In pro sports, when you give a player a ton of guaranteed money, that player often has the upper hand over management.
With that being said, when you look at some of the prominent NFL anthem protesters, there isn’t much their bosses can do to make them stand because they have all the leverage.
Look at anthem-kneeler Oliver Vernon, a defensive end for the 1-6 New York Giants.
In 2016, Vernon, a former Miami Dolphin, signed a five-year contract with the Giants for $85 million with $52.5 million guaranteed.
With that kind of guaranteed money, the Giants have little control or sway over this employee. He’s essentially the boss. He can kneel during the national anthem, or not attend the team’s off-season workout program, which was the case this year. While NFL off-season workout programs are voluntary, management and the coaches want you there; it’s a good time for building team chemistry and working on technique.
Vernon is kneeling during the anthem because he doesn’t like President Donald J. Trump.
“I don’t care if you the president or not, you ain’t my president,” Vernon recently said about Trump.
This statement had to agitate Giants fans who voted for Trump, but not much the Giants can do about it. With $52.5 million guaranteed, he has the Giants by the you-know-what’s. No matter how much Vernon hurts their TV ratings and merchandise/ticket sales with his kneeling and comments about the president, he’s the boss. With that kind of guarantee, he can basically do whatever he wants, as long as he doesn’t break the law.
At the end of last season, Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett, who sits during the anthem and also falsely smeared the Las Vegas police, signed a three-year deal for $30.5 million and $14 million guaranteed. So he’s the boss. He can kneel during the anthem or talk trash about the police without repercussions.
Miami Dolphins kneelers Kenny Stills and Julius Thomas also make a lot of guaranteed money, so they’re both basically beyond reproach as well.
In March, Stills, signed a four-year deal for $32 million with $19.9 million guaranteed.
Thomas is in the middle of a contract with $28.5 million in guarantees.
They both basically can do with they darn well please.
This certainly was the case last year with the man who started the anthem kneeling movement – former 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick began the NFL anthem kneeling trend in the summer of 2016, and continued it throughout last season.
Kaepernick played last year for a fully guaranteed $11.9 million. He was the boss last year. He knew with that kind of guarantee, he could disrespect the anthem and pay no price.
However, he is no longer the boss in 2017 as an unsigned free agent, probably for two reasons – he is coming off two lousy seasons, and he’s bad for ticket sales. Once you get past the big guarantee, you are easier to bounce.
The NFL is a salary cap sport, and when a team cuts a player still owed a lot of guaranteed money, the team takes a big cap hit. It’s easier to release players late in their contracts when there is less “dead money” on the salary cap. These players know that, so the chances of any of them getting cut for their politic activism is slim.
It’s much easier to be a political-activist player when you have the team over a financial barrel. Guys on one year-deals with small guarantees are in a different place, and perhaps easier to reason with or cut. The Dallas Cowboys just released protester Damontre Moore who was on a one-year deal for the league minimum salary.
So perhaps you have to give a player like anthem kneeler Eric Reid credit on some level. The safety on the 0-7 49ers is in the last year of his five-year rookie contract. His non-stop activism will likely hurt his bargaining power when he enters free agency in 2018, unless a suitor doesn’t care about sales and TV ratings. You could say, even if you believe he’s misguided, he’s putting his money where his mouth is.
After this season, considering these anthem protesters are hurting some teams financially, NFL clubs will think long and hard about who they reward with big guaranteed money.
Because once you give them a big guarantee, they’re the boss.