OXNARD (105.3 The Fan) – “Every time I say it's a game, you tell me it's a business. Every time I say it's a business, you tell me it's a game.”
It's a powerful line from Pete Gent's "North Dallas Forty,'' maybe the crispest way ever to describe the unique employer/employee dynamics of professional sports.
Holdout Ezekiel Elliott today surely feels the crispness.
While his side is using an ESPN reporter to mouthpiece his mostly empty threats (the "scoop'' that the All-Pro running back might "sit out the season'' is a non-story inasmuch as a holdout obviously implies exactly that), Cowboys COO Stephen Jones in the last two days has provided plenty of fodder for the media troops with boots on the ground here at training camp in Oxnard to try to see it management's way.
The team's voluminous leak to a dozen reporters simultaneously that Dallas has issued "generous'' contract proposals to Elliott, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper is important information. I also believe it's true information as it includes each of the three being given a chance to be paid among the top five players at their respective positions.
And without knowing the precise details (years, guarantees, upfront money, average-per-year and escapability), I can say this:
*There is nothing "unfair'' in offering Prescott something in the range of $30 mil -plus APY. (Like Atlanta's Matt Ryan.)
*There is nothing "unfair'' in offering Cooper something in the range of $16.5 million-plus. (Like Tampa's Mike Evans.)
*There is nothing "unfair'' in offering Elliott in the range of $13 mil-plus APY.
Nevertheless, Stephen is trying to pull a PR fast one with some double-talk regarding Elliott and "market value.''
A few months ago, Stephen announced that Elliott's contract would likely start at the $14 million APY the Rams are paying Todd Gurley.
But 10 days ago came a crawfish, Stephen suggested that Gurley's deal was an outlier and that the Cowboys are "not going to be market-setters.'' Boss Jerry Jones chimed in, insisting that what another team does with its player's salary has nothing to do with what the Cowboys do with theirs.
So, as it relates to Elliott, the "market'' doesn't matter. Got that?
Fast-forward to Tuesday morning, 12 hours after the delta-wide leak. Stephen took to our airwaves on 105.3 The Fan to frankly assess Elliott's dollars and sense.
“I think the market re-set with Le’Veon [Bell],” Jones said, explaining how the "market'' peeled backward while noting that his "ground floor'' comment was followed by the lesser Bell deal. “I think you see what happens with Gurley and you get a great player like Le’Veon, who’s every bit as well thought of as Gurley and he had unfettered free agency. He had 32 teams with no draft picks attached, and the market was $13.5 million . . . less than Gurley’s. At the end of the day, business changes, and we pay attention to that.”
Whoa. So the "market'' doesn't matter when that concept can be applied to not paying this running back more than the highest-paid guy above him ... but suddenly, when you want to pay him closer to the second-highest-paid guy ... now the "market'' does matter?
Stephen downplayed the viability of the three deals getting done during Oxnard training camp, but I'd remind that training camp isn't just in Oxnard for a few more days. It's in Oxnard, San Jose, Oxnard again, Honolulu and then Frisco. All of that is a month's worth of time to keep inching closer.
And again, as I believe is the case with Prescott and Cooper, just how far away are these sides? Elliott wants more than $14 million APY (let's say) while Dallas envisions something closer to $13 million APY?
That's hardly an unbridgeable gap. And once the two sides cease with the rhetoric and start answering each others' phone calls, all these fellas can get on the same team again.
But in pro sports, the "Game/Business'' switcheroo from "North Dallas Forty'' never changes. And it is now joined by its newborn cousin, "Market Value Doesn't Matter Unless It Helps Us.''