The Emmanuel Sanders saga: It isn't any fun when the player has the power

Gregory Shamus

Former Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders reportedly negotiated in bad faith with several teams this weekend, before agreeing to terms in Denver. Dirty tactics, for sure, but were those dirty tactics any worse than an NFL owner often forcing a player to take a pay cut on a contract he signed, years before? I guess the business in the NFL can be ugly on both sides.

Regarding his reputation for instilling fear into many defenders who dared to try and tackle him, former Steelers legendary running back Jerome Bettis once said, "It ain't no fun when the rabbit gets the gun."

I guess you can say the same might hold true for NFL players when they become unrestricted free agents, free to negotiate with any team their little hearts desire. And that's apparently what former Steelers "Young Money" receiver Emmanuel Sanders did over the weekend before finally reaching a deal with the Broncos.

As reported by Ian Rapoport, originally, Sanders' agent, Steve Weinberg, apparently agreed to terms with the Chiefs, then used those terms as leverage in contract talks with the Buccaneers (who were unaware a verbal deal may have been agreed on in Kansas City) and finally reached a deal in Denver, where Sanders will be playing football next season.

As I'm sure you know quite well by now, the actions of Sanders (or at least an agent with a shady past acting on his behalf) aren't going over very well with NFL executives--especially the ones in Kansas City, Tampa and, oh yes, San Francisco (Sanders and his agent reportedly failed to show-up for a scheduled visit to the 49ers facility).

The tactics of Team Manny might be the extreme in "negotiating in bad faith," but as I'm sure any fan of big-time college football or basketball will tell you, a verbal commitment means nothing until "National Letter of Intent Day."

Between the time a highly touted high school recruit verbally commits to a program, until the time he puts pen to paper, all kinds of dirty (or at least unethical) things often take place involving coaches, recruiters, boosters and alumni from other college programs, trying to get the kid to change his mind.

Back to Sanders and his agent. I'm not saying what they reportedly did was "right," but was it any worse than asking a loyal veteran to take a pay cut on a contract you and he agreed on, years before, which is what Ike Taylor had to do last week to avoid being released by the Steelers?

Let's face it, the second an NFL prospect leaves college, he has very little leverage.

Think about how illegal the NFL Draft really is. You're an aspiring professional football player, and you're good enough to seek employment in the National Football League. But instead of signing with the team of your choosing, the league tells you where you're going to be working for the next four or five years.

And if those first four or five years are exceptional, you may get slapped with the franchise tag, totally hindering your ability to shop your services to whomever you desire. Sure, you get tons of money because your employer must pay you top dollar, but how do you know you wouldn't have received an even better deal with another team?

Let's say, upon completion of your rookie contract, you actually are afforded that opportunity to seek employment wherever you like, and you do, in-fact, sign a lucrative second contract with a team (maybe even your original team).

The signing bonus is nice and all, but the base-salary is rarely, if ever, guaranteed. Also, the contract is often back loaded, and when Year 4 or 5 of that deal rolls around, your boss has the right to decide he doesn't really want to honor it and can send you packing (hopefully, you invested that signing bonus, wisely).

Oh and, hey, if your boss and every other boss in your corporation decides that you and your colleagues are getting too big a piece of the pie, they'll just close up shop until you agree to take a smaller portion.

I'm sure you'll use his negotiating tactics as a means to hate Sanders (if you didn't already). You may even put him in the same villainous category as Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Plaxico Burress (at least the '04 version), and former Penguin Jaromir Jagr (he'd be a receiver if he played in the NFL), but Sanders made the best deal for himself--ethics, be damned.

The NFL is a business, as the saying goes, and unrestricted free agency is a very small window in a player's career when he's free to do what's best for him (NFL owners and executives can't have the upper-hand all the time).

It ain't no fun when the player has the power, especially when he uses every last ounce of it.

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