Derry: Playing Anti-Poker

Sports agents, including Romeo Crennel's seems to play a game that's the exact opposite of poker. Here are OBR columnist Frank Derry's thoughts on this strange off-season pastime...

It's funny how poker players and sports agents are so totally different; how they react to good times and bad in such a uniquely opposite manner.

How so, you ask?

Let's examine the poker player. If playing Texas hold ‘em and the player wins a hand on the river (for you non-players that means making the best hand when the final community card is revealed), the player will pull in the chips and usually not say another word. The hand will quickly be forgotten.

But if a player takes a bad beat (getting out-drawn by an inferior starting hand), the player with the losing hand will remember that loss for months, sometimes even years, to come.

Now, let's take the sports agent. If his client, who has a multi-year contract, has a bad year or two, not a peep is heard in regard to renegotiating the contract. I'm still waiting to hear the first agent call a team owner and say, "You know, Mr. (fill in the blank), my guy didn't produce the way we figured he would. I'd like to tear up the final two years of his contract and give the team some cap room to bring in someone who can make up for his shortcomings."

But if the agent's guy, after a couple of terrible years, has a better-than-expected season, you can bet the agent will quickly get on the phone and suggest, sometimes even demand, the contract be torn up and a much more lucrative extension be forthcoming.

I bring this up because it was reported in recent days that Browns head coach Romeo Crennel's agent, Joe Linta, called someone in the organization to do a three-year evaluation of Crennel's work and to inquire about the possibility of Crennel receiving a contract extension.

Crennel currently is under contract for two more years, having signed a five year contract back in February of 2005. Linta, based upon the fact the team stunned nearly everyone an went 10-6 this past season, would love to see the Browns tie up Crennel for five years at $5 million per year. As he put it, he'd like for Crennel to become the "face of the franchise."

You'd better believe that if owner Randy Lerner agreed to such an extension, that would be one happy face. The smile on Romeo's round noggin would stretch from ear to ear and beyond.

I wonder whether Linta called Lerner after the Browns went 6-10 in Crennel's first year as the head coach? Or if he called after the Browns slipped to 4-12 in 2006 and were looking upon by many as the laughing stock of the league? Remember, it was only a little over a year ago when it appeared at times that the inmates, in particular Braylon Edwards, were trying to run the asylum.

Calls for Crennel's head were heard loud and clear from Browns fans, who have had to wait far too long to root for a competitive team.

I wonder whether Linta called after the Browns were blown off their home field by the Pittsburgh Steelers to begin the '07 season?

Even though I don't have the ability to wire tap, I'm 99.999 percent certain Linta didn't call Lerner to do a two year and one game evaluation.  

But to Lerner's credit, its appears he has learned from the mistakes both he and his late father, Al, made since taking over ownership in the late 1990s.

It was rumored that after the whipping handed out by the Steelers that Lerner was on the verge of firing his head coach. If he had done so, it would have marked the third time the head coach had been fired or "resigned" since the team returned in 1999. Chris Palmer was kicked out after the 2000 season, while Davis quit on his team with five games to play in the 2004 season.

Both times the moves set the Browns back to square one because a new head coach always seems to think the first thing he must do when taking over a team is to clean house. Players brought in by the previous regime are never considered good enough by the incoming coach.

Had Lerner made the knee-jerk reaction and fired Crennel, the 2007 season would have never gone the way it did.

Lerner's patience with his head coach was rewarded, much the same way patience at the poker table is often rewarded. But you don't get that reward by winning one hand in poker or, in Crennel's case, having one winning season.

And you don't get that reward just because someone, be it your agent or anyone else, leaks a rumor that another team is interested in your client's services. In this case, there was talk that longtime Crennel friend Bill Parcells, who recently took over in Miami, was interested in bringing in Crennel to serve as the Dolphins' head coach.

It brought back memories of 2004 when, despite the fact the Browns had gone 5-11 in 2003, rumors began circulating that several college teams were interested in Davis, whose contract was scheduled to run through the 2005 season.

Fearing he would lose Davis, Randy Lerner in January of 2004 gave him a two-year contract extension through the 2007 season. Davis showed his loyalty by quitting about 10 months later with three years and $12 million remaining on his contract. It is believed that Davis received most, if not all, of the $12 million.

That proved to be a costly mistake, even for a billionaire like Lerner. But it apparently taught him a lesson as talks of an extension for Crennel quickly died.

The reality of the matter is that Crennel will need at least a pair of winning seasons to get the pot of gold that he and his agent are seeking. If the Browns regress in 2008, Crennel will probably be headed straight to the unemployment line with the progress made this past year having been flushed down the toilet. 

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