Derry: Browns 2, Holdouts 0

The Browns have managed focus on team, rather than player desires for money, this off-season. Frank Derry offers his perspective on how the Browns have handled the first two contract disputes of the Phil Savage era.

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 season.

For the most part, everyone is paid accordingly for a 12-month job.

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 NFL.

Absolutely unbelievable!

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 pocketed $10,827,166.00.

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 camp.

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.

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