Denver's upper management doesn't seem to have the same stick up their asses that Tampa's does--Shanahan still has a job, doesn't he? Think that happens in San Diego or Dallas after ten years of no Super Bowl?)

2. The Tampa Bay franchise, as part of the overall NFL conglomerate (stop thinking of it as a sport for a second, folks, and see it for the cold corporate machine it actually is) does not want to set precedent by letting this kind of situation slide.

If Jake Plummer is allowed to retire with no "consequence" other than GIVING UP SEVENTEEN MILLION DOLLARS he would get by suiting up for the '08 and '09 years of his contract, the NFL owners would eventually have to deal with someone down the line, whether it's next week or ten years from now, who decides to use retirement as a tool to get out of an undesirable contract and sign with a team of his choice.
NFL owners are rich white men. Rich white men do not like being made fools of and they really do not like giving their money to people who have crossed them. They would rather keep a guy under contract and sue him later to make him an example than give the guy his way and actually spend less money by cutting the teams losses. This is what's happening to Jake Plummer. The Bucs would rather keep him under contract for 17 million bucks and sue him for a prorated chunk of seven million, rather than lose face by simply releasing him, saving his contract money, and taking a bite out of their salary cap that their own stubbornness is responsible for. The worst part is they put on big fake smiles and pretend to want Jake in uniform for 2008 just so they can use those lies to back up their court case. Why would Tampa Bay want to pay Jake Plummer starter's money when it's obvious that barring injury he'd be a backup behind Jeff Garcia, who nailed the 2008 job down with a gutsy 2007? Answer: THEY DON'T. They really do want to just cut him. But those kinds of public statements make it easier to maintain a "hurt" position in court against Jake.

We aren't asking anyone to feel sorry for Jake. He's got money, friends, family, a beautiful wife, and last we checked he had one of those sweet two-tone Honda Elements, though it was an '05 or '06 and he may have traded it in by now. However, we ask our few but proud readers to look at this situation as another example of a little guy being leaned on by a ruthless bully. Tampa Bay violated one of the oldest rules of business: caveat emptor--Let the buyer beware--and now they don't want to be stuck with the check. Well, excuse us, but last we checked, if you buy a Buccaneers season ticket you don't get your money back if you simply decide not to show up for the games. You certainly don't get a refund if they lose! And if Jake Plummer had said "Wow, I really want to play for Tampa Bay, let's do this!" the team could still have cut him, with no obligation to pay the remainder of his contract, any damn time they pleased. But despite Jake's warning of retirement, the Bucs went ahead anyway and traded away a draft pick and cap space. Now the Buccaneers want Jake to dip into his own pockets to cover their mistake. We say that no matter how the legality of this situation is properly interpreted, Jake Plummer is being bullshitted by Tampa Bay and (logically) by the NFL as a whole.

Jake the Snake Plummer may not seem like a "little guy" to us average citizens who make 5-figure incomes. However, when compared to the combined 100+ billion dollar empire that is the NFL, he definitely qualifies for "little guy" status, and the big guys are trying to push a little guy around. In today's America, isn't that happening far too often? Aren't we average Joes getting crapped on daily by corporations who are taking more of our time, money, and even our careers whenever they feel like doing so--with the rules bent squarely in their favor?

Write to the NFL and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or to any NFL team, or to your favorite sportswriter, and tell them that the Bucs need to stop here! Lay off Jake the Snake, Tampa Bay! You bet against the dealer and you lost--AFTER you saw the cards! Don't turn around and blame the cards!

So whether you like Jake Plummer, hate Jake Plummer, or simply dislike David getting the shaft from Goliath, send a letter to:

Tom Carter - Regional Director
NFL Players Association
1133 20th St, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
800-372-2000 ex 119

Bruce Allen - General Manager (and/or Bryan Glazer - Executive VP, and/or Joel Glazer - Executive VP...but don't bother Malcolm)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
One Buccaneer Place
Tampa FL 33607

or to:

Roger Goodell - Commissioner
280 Park Ave., 15th Fl.
New York, NY 10017
Phone: 212-450-2000
Fax: 212-681-7599

Or comment to NFL.com, the NFLPA, or Buccaneers.com (not recommended, most companies could give two shits about their website's comment box.)

and tell them to...


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