For the second time in a few months, I have issue with a Rick Reilly piece. At one time, he was a must read; his back page column in Sports Illustrated was full of humor and insightful commentary. Nowadays he mails it in, descending into a bad mix of moralizing and laziness. My first rant against him was when he chastised Lebron for leaving Cleveland as a free agent while failing to acknowledge how he did the same thing at Sports Illustrated. He defended himself (from commenters, not me) later, but not very convincingly.
Now he takes up the cause of Carson Palmer. For those who aren’t following the story Palmer, quarterback for the Bengals, decided that he’d finally had enough and wanted a trade out of town. And when the owner of the team, Mike Brown, said no Palmer threatened to retire instead. Brown called his bluff, so Palmer is sitting at home. Palmer has four years left on a nine year contract he signed back in 2005, so without a trade or release, he’s stuck with Bengals for the rest of his career. Now depending on how you feel about this kind of thing, Palmer is either justified or a petulant brat. Reilly, in embarrassing fashion, has chosen the former.
Here’s how he starts:
“Here’s how bad it is working for Brown: His best and most honorable player, Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer, is vowing to walk away from $46 million rather than work another day in Brown’s prison stripes.”
First of all, how in the heck does Reilly know how honorable Palmer is? This is classic media stupidity here; Palmer may be a great guy, but neither I nor Rick Reilly knows that for sure. To call him honorable simply because you no evidence he’s a jerk is a bit much, Rick. Did you say the same about Barry Sanders when he retired from an equally inept operation in Detroit? Sanders was a year away from passing Walter Payton for number one all time in rushing yards when he retired. Did you laud him the same you’re doing with Palmer?
But wait, there’s more! Reilly then attacks Brown, saying:
“Brown is a hypocrite. He has cut hundreds of players before their contract was up and given them nothing. Why should Palmer live up to a deal that works only one way? If Palmer should suddenly go blind, would Brown still give him the money?”
News flash, Rick: that’s how the NFL works! In fact, it’s worked that way for quite some time! Contracts are not guaranteed, so the owner can send the player packing without paying him the balance but the player can’t up and leave. Maybe that’s fair, maybe it isn’t (I don’t think it is) but that’s how the entire league works. To act as if Brown is acting unilaterally when he cuts players without paying them any more money is a complete joke. There’s more and more of this type of thing, and I’m not going to quote it all here. But the idea that Carson Palmer is some kind of saint because he’s choosing to stay home and be retired instead of playing out his contract is ridiculous. Palmer signed a nine year contract; even Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, guys with no need to worry about job security, only signed for six years with their teams. And he signed with the owner most likely to hold him to that contract in the entire league. Mike Brown doesn’t do renegotiations; either Palmer or his agent should have known that already.
Palmer has also overestimated his value. He did not have a particularly good season in 2010, and that’s a following a 2009 where the Bengals made the playoffs but Palmer was had a less central role than usual. He’s also had arm trouble in recent years and a blown out knee. Palmer, like Donovan McNabb, isn’t nearly as wanted as he thinks he is. Whatever teams may have been interested probably weren’t willing to make an offer that Mike Brown found acceptable. So Palmer is stuck where he is due to decisions he made earlier in his career. At the time he signed his contract, the Bengals were coming off their first playoff appearance in fifteen seasons and he was the new franchise quarterback on the block. At the moment of maximum leverage, and given the history of the team he plays for, he should have opted for a shorter commitment. He has no one but himself to blame for this.
Reilly is off his rocker for supporting him; this is the same writer who bashed Lebron James for playing out his contract in Cleveland and exercising his rights as a free agent to go to Miami. So fulfilling your contract and exploring your available options is bad, but trying to get out of your contract is heroic, as long as the party on the other end is an easy villain like Mike Brown. Right…… Of course, has made a career out of this type of selective admiration so it’s nothing new. If Reilly likes you, then you’re awesome. If he doesn’t, you’re a tool. Love that methodology, Rick. This is worse than anything Peter King does, and I’m no fan of King’s at all (although like most King haters, I keep reading Monday Morning Quarterback ever week.).
Here’s the thing. Brown is running his team like a business; he pays what he’s required to pay and not a cent more more. You can dislike the way he runs his team, but at the end of the day he’s not required to treat the Bengals like Mark Cuban would. That sucks for Bengals fans, but it doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to feel sorry for players who sign a contract then decide they want out halfway through. I didn’t feel sorry for Barry Sanders; I understand his position and applauded him for being willing to follow through, but I didn’t feel sorry for him that he had been stuck in Detroit his whole career. But before I finish, I have to give you the phrase that pays from Mr. Reilly. When demanding that Brown treat his tortured quarterback right, Reilly says:
“If I’m Palmer, I watch the signing wires like a hawk. As soon as the Bengals climb to within $11.5 million of the hard salary cap, I beeline it to Cincinnati and sign. That would force Brown to either cut five or six players to be able to pay me — or sign my freedom papers.”
Really Rick? Freedom papers? Do you have any idea what the heck you’re talking about, and the history behind it? So you’re equating playing a game for millions of dollars to slavery? Seriously? So if Browm gave Palmer his ‘freedom papers’, is there any chance he could rounded up and sent back to the Bengals if he got caught walking around without them? That is an analogy worthy of a political campaign, Rick. Why don’t you compare Brown to Hitler while you’re at it, or Stalin or Genghis Khan?
OK, I’m done. Just like Reilly should have been a few years ago.