By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) It’s a fairly simple concept. Yet in silence, it speaks volumes.
Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery has made it clear that the organization will not discuss contract situations during the season.
“We have a number of players that are under one-year contracts or their contracts will expire at the end of this season,” said Emery at a press conference last week to kick off the Marc Trestman era of Bears football. “That would be part of the planning process for 2014. We are always open to dialogue with our players and with their agents, but I will tell you that with where we’re at with our current salary cap and the room that we have in our cap in our efforts to put together a championship team in 2013, I do not anticipate that we will do any extensions of contracts during this season. All those will occur, with the players it will occur with, will happen in 2014 and not during the 2013 season.”
Period. End of sentence. Like your dad at the dinner table when you tried getting permission to use the car that night. We’re not talking about it anymore, so get over it.
That message is being specifically sent to guys like quarterback Jay Cutler, offensive linemen Roberto Garza, Matt Slauson and J’Marcus Webb, defensive linemen Henry Melton and Corey Wootton, linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson and defensive backs Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Major Wright, nickel cornerback Kelvin Hayden, kicker Robbie Gould, longsnapper Patrick Mannelly, and returner Devin Hester. They are all free agents after this season.
Maybe it’s a hardass move, but it’s also a smart one for a few reasons.
First, nip in the bud any chance of contract talk festering in the middle of the season. Prevent some prying jerk like Adam Hoge from asking Cutler if a 300-yard, three touchdown game he just had in Game 9 warrants his GM getting out the checkbook. Don’t let that become a distraction.
“That’s fine with me,” said Cutler about an extension, not about Hoge being a jerk. “I haven’t really talked about any of my contracts in my career and I’m not really going to start now. We’ll play it out, and however it’s supposed to go, it’s going to work out.”
And at the same time let it quietly fuel players. Emery has basically told these potential free agents that you’ll be evaluated at season’s end, and so you’re pretty much earning a contract with your play these 16 games. Or not. I have no problem with guys not being allowed to get comfortable in their money. This is the NFL. “It’s f*** or walk,” as Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross would say. “ABC. Always. Be. Closing.” Or in football terms, play well and win games.
“For myself, I can’t speak for others, I’m more excited that this is my contact year,” said Hester, who after the firing of Lovie Smith was contemplating retirement. “I’d rather do my contract after the season is over, because the way I’m feeling now, I could boost my stock a whole lot from where it’s at now. I’m not really paying attention to the contract. I’d rather have mine after the season, because what I’m planning on doing this year is going to help me out. It’s more motivating than anything. You can tell that this offseason — I went and trained with a cheetah. I’m looking to boost my stock up a little bit and after the season is over I’m looking for some great numbers.”
Contract silence also makes for one less potential distraction for the first-year head coach in Trestman. He’s installing his offense and hopefully extracting Cutler’s talent to its fullest. Couple that with taking over a team that was incredibly loyal to Smith and likely a little sketchy of a new regime, and the last thing he needs is players fighting about money in the media and taking focus off of the ultimate goal.
Gould already put his kicking foot in his mouth by invoking the phrase that always makes a fan’s eyes roll almost out of the skull. “I’m motivated,” said a kicker set to make $2.4 million this season. A kicker who signed an extension in 2008 that at the time made him the highest paid guy who kicks the ball and golfs.
“I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. I’m ready to play. I’d love to stay a Bear. That’s always been my goal and that’s why I asked to renegotiate two weeks ago. I’m not focused on it, but you know what, I’m playing for a deal. I’m playing to feed my family. At the end of the day, am I here for the team? Absolutely. The only way I know how to do anything related to my team is to go out and do my job.”
Yeah, less of that noise, please. Besides, the Bears only have $1.63 million in available salary cap room at the moment, so contract talks right now would be futile at best.
We’ve learned quickly that Emery doesn’t mess around. He fired Smith despite it being a very unpopular decision in the locker room. He had no qualms with letting the face of the franchise, Brian Urlacher, go away. Now he’s laying down the law with contract extension policy.
Shut up until the offseason. Pretty simple. And probably a pretty good idea.