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Escape strategy: players’ requests for trades bear little fruit

May 10, 2009

It seems increasingly common in the NFL that players are trying their utmost to get out of contracts and use the considerable media attention the NFL receives to try and manufacture a trade for themselves, usually based on either hating the coaching staff (see Ochocinco, Chad) or wanting a better contract (see Boldin, Anquan). In this offseason alone we’ve seen the two aforementioned wideouts request trades, as well as the likes of Carolina pass-rusher Julius Peppers, Philadelphia cornerback Sheldon Brown, Broncos-now-Bears QB Jay Cutler and Arizona DT Darnell Dockett.

However, NFL teams are becoming increasingly frustrated with these seemingly perpetual gripes and are standing much firmer on their belief of not trading players just because they’re being asked to. The Chad Johnson saga has been raging on so long that he’s had time to change his name, but still Marvin Lewis and the Bengals’ front office refuse to get rid of him because he is still under contract and required to play. So why do players want to leave? Every player who requests a trade is disgruntled, that much is obvious, but it seems that their frustration can be attributed to three main factors.

Factor 1: A falling-out with the coaching staff

As with Cutler, Johnson and indeed the Brett Favre debacle of last offseason, players want to leave when they feel they’ve lost the trust/faith/respect of the coaching staff around them. It is taken as a given that every NFL player has an ego, and when that ego stops being fed or respected the player is usually inclined to leave (Terrell Owens is an obvious example of this). A personal rift between player and coach can be enough to trigger a trade, and as we’ve seen with Cutler the coach will almost always look to shift the player rather than have him cause huge locker-room disruption: McDaniels traded Cutler, McCarthy shipped Favre and Phillips/Jones cut Owens. Players will not play hard for a coach they don’t respect and want to play for a coach they do, so they want to get the fuck outta Dodge, and understandably so.

Factor 2: Contract demands

Drew Rosenhaus family motto

Drew Rosenhaus' family motto

Most NFL players are probably unhappy with their contracts (well, apart from this year’s rookie class), but the brighter your name shines, the more likely you are to be given a wheelbarrow full of money. Usually this sudden dissatisfaction with a contract comes from another player at the same position (or even a teammate) receiving a big fat deal. All of a sudden that contract you signed 2 years ago isn’t looking so lucrative: Anquan Boldin and Chad Ochocinco have had this issue as Larry Fitzgerald and TJ Houshmandzadeh got a lot of money (and in the case of Ochocinco the insult was compounded when Houshmandzadeh left). At a time when multiple-receiver sets are becoming increasingly popular, the likes of Boldin and Ochocinco can demand more because their roles are likely to increase year on year. Long gone are the days where a player would play for the duration of his contract, and although perhaps their market value has increased, demanding a new contract after 2 years of a lengthy deal is not going to endear any player to their franchise or fans.

Factor 3: Desire for a new challenge

Sometimes when a player has played for the same team for years, they desire a new challenge. Tony Gonzalez is a Kansas City favourite but requested (and received) a trade because he wanted to leave and the team felt it was time. Gonzalez felt that he had done enough for the Chiefs over the last decade to merit a trade elsewhere and managed to get his wish without a media hailstorm. Julius Peppers felt much the same way after his years of production in Carolina, but he has not been traded as Carolina is desperate to keep him around. Not every player is a one-team man, and after a while even legends have to move (think Joe Montana’s brief swansong in KC) so it comes as no surprise that elder players can sometimes simply want a fresh start elsewhere. And sometimes, it must be said, they deserve the opportunity.

Over the last decade, players’ egos have increased and the NFL has become an even more profitable league, so everyone wants more money. However, an increasing number of franchises are deciding that enough is enough and refusing players’ requests to move. The day cannot be far off when players realize that the more they complain, the less likely they are to have their wishes granted. The NFL is getting more old-school in its actions, from player discipline to contract renewal, and the players will have to learn the hard way to keep their head down and shut up. Complaining, it seems, won’t get you anywhere.

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