I’m in no position to defend the financial transgressions of the San Diego Chargers. I’ve written extensively about the management’s apathy toward both the fan base and the history of their franchise but never about how that apathy affects the on-field product.
So, when I saw they were again mistreating their hope, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and the supposed savior of their ever-so-porous run defense, I chalked it up to my homely franchise again shooting itself in the foot. Joey Bosa was a victim — an innocent rookie getting a rude awakening to the way one of the league’s worst front offices does business.
The tight-fisted Spanos family have seen players like Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, Rodney Harrison, Drew Brees and most recently Eric Weddle walk away in free agency for nearly nothing in return, instead of writing a slightly larger check to keep well-drafted talent around. And while they have now signed Joey Bosa after an embarrassing rookie contract holdout, issues from both sides point to a system beyond repair.
The NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement, or CBA, was installed partially to prevent lengthy rookie contract holdouts. What amounts to a sliding scale depending on draft position was established, and high-ego rookies looking to cash in on a shitty franchise were supposed to become relics of the past.
Basically, players drafted in Bosa’s position under the new CBA get one of two things in their contract: No deferral in the payment of their signing bonus (Bosa’s is around $17 million) or no “offset language”. The lack of offset language essentially protects Bosa from the Chargers releasing him before he has played his entire contract, as he would still get every dollar of his San Diego contract even if he is picked up by another team.
Well, the Chargers offered neither. And that was stupid. According to ProFootballTalk, every third overall draft pick since 2012 (the first year of the new CBA) has either had no offset language or no deferral of bonus. But the Chargers pointed to players drafted around Bosa in 2016, Carson Wentz and Ezekiel Elliott, who both accepted offset language and a deferral. NFL owners and players alike watched the events unfold, aware that new precedent was at stake.
But then Bosa did something stupid, too. The Chargers approached him and his agent with a compromise, conceding somewhat and offering more of his bonus sooner than they had before. Bosa didn’t budge. The offer was pulled off the table and no end was in sight. His mother lamented that she wished her son had “pulled an Eli Manning” on draft day and rejected playing for San Diego in the first place.
And yet, out of nowhere, Bosa agreed to a deal Monday and was lifting weights with the team that morning. He will suit up Tuesday for practice, more than 80 days after his last rookie minicamp on June 9. What the hell happened?
Shortly after the contract agreement was announced, another story bubbled up. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, the Chargers went public with a “hard-line stance” on the contract disputes Wednesday. After Bosa’s agent, Brian Ayrault, refused the offer, there was a “transfer” in the former Ohio State star’s representation to Todd France. A deal was then struck up within a week.
It’s therefore hard to find fault on Bosa’s side. This seems like a classic case of team versus agent, with the player being the only loser. Bosa gets negative media attention, misses all of training camp and looks unlikely to have any sort of impactful rookie year.
The Chargers certainly haven’t learned their lesson either and will stay aggressively headstrong as they nickle-and-dime their way to another high draft pick in the near future. While the NFL has tried to placate the Players’ Association, the loopholes in the CBA give too much power to teams to corrupt a player’s image, scramble his future and asterisk his career. As hard as the Chargers and the league have tried to keep their financial insecurities off the field, the NFL remains a timebomb — and war still brews between the those who play and those who pay.