The word “contract” usually carries with it the understanding that both sides have agreed to an arrangement. Some of them involve services, some involve goods, some involve money. In the NFL they involve services and money.
But it’s not always that simple.
Martellus Bennett has a contract in force through the 2016 season. He chose to stay away from voluntary minicamps, organized team activities and conditioning programs this offseason, working out on his own but opting to try creating a little pressure toward a contract revision after a 90-reception season.
The simple reaction is that you have a contract, you go to work and honor it. Mmmmm, yes and no...
Brian Urlacher conducted a similar job action several years ago, with time left on his deal. His reasoning was that if the team so chooses, it can put you in position of either accepting a pay cut or a cut, period. When that happens, Urlacher correctly said, no one squawks that the team has a contract and should honor it – so why is the player always the bad guy when he wants a better deal?
Bennett presents a sometimes-cartoonish persona. He is anything but. And he, like Urlacher, believes that most people do not fully understand NFL contracts.
“I think that's where people get into, 'Oh, there’s two years left,'” Bennett said. “But most people don't honor their damn phone contract; they switch from Sprint to T-Mobile, so I mean it's just like being in an apartment and getting out of your lease because you want to find a better apartment or something better.
“It’s all phases of life. If we're trying to do something better, or if you find a better place to live you want to go to that home, you don't want to stay in the same home when you could work to get the new home. It's no different for me than it is for everybody else.”
By now the Black Unicorn was hitting his stride, much to the growing discomfort of Bears staffers wanting the discourse over. Bennett then made a pitch to your boss on your behalf:
“I think every American, every person in the whole world should be trying to get a new contract, and if they're not, it's silly.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]
Bennett’s best tack at this point is probably to put up another 90-catch season and then let agent Kennard McGuire go to work, because the Bears will be calling. If he does, he’ll be following an intriguing negotiation strategy that has been proven elsewhere.
While many workers use strikes as their only recourse to underscore contract demands, Japanese workers some years back had a different approach. When contract talks reached an impasse, it was not uncommon for workers to work even harder at their jobs, above sustainable levels, with the result being that employers were shamed into respecting the requests of such productive workers.
Not an entirely applicable template, but in fact the best way to reinforce contract demands is to outperform the deal. Bennett already has done it for one year; if he does it again, the Bears will become the heavies, “contract” or no contract.
Bennett’s teammates get it:
"I think he wanted to be here,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “All of us reached out to him at certain points throughout the offseason. He wanted to be here. There is a business side to this and he feels passionate about his position. So it is what it is."