I hope you're sitting down. I'm about to show you the entire list of star players that are entering the final year of their contract with the San Diego Chargers.
Ready? Here we go:
- Philip Rivers
- Eric Weddle
- Antonio Gates
- Corey Liuget
And those aren't the only guys going into their final year, either. Guys like Malcom Floyd and Kendall Reyes and Ladarius Green (!) don't get the benefit of being able to "negotiate" contract, typically. They just have to hope they get one that sets them up to possibly start.
What we've seen so far from the group above, is...
Weddle is not happy. He's complaining to the media, whenever he gets the chance, and his agent has been pretty openly bashing the team for not offering him a contract extension (yet). He also is refusing to attend (voluntary) OTAs, which he typically attends.
Rivers is not happy. He's not complaining to the media, but it appears that the situation is partially what lead to the Marcus Mariota trade rumors before the draft. It appears as though the Chargers approached Rivers with a contract extension offer, but it was a lot lower than what he was looking for.
Gates is a ghost, and pretty much retired. If he were a QB, this upcoming season would be treated as a retirement tour, with teams doling out gifts and appreciation for him leaving the division.
Liuget is around, but very quiet. I doubt he's very concerned about hitting free agency in a year, but he's also the only one on this list that is under the age of 30 (he's 25!). No matter where he goes, he'll get big money and a lot of years.
Four different strategies from four different guys in four different scenarios. Which are playing the off-the-field game the right way? Which are just making things worse for themselves?
So, you're heading into the final year of your contract...
I know, you're already hitting me with the standard line. "Honor the contract that you signed!" Which, I get the logic behind. If you signed for 5 years at this price, you should be okay with 5 years at that price. Here's where you're wrong:
The complaints from players heading into the final year of their contract have almost nothing to do with the coming year. Rivers and Weddle are not asking for more money, they're just asking for more years. They'll honor that final year of their contract....as soon as they get some security for the future.
Here is why that's important....and we're going to use a hypothetical situation to explain.
Imagine that, for whatever reason, the Chargers are 5-10 heading into the final week of the season. Now, imagine that Mike McCoy makes an impassioned speech in the locker room, telling his guys to give it their all, fight for every last yard and beat the Broncos in Denver in a meaningless Week 17 game.
Weddle, Rivers, Liuget....what's their motivation? They can't say no, because they'd be labeled as a cancer (killing their value in free agency). However, they have to play the game more to not get injured (because that would kill their value in free agency) than to actually win, but if it's too obvious then they get labeled as a guy who is not willing to play hard for his team/teammates....which kills their value in free agency.
Playing on the last year of your contract should never really happen for a star player until they're nearing retirement (read: Gates) or they're in the final year of their rookie deal and want to set their value significantly higher than what people think it is (read: Joe Flacco). It screws up their priorities. It forces players to play, and think, very selfishly. The players know this, the agents take advantage of this, and most teams understand that this is the cost of doing business.
So, if you're a star player and your team doesn't want to talk about a contract extension heading into the final year of your deal, what should you do?
How to put pressure on the team without hurting the team
This, actually, depends on who you are and what position/role you play.
For Rivers, this is pretty complicated. Starting QBs have to show up to absolutely everything. Mandatory practices, voluntary practices, Mini Camp....if Mike McCoy's teenage daughter is throwing a birthday party, Philip Rivers has to be there.
If you believe Jim Trotter, and I typically do, it would appear that Rivers and his agent tried to put pressure on the team via the whole Mariota trade thing before the draft. After that, they seem to plan to sit back and wait for a new contract offer to roll in. Now that it hasn't (yet), Rivers is simply going to remind the media that he's willing and open to talk....whenever the Chargers are. This is exactly how a QB, the face of the franchise, should handle this situation.
Now, Weddle is not the face of the franchise, which also means he'd have a harder time making a headline with a trade rumor. He also can totally no-show voluntary practices and it's not a big deal, but just enough of a story (when there are no other stories going on) to make some waves with the fanbase. My guess is he'll show up for training camp and bitch until him and the Chargers work something out.
One thing to consider here is just how much leverage Weddle loses if/when Rivers gets extended. That opens up Weddle to be the guy the team uses their franchise tag on next offseason, which wouldn't really change how much they're paying him (he is #1 against the cap this year among safeties, after all). It also means the Chargers don't have to even start negotiating until next offseason, if they don't want.
Now, which of these two players, both trying to put pressure on the San Diego Chargers, is doing it the right way? Well, they both are! Weddle is doing everything he can without actually missing meaningful practices (we'll cross that bridge when we get to it), and Rivers is doing everything he can without throwing the team/fanbase into total chaos.
When you hear those complaining, shouting that Rivers is at voluntary practices when Weddle isn't, just remember that their circumstances (and those of Gates and Liuget) are very different. Everyone is playing their own hand their own way.