Twenty years ago, when June rolled around, NFL coaches and
players scattered like leaves in a wind storm. There was a six-week period prior
to the start of training camp that was used to re-energize internal batteries in
preparation for the start of the dreaded training camp two-a-days.
Things are a bit different today.
Rather than resting on the silky white sand of St. Thomas
or some other exotic Caribbean destination for the entire month of June, players
and coaches nowadays are grinding away in mini-camps or are putting finishing
touches on their off-season conditioning programs. Today, football is a 12-month
business for everyone involved in the NFL.
The rugged two-a-days in the summer heat of July and August
are not nearly what they once were. Players report to camp in very good shape
and don’t need to kill themselves to shed the extra 20 pounds they packed on
while sipping their Corona with a lime.
The way things are structured today makes a lot of sense
because the season is so long that if a player’s legs are tired by the end of
August, you can just imagine what they’ll be like come the end of the regular
For the most part, everyone is paid accordingly for a
Long gone are the days when players had to get off-season
jobs in order to make ends meet financially, a fact which is both good and bad.
Many of the players from the 1950s and ‘60s were able to prepare for life after
football by using their names to land jobs which, while certainly not high
profile like the NFL, bought a lot of diapers put food on the table.
Often times those players, who had little training in
anything other than football, capitalized on those opportunities and turned
their off-season job their life’s work.
Nowadays, players make more money in one season than they
would in a career years ago. And there’s nothing wrong with
that. The NFL is a rich and prosperous league. Without the players, the league
would be nothing, thus it is important that the players are paid accordingly.
For the most part, very few people begrudge a player who
makes millions of dollars doing something that many of us would gladly do for
free if we ever had the opportunity.
But there are exceptions to that rule.
There are times when players step over the line; when they
become too greedy for their own good; when they put their own self-value above
the good of the team. They could care less that their desire to make an
exorbitant amount of money would handcuff the team in terms of the salary cap.
One such example is Ross Verba.
Verba, a slightly above average left tackle, tried to play
hardball with the Browns when he demanded they tear up the remaining portion of
his contract and break the bank to pay him.
He wasn’t content with the $2.9 million he was scheduled to
get paid each of the next two seasons. He wanted mega-bucks to the tune of $38.5
million for a five-year deal. He wanted paid like the best left tackles in the
This is the same Ross Verba who was paid quite handsomely
in 2003 even though he missed the entire season with a right bicep tendon
injury. Verba, get this, was given $1,771,166 in 2003 to sit at home and rehab
while his teammates were struggling through a terrible season. Included in Verba’s salary was a $1 million signing bonus.
Granted, he was not among the NFL’s highest paid left
tackles in 2003, but you have to remember one thing. Two years earlier was when
Verba really cashed in.
When Verba signed as an unrestricted free agent after four
years with Green Bay, he was paid a whopping $5 million signing bonus in 2001.
In all, he earned $6,750,000 in his first year with the Browns.
Good thing he was on board, otherwise the Browns might not
have won those SEVEN games that season!
Nearly $7 million! Not bad for a guy who had never even
made it to the Pro Bowl.
In 2002, the only year the new Browns have made the
playoffs, Verba earned $2.3 million, including $2.2 million base salary, followed by
his $1,771,166 in 2003.
That meant in his first three years with the Browns, he
The way Verba’s contract was structured, he was supposed to
cost the Browns $6 million on their salary cap in 2004. But then-head coach
Butch Davis got him to agree to restructure, which resulted in his getting paid
a $2,750,000 bonus in 2004 plus a base salary of $535,000.
As a compromise for restructuring, Davis reportedly told
Verba that he would be rewarded at the end of the 2004 season and the current
pact calling for him to make $2.9 million both in 2005 and 2006 would be
replaced by a much more lucrative one.
I mean who... can live on under $3 million a year?! Obviously
not the 31-year-old Verba.
Unfortunately for Verba, the person with whom he supposedly
made the verbal agreement, Butch Davis, was off somewhere trying to find ways to
spend his millions of dollars he got for quitting late in the 2004 season.
When general manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo
Crennel balked at Verba’s demand, they not only showed him the door, they shoved
him out on his ear, insisting he return a $465,000 signing bonus.
On the field, the Browns may not be as good with L.J. Shelton starting at left tackle. But they certainly will be better off having a
few million extra to spend building up the depth on the offensive line.
The Browns are now 2-for-2 in dealing with players who have
gone public with salary demands. Recently acquired running back Ruben Droughns
tried to play hardball by refusing to participate in the off-season program.
At this point, he has backed off his demands, although it
is still not 100 percent certain what will happen come the opening of training
The bottom line is the players will be rewarded if and when
they produce on the field, either with individual efforts worthy of Pro Bowl
consideration or as members of a team capable of going deep into the playoffs.
Until that time arrives, it is best for them to at least
pretend to be team players who can somehow manage to live on salaries most of us
only dream about.