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So We've Got Ourselves a Standoff - Analyzing the Chargers' RFA Situation

Things have a changed a little since I wrote my perspective on holdouts. Threats have been made, fans have been irritated and replacement players have been signed. So, I'm going to try and tackle a few questions that have come up regarding the holdouts. I want to preface them by stating that I'm not pro-management. I'd love to see the owners give up more of their money earned from our entertainment. However, in the real world they run a business and I like to think I can put some of their decisions into perspective. I want the players to get t heir money, but certain situations can make that difficult for them and really that's not the owners fault and it's not the players fault; it's probably the union's fault for not fighting harder.

Is A.J. Smith's stance on these players fair?

I've heard some people say that it isn't. I don't agree. When A.J. offered the tenders and decided not to negotiate extensions I don't think he did it to screw anyone or because his ego is too big. I think he did it to buy time. The situation presented to him offered the potential to have these players for another year without taking on the risks that come with a long term contract. He could try to win a championship with them and also continue to evaluate whether the team wanted to offer long term contracts to the players. In all 4 players' cases I understand that stance and I probably would understand it even better if I had the info that the front office does (like Marcus McNeill and Shawne Merriman's medical records or Vincent Jackson's attitude concerning his misbehavior). They are probably asking to be paid quite a lot based on what they've done in the past; however, none of them of surefire locks to perform at the same level in the future.

That being said, if A.J. decides to take the contract renewal option and pay these players 6 figures instead of 7 that strikes me as a little unfair. It is certainly within the rules, but seems more punitive and disincentivizes the players to end their holdouts. That course of action is okay to bluff about (and the fact that A.J. could even bluff us and the player agents on that speaks to how his perception can work in his favor), but seems semi-disastrous if he actually follows through with it. The message sent by offering a 7 figure one year tender is, "I'm offering you a pretty decent contract to allow you to prove yourself for one more year here." The message sent by reducing that to 6 figures is, "I'm trying to screw you out of more money."

Is what A.J. and the Chargers are doing risky?

Absolutely. However, there are risks no matter what path they take. Offering tenders instead of extensions in the first place is risky. Even if the players sign you risk losing them next year. Signing the players to extensions is risky in the long term, especially when you don't understand the rules going forward (what if their salaries become guaranteed?). And, of course, challenging the players to holdout is risky. You may lose the players for the current season and the only benefit is that you don't have to pay them. In any case, A.J. Smith and the Chargers will need to be held accountable for their actions. The path they choose is not unfair or unwise, but they will have to live with the repercussions.

Why are these players holding out in the first place?

In my last post I basically concluded that they shouldn't hold out. Let me elaborate on that. From a business aspect, a player needs to do everything possible to get his money before he retires. When I talked about the organization I basically said that every branch on the decision tree included some risk. For the player, as long as you get to branch that has the big contract on it then you have chosen the right path. McNeill and VJ have decided that the path to that destination lies in playing hardball with the Chargers. I disagree. I'd rather go down the path where you play one year for decent money and then cash in. Both have risks, one offers the certainty of nice money in 2010. If they think they can win this fight or that they can lose it and still come out okay, then more power to them.

Which side should I be on?

Obviously, whatever side gets these players on the field in 2010 and doesn't hurt the team going forward. Probably, the easiest side to be on is the players. If they get their contract extensions the team's 2010 depth chart is what we all want it to be. I'm hesitant to hitch my wagon to that side. The Chargers have a better idea about what might happen if they just cave in than I do, and to a certain extent I think they have earned some trust in their judgment. I firmly believe that the Chargers aren't doing this to be cheapskates or because A.J. has an ego to maintain, but instead are trying to be as prudent as possible about it. So, the only answer I can come with is, "I don't know." I'm going to be the scaredy cat watching a horror movie, closing my eyes and peeking through once in a while hoping that everything turns out okay.