Why Do Giant Holdouts Go On So Long
1990 Dave Anderson Sports of The Times
As the contract dispute between the Giants and Lawrence Taylor dragged into the start of last week, Bill Parcells was asked how late the 31-year-old linebacker could report and still have enough time to be ready for last night’s 8 o’clock opener against the Philidelphia Eagles.
“About 7:56,” the Giants’ coach joked.
As it turned out, L.T. signed his reported three year $4.5 million contract Wednesday, in time for that afternoon’s workout. And after insisting throughout his holdout that he needed “a week to 10 days” to be ready for last night’s opener, he participated in only four workouts before last night’s kickoff.
“I’m not sure I can go 60 plays,” L.T. said, “but I do have heart, I do have drive and enthusiasm. And I do have a false belief that I can’t be beaten.”
But as the Giants-Eagles game began, even Lawrence Taylor was wondering if he could escape the usual curse of a long pro football holdout: vulnerability to certain injuries, notably a pulled hamstring muscle, in trying to do too much too soon. And others were wondering why George Young, the Giants’ general manager, has developed a dangerous tradition of letting contract disputes linger, often to the detriment of the players involved.
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Two years ago, Carl Banks, the Giants’ other outside linebacker, finally signed the Wednesday before the opener.
“I had one injury after another that season,” Banks recalled. “Once you get in, you’re expected to play.”
Two years ago, Sean Landeta, their All-Pro punter, finally signed early in the week of the last exhibition game.
“As soon as I came in, I got a herniated disk in a workout,” Landeta recalled. “The reason I got hurt, I punted 22 times from the back of my end zone under a full rush. Complete stupidity. I tried to punt with it for two games, but I couldn’t.”
That same reason Mark Bavaro never attained his previous All-Pro form after having reported late because of a contract dispute.
And now Taylor and Leonard Marshall, the defensive end who signed a week ago Friday, are this season’s late arrivals.
Taylor, like Banks, Landeta and Bavaro two years ago, reported Wednesday in good physical condition. Good enough, that is, for playing golf. Good enough for sitting around his sports bar on nearby Route 17. Good enough for checking with his agent, Joe Courrege, on the progress of his negotiations. Good enough even for pumping iron in his weight room at his Upper Saddle River, N.J., home.
But when L.T. reported, even his muscular physique was not properly prepared for National Football League combat. And it might be two or three weeks before his body is properly prepared to absorb the collisions it must endure.
With that in mind, why do the Giants allow so many contract negotiations to drag on so long? Why do the Giants jeopardize the value of the team and the players they acknowledge to be worth millions of dollars over multiyear contracts?
“That’s the nature of many of the agents now,” George Young said. “The magnet of technique. Stay high, high, high in their salary demands and make everybody come up. It’s a technique that’s orchestrated. It’s not an accident. Ever since the players’ union has given out salary information, each player wants to make more than the other guy. But if you tell that player he’s not as good as the other guy, you’re insulting him. As for those players who have a bad year after a long holdout, I think it’s not so much physical as mental. The whole idea of the union is to make players complain.”
While other N.F.L. general managers quietly tolerate agents as a necessary evil, Young loudly draws a harder line.
“The whole climate has been created by the union and the agents,” the Giants’ general manager said. “The agents are recruiting next year’s clients with this year’s contracts.”
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Taylor has acknowledged having been attracted to Courrege by the agent’s work with other N.F.L. players.
“That’s the only reason I hired Courrege,” L.T. said shortly before the Giants’ training camp opened. “The contracts he got for Ray Childress and Gary Hogeboom. I’ve seen their contracts and the money they make is unreal.”
Childress is the Houston Oilers’ best defensive end. Hogeboom, a quarterback once with the Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts, was recently cut by the Phoenix Cardinals.
“One reason for the delay in negotiating Lawrence’s contract this year,” Courrege explained, “was the collateralization of the $1 million loan to Lawrence in his previous contract. That was a critical issue that had to be cleared up. George Young is a savvy professional negotiator. He knew where he was going at all times. He knew he had to take some crossroads to get where he wanted to go.”
As the general manager, Young is the keeper of the keys to the Giants’ treasury. Through the years, the Mara co-owners, Wellington and Tim, have developed a reputation as “cheap” co-owners. Not true. Careful, yes, as business people should be. But not cheap. There’s a difference. In the N.F.L. economy, cheap owners don’t endure. And the Mara family now has the longest-running N.F.L. family name.
But the question remains: Despite Young’s dislike for agents’ machinations, why can’t the Giants’ general manager get his expensive players signed and into training camp on time?
Around the Giants, some players shrug and talk about “the Giants’ way” of negotiating expensive contracts. Delay, delay, delay until it’s time for training camp. Let the player stew. And when the player finally relents and reports, risk his doing too much too soon.
If that’s the Giants’ way, it’s the wrong way. As Carl Banks, Sean Landeta and Mark Bavaro discovered two years ago. And as Lawrence Taylor and Leonard Marshall are discovering now.