Pulling the Plug

Today's newswire is highlighted by Pat McManamon's scoop in the Akron Beacon-Journal that the Browns have pulled the team's offer to Jamir Miller. After a year of discord and public posturing, the Browns are walking away from Miller. Or is it the other way around?

The Browns have been masters of the media in recent weeks, painting Jamir Miller as a player who turns up his nose at millions, and playing up the strengths of new linebacker Chaun Thompson and the rest of the youngsters who will now man the position for the Browns. Miller hasn't handled the public or the press as well since the start, and there will be few tears shed as he exits.

Until the games start to count, at any rate.

The genesis of this conflict goes back to 2001, when Miller's Pro Bowl season resulted in his desire to re-negotiate his contract. A quick tour of the news articles and fan comments at the time makes it easy to remember how this attempt was perceived. Miller was a popular figure for disparagement back then, another "greedy" player out to make a buck.

I still think, though, but Miller was guilty mostly of understanding how the game is played.

* * *

While it has helped the NFL avoid the fiscal orgy which threatens to destroy baseball, the collective bargaining agreement between the NFLPA and clubs has created a brutal atmosphere where competent players are tossed away when their salaries become inconvenient. Well-paid veterans, rather than being protected as in other union agreements, are instead the most exposed. It is younger, cheaper, talent which is prized, and veterans discover that they have only a short window in which to make their fortunes.

Miller tried to make a move during the window that opened after 2001, and now he has paid the price.

After threats of holdouts evaporated with Miller's appearance on day one of the 2002 training camp, the Browns compromised by providing some new incentives in his contract, and talk of a big roster bonus in 2003. One torn Achilles tendon later, that talk was just a memory.

The irony here is that a torn Achilles tendon is exactly the type of thing that players like Miller fear most, and why you see negotiations like Miller tried before the 2002 training camp. Players realize that the gravy train can end at any moment. Strike while you can. Anonymity is just one play away.

* * *

Today's smile on the newswire comes courtesy of the Seattle Times, which offers a hopeful story about Browns long-snapper candidate Bryan Pittman.

Here's an athlete more of the type the team would like us to talk about, a player who has struggled for years to get the opportunity to play in the NFL. Refining his long-snapping skills in college and semi-pro ball, Pittman continues to chase the dream. Even the Browns unlikely drafting of long-snapper Ryan Pontbriand can't get him down for long.

Pittman will keep chasing that dream. If the team lets him, he will come to camp and battle the very long odds that now present themselves. Sooner or later, we can hope, Pittman will latch on with an NFL team. Dreams are supposed to come true. Stories are supposed to have a happy ending.

I love stories like this, about the guys who are giving their all just to latch on to the bottom of a roster. I think all fans do. Let's not worry about what happens next.

Brutality is reality, but the dream is what sells.

* * *

Since the moment Jamir Miller sat forlorn on the hard artificial surface of the Metrodome, the Browns haven't exuded much sympathy for his plight. The team's president, Carmen Policy, has spun this brilliantly in the press, painting the picture of a patient team dealing with an athlete reluctant to play for a paltry million dollars.

At the same time, though, it seemed that whenever there was positive news of compromise, another shoe would drop.

The Browns have seemed to go out of their way since the end of 2001 to minimize Miller's accomplishments during his tenure with the team. As the 2002 season started, Butch Davis pointed to the defensive scheme as the source of Miller's success the previous year, inferring that other linebackers could, and likely would, rack up similar eye-popping stats thanks to Foge Fazio's brilliant attack.

The 2002 season proved Davis wrong. Without Miller, the Browns were unable to mount a consistent pass rush, and a defensive unit which appeared to be emerging as a top squad in the AFC imploded at critical times. Fazio "resigned" immediately after the season and was replaced by Dave Campo, who knew Davis from his time in Dallas. The entire linebacking corps was tossed aside, along with veteran cornerback Corey Fuller.

After 2001, the Browns had suggested that a smart defensive scheme and surrounding talent made an average linebacker look great. The results of the following year's campaign suggest that the opposite may have been true.

* * *

It took me more than forty years, but I have come to believe that believe that you define a person by the life they lead, rather than the things they have. At least, that's how I like to think about it.

I've been asked to do some nasty things in my career and I've taken some blows right to the head. That's the way of business, where political intrigue often takes precedent over the corporate good or personal lives. Reality is brutality.

There are those close to me who may think that I'm a fool for making some of the decisions I've made But sometimes a man has to make decisions based on what he feels is right, and sometimes money isn't the most important thing. You have to do what enables you to sleep at night.

* * *

Despite the public disparagement, Miller and the Browns kept talking. After all, he had little choice. The Pro Bowl year, the glowing praise in the press, meant little now. All that mattered was muscle tissue.

This month, the team began referring to Miller in the press as a situational player, undoubtedly a huge blow to a player who considered himself a top talent. As Pat's article shows, this was a crucial issue, as Miller wanted to be an every-down player.

Sports talk shows have known that it's easy to blast "greedy" athletes for a long time now. It makes a quick column in the newspaper. No person would be ridiculous enough to walk away from a million dollars.

Not unless he had been treated like something that is wiped from the bottom of a shoe, perhaps.

Sometimes, it's about more than money.

Good luck, Jamir, wherever you go. Thanks for some great years.

- AB

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