The Dunta saga is starting to get hairy…

Dunta Robinson has let it be known that he was not too happy with the team’s decision to franchise him this offseason as opposed to signing him to a long term extension. He has already skipped voluntary workouts with the team and remains vocal through the media to voice his displeasure. The plot thickens as the talented Texans DB has publicly stated that he might sit out regular season games unless the team agrees not to franchise him again next season.

Like all the other professional sports, football is a business where labor disputes between millionaires and billionaires often results work stoppages and hold-outs where the only true victims in the whole situation are the fans. Truth be told, contract disputes are a common occurrence in this highly lucrative industry with the general fan base most commonly siding with the team against the “greedy” players who rob their team of their talents. Before we condemn Dunta for his actions, we must take several thoughts into consideration.

Unlike Major League Baseball where the Players Union, the most powerful union in America, essentially call all the shots, the NFL owners have historically had a stranglehold over the players when it comes to their collective bargaining agreements. Also unlike baseball, football contracts are NOT guaranteed. The only guaranteed money a player receives is tied to his signing bonus. It is for this reason that many, if not all, players resent the franchise tag. It is easy for the common fan to look at the one year tender a player receives during his franchised year (the average of the top 5 salaries at that position) and be shocked that a player would resent that sort of a pay day. However, the franchise tag prevents a player (usually a quite productive player in his prime) from signing a long term extension that comes with a big signing bonus. In the case of Dunta Robinson, he would be guaranteed about $10 million to play football this season. Indeed this is a large sum of money, but it pails in comparison to the amount he would be entitled to on the open market. For example, Deangelo Hall (taken two spots ahead of Dunta in the 2004 Draft) signed a 6 year $55 million contract with $23 million guaranteed.

Many will argue that Dunta will have another opportunity at the end of the season sign a long term deal. It is unfair to take this stance because the players have to look out for their own well being in a job where no one else will. NFL players have the shortest average career length of all the major sports and also have the highest incidence of injury. A team can cut a player at any time any only owe them the unpaid prorated portion of their signing bonus. In Dunta’s case coming off a career threatening injury, how can we blame him for wanting to secure his financial future to the maximum of his ability?

We tend to side with the team in contract disputes between players and management because its the team that suffers when a player misses time. However, this is no different that any other labor dispute between employee and employer. Just because we’re talking about larger sums of money than any of us deal with doesn’t take away a player’s right to demand what he feels he is entitled to given the market, especially in a system that is so heavily skewed in favor of the owners. The bottom line is that I hope this situation gets resolved sooner rather than later and we see Dunta on the field in time for minicamps. With any luck we can extend him and assure that a vital cog of our defense is a Houston Texan for a long time. We should all start preparing ourselves for life without Dunta, but until that time comes I don’t expect to see anything else from the man besides the same hard work and dedication that he has displayed from the moment he stepped foot on the field at Reliant Stadium.

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