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Honoring contracts, Martellus Bennett and the problem with NFL deals

The offseason is a time when headlines are often about which players are happy with their contract situations and which ones are not. The workout portion of the offseason headlines are dominated by who shows up and who doesn't. Players have some legitimate gripes about the NFL contract situation and often become the subject of scorn when they try to do something about it.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson made some waves when he took to Twitter to complain about his current stand off situation with the team.

He made some good points and was fair with his criticism, yet the response was very much, for lack of a better word, negative.

Granted it's easy to come to that conclusion: here is a player that missed nearly an entire season due to an off-field issue that is inexcusable, still got paid for it and is now seemingly wanting more money. However, I think his complaints about contracts are somewhat fair.

NFL contracts, unlike the other three major sports, are mostly non-guaranteed in nature. The NHL, MLB and the large majority of NBA contracts are fully guaranteed. The NFL has the shortest playing career of any of these sports. From a player's prospective it certainly feels one-sided.

Teams are able to sign a player to a multi-year deal with all sorts of big numbers, only a small portion of which is actually guaranteed. Players like having the "peace of mind" and "long-term stability" of these deals but they are never what they're reported to be. Often a multi-year deal has only a couple of guaranteed money seasons.

For example, Tyron Smith's "Cowboy for Life" 10-year deal is really only three years' worth of guaranteed money followed by seven non-guaranteed years. This means Smith will basically be year-to-year with the Cowboys when he's in the prime of his career.

But, the detractors say, players shouldn't sign these types of deals! They have the power to say no and take a shorter deal.

They do, but by virtue of playing a sport where they are literally one play away from ruin, players want to get all guarantees they can while they can. Three or four years of guaranteed money is better than one, getting injured and never getting a chance at big dollars again.

The NFL is cruel that way. Which brings me to current Bears holdout Martellus Bennett.

Bennett signed a four-year deal two seasons ago to come to Chicago. According to Spotrac, $2.25 million of his signing bonus has been paid and last season's base salary was fully guaranteed, so he's already seen $7.765 million of his $20.4 million deal. However, he only has $2.875 of guaranteed money left on the deal and has outperformed it with back-to-back career years and a Pro-Bowl appearance.

So now, with two years remaining on his deal, he wants new paper and more money but the resounding answer from the team, media and fans is "honor your deal, no way."

But back to Peterson's point, when do teams honor deals? So often players are unceremoniously dumped with years left on their deals because they got old, injured, became obsolete to the teams' scheme, or simply lost their effectiveness. Rarely do we hear people pounding the table and saying "teams need to honor their deals."

The reason for that is because teams can play the excuse "we're following the system" and "that's how the contracts work." It is, but why is it that you're asking players to show up on their end of the deal but the team is allowed to just cut bait and move on whenever the mood strikes them?

Fair or not though, that is the system that is in place and players are stuck. Peterson's best point was this:

Ding, ding, ding. A.P. might be a moronic child abuser, but this is his most enlightened point. Players bent over the negotiating table during the last lockout and caved to the owners at the first chance. The NFLPA needs to do a better job negotiating out the things that players hate, namely non-guaranteed deals and the franchise tags.

Owners will likely never go for fully guaranteed deals, unless of course it means players give up several more percentage of the player-owner revenue split. In 2011 the owners balked at a 50-50 split and players settled for a complicated 48 to 48.5 percent-52-51.5 percent split.

Unfortunately, players don't have much room to argue and the narrative will continue to be "honor your contracts" when a player throws a hissy fit two years into a multi-year deal. Unless of course more players latch onto the Darrelle Revis approach, leveraging his services in an almost mercenary manner of jumping from team to team to get the biggest payday and forcing large deals with club or player options that get him on the open market more often.

From that linked article:

The mercenary approach has its negatives, of course. He treats teams the way teams treat players — by casting them aside as soon as there is a better option, which alienates fanbases and front offices. But that's the price he is willing to pay to maximize his value. By the time the 2017 season is complete, Revis will end up making in the ballpark of $133 million in career earnings, a staggering total for a non-quarterback, especially one who wasn't a top draft pick.

Teams and fans like the idea of player loyalty, but teams often talk the talk but don't walk the walk when it comes down to it.

Circling it all back to Bennett, the way I see it, Bennett doesn't have much leverage. He's stuck in his four-year deal and even worse for him is that he has a new coach and general manager calling the shots, as well as an offensive system he's never played in.

Bennett has made his play and it's time he comes back into the team's facility and starts learning the offense. In fact, he'd be silly not to. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase took fourth-round pick Julius Thomas and turned him into a touchdown machine. Thomas was able to turn his production under Gase into a $25 million guaranteed deal with Jacksonville.

The Pace-Fox-Gase regime isn't going to re-do a deal with a player they haven't met or seen in their system yet, and Bennett is very good, but has enough lingering questions about his personality and play that there is no reason they should, either. Bennett isn't a transcendent talent like Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates in his prime, so he's really stuck. He needs to bet on himself, like he did when he signed with the New York Giants in 2012 and play out 2014. If he can flourish in Gase's system and get along with him and Fox, then there is a little more incentive for each side to work something out next summer.

Until then though, Bennett needs to honor his deal. His player union made it necessary.