Sounds like a scene from OZ that just makes ya cringe. As to who's wearing the dress, read on.
It is now mid-July, and just as we baste a turkey every Thanksgiving, hang mistletoe for Christmas, and drink sooo much beer for St. Paddy's Day that it nearly equals a typical tailgate Sunday, mid-July means we put on our best duds (from Richman Brothers or Diamonds or Chess King—just pick your generation) for the big Junior High Dance. It is that annual awkward courtship ritual between the front office and rookie draft picks.
We're less than a week away from rookie camp, and not a one of our draft picks has signed.
The Browns are not all that much different from many teams. A quick check around the league shows many, like the Browns, have yet to sign any draft picks. Other teams have signed a few mid-to-low picks for the going rate. But virtually no significant picks have been brought into the fold besides Carson Palmer, this year's winner of the "do a deal beforehand and we'll make you #1" Award.
It has been more than 11 weeks since the draft, but hey, there are vacations and sports banquets and fishing with Mom, and getting arrested for possession of three bricks of crack cocaine. We'll put all this signing stuff until the right time.
Ah, you think, this is only how it all appears. In reality, we figure these big time, multi-million dollar organizations have been quietly holding preliminary talks with agents for months. It is only now that contracts will be reviewed for wording, and everything will be expedited when the time is right.
Nah, they're all just like kids putting off that book report. If the due date is July 21st, they'll start working on it July 20th. If the due date is the Twelve of Never, they'll start in around the Eleventh.
No one calls to ask someone to the dance. Not in Junior High. They just show up at the dance and hope to take it from there. And in anticipation of the big dance, everyone is keen on keeping up appearances:
"We don't expect any holdouts. We have a reputation for being more than fair."
"I've made it clear to my agent that I want to be in camp on day one."
Good intentions, yes, but then the time comes when the mirror ball is spinning off shards of light, the DJ is into his third cut, yet few are dancing. Most everybody waits for somebody else to take the floor. The excuse is that they're waiting to see what the first signees make in order to determine the value of slots. If you're the 35th pick, you want to see what #32 gets and subtract a bit. If you're #32, you wait to see what #35 gets an add a bit. At this point, everybody's watching Lal and Ryan doing a cross between the Twist and the Hully Gully, but no one's joining them just yet.
How hard can this be? Figure the value of the pick's draft slot over the past two years, up it by 5-10%, and you're in the neighborhood. But it's rarely that easy. Some cockamamie owner falls in love with a prospect and upsets the slotting apple cart with an outrageous contract. Last year's pick around #90 played a more critical position or filled a more critical need than this year's #90. A second rounder's inflated ego convinces him he was robbed of the first round, but should still get paid like one.
At any rate, few are doing the dance.
Meanwhile Browns fans play the role of nervous parents and chaperons standing by the bleachers.. "Why don't they just dance? Get on with it!" They don't share in the kid's awkward pain and think youth is wasted on the young. As parents, fans are overly protective of their team, so they see their front office as the girls (hence, Carmen in the lacy number). The boys are the draft picks, the spoiled athletes who are always up to no good. They just want to get as much off the girls as possible.
[Author's Note: If you now have visions of Jeff Faine slow dancing with Carmen Policy and reaching for his tush, stop! You've gone too far on this extended analogy]
History in on fan forums seems to reflect sentiment found in the papers. Whenever there is a holdout, the fans will usually side with management against the players. And as so many of us found out, it's really the girls who, uh, have the bargaining power.
And parents dislike some boys more than others. They see the real pigs ("I knew he was trouble from the moment I saw him") and those they see as upstanding young men from good families (but who can be pigs nonetheless). Fans feel the same about draft picks. These guys don't have to play a down in order for us to like or dislike them. So if there is an impasse in getting a contract done, we blame it on a greedy player if we dislike him. And if we love him? Then the holdout can only be attributed to the greedy, scum-sucking agent who has clearly misled our man.
So how do we know if fans like or dislike draft picks who haven't played a down?
Easy, just refer to one of my early columns last year ("The Cosmo Quiz"; located in the Fan Commentary section under my name). Players come in with the wrong criteria, and it's a safe bet that fans will quickly hate their guts. Dennis Northcutt was the classic example three years ago. And then there is Jeff Faine. Short of attending Ohio State, Faine has all the attributes that Browns fans love: big, bald, blue collar, blood, sweat and tears, the smart, smash mouth player fans want to believe is the embodiment of a Cleveland Brown. I said it a week or two after the draft, and I'm holding to it (if I remember it correctly): by the end of his second year, NFL properties will notice that more Faine jerseys will have been sold than any other offensive linemen in the league.
We love our Larry Lunchbuckets more than our Glamour Boys. And if Faine is as good as advertised, he will own this town.
But the clock is still ticking, and if the Browns follow history and we see a minor holdout of a few days from our top pick, who will the parents side with... and against?
Will the parents see Carmen as the pretty young innocent…
… or the little barracuda who's trying to seduce our hero from Notre Dame?
We're inside of a week until rookies report. The newswire will be humming with all the signings and undisclosed terms, right? RIGHT? The parents are pointing to their watches. It's getting late. The kids better quit looking from across the floor at each other and start hitting the dance floor.
Copyright 2003. Questions? Comments? Post in the Fan Commentary Forum or write Aardvark at AakronAardvark@aol.com.