Signs are pointing toward Harris reporting, but the eight-year NFL cornerback has several reasons to be upset about his contract. A holdout could be just the move to get a new deal.
Any player who grumbles over an already huge contract or shows his displeasure by holding out is never going to win a popularity contest. Most fans will never comprehend why players who make millions demand even more. It seems out of touch with most of the world, but in a multi-billion dollar business, there are loads of cash to go around. That is why negotiating contracts has become an inexact science and is always a controversial story. Before the majority jumps on Harris, like the sentiment seems to be thus far, consider these points:
1. Harris is one of the top three defensive players on the Packers, if not the best. Harris has not made a Pro Bowl, but Pro Bowl selections are bogus anyway. They do not always represent the best players in the league. Only the players really know who are best. Remember the Bengals' Chad Johnson calling "brother Harris," the second best cornerback he faced last year? That said it all. The value of Harris to the Packers is at an all-time high. They need him, or the cornerback position is hurting big-time for the upcoming season. He is right with Aaron Kampman and Nick Barnett as the Packers' best player on defense, not including free agent pickup Charles Woodson, who is also expected to be a top player. Harris has leverage and a fair argument to be the highest paid defensive player at a position, quite frankly, that is the toughest to play.
2. The precedent has been set. The Packers' recent dealings with Mike McKenzie (2004) and Javon Walker (this off-season) set a precedent for future players and their contracts. Though each case is different, the departures of the above two players created a perception that the Packers will just as well give in to players' demands without dealing with the hassle. But how many good players can the Packers continue to let go if these types of situations arise? What can they do? They had better figure something out soon or Harris could be the next one out of town.
3. NFL contracts do not mean a thing. Signing bonuses have become the important part of NFL contracts today because they represent guaranteed money, usually paid up front. The remaining terms of a deal are really just gravy. Contracts around the league are re-structured frequently and players rarely play through the full life of the agreement. The five-year, $19 million extension that Harris signed in 2004 is out-dated in today's system. Sure, he received a hefty bonus of a reported $7 million in 2004 and another $1 million this off-season, but Kampman and Woodson appear to have sweeter deals some 19-20 months later. Kampman got $12 million guaranteed and Woodson will get up to $10 million in 2006. Harris is scheduled to make a base salary of $1.5 million this year, but he is probably looking for one final payday with a big bonus before his career enters its twilight.
4. Being treated fairly within the context of the system. Most of America would agree that Harris is wealthy, but within the context of the NFL system, he has an argument that he is not being fairly compensated. As an employee of the Packers, he is being paid equal to or below many players on the team who are not as valuable or integral to the overall success. That, inherently, is unfair, though, it is difficult to gauge because of the amount of money being discussed. Revenue continues to flow into the NFL and to the Packers in record numbers with the rise in television broadcast dollars. With greater league-wide wealth, more money is dispersed, a bigger salary cap is created, and naturally, players are getting more. Is not Harris one of the players that deserve it for his play on the field? It would seem so based on past performance and little indication of a drop off in ability any time soon.
If the Packers plan to continue their defensive progress from a year ago, they do not want Ahmad Carroll starting at cornerback this season. Thus, Harris is an important piece they cannot afford to lose. Harris knows that and can use that to his advantage, just like any successful business person would do. A matter of simple economics – a high demand for his talent complimented by a low supply of those who play his position, would suggest Harris can make more and probably will get more. Like it or not, he has valid reasons.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.