Friday, April 24, 2009

Nick Collins Begins Dangerous Game for Thompson

Apparently, the gauntlet has been thrown. Nick Collins has decided that the $3M that is coming his way in 2009 isn't enough to feed his wife and newborn, and is going to begin the always-successful tactic of holding out for a new contract.

To me, this is more alarming that it appears on the surface. One of the things that I have praised Ted Thompson for is the transformation he made with the climate as players approached their contracts. By the end of Mike Sherman's career as GM, we seemed to have contract dispute and trade demands every season. Mike McKenzie, Javon Walker, and others all seemed to want to "cash in", and held the franchise hostage in order to get what they wanted.

I do blame that, in part, on Sherman's ill-fated dual role: it is really difficult to be the bad guy (the guy who controls your contract) and good guy (the guy who controls your playing time) simultaeously. Not many can pull that off, and Sherman was eventually pulled under water by it.

By restoring the normal head coach/general manager roles, it allowed Mike McCarthy to play the good guy and Thompson the bad guy. But, perhaps even moreso, Thompson began a climate in which good players were rewarded by getting a contract renegotiated going into their final year.

Reward your own instead of bring in hired guns through free agency. And for a while, it has worked.

But last year, Ryan Grant decided to hold out and ask for big money based on half a season of production. And, predictably, when Thompson gave in, Grant tweaked his hammy and had an off year.

Collins now makes it two years in a row that Thompson is being forced to have to make a decision to reward a player for one year (if that) of solid play, and it reeks of Javon Walker. Like Walker, Collins didn't develop quickly and seemed to be a point or two shy of a double-digit Wonderlic score. So, one good season and it is easy to listen to the silver-tongued agent convincing you how much you are being underpaid (when less than a year ago, it looked as if Collins might completely lose his starting job to Aaron Rouse).

It is possible that Ryan Grant was the leak in the dam. Nick Collins could blow it open.

There is a slough of players coming to the end of their contracts, and, like Greg Jennings, who are due for an extension. Thompson, to his credit, has built a admirable climate of "play well, and ye shall be rewarded in time". Grant shook that foundation, and Collins may shake it further.

Aaron Kampman, Jennings, and Ryan Pickett are all due at the end of 2009. An another group, including Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Rouse, James Jones, and Brandon Jackson come up in 2010. There is no doubt that these players are going to be watching this situation closely. "How do I get my big payday...the old-fashioned way, or the Grant/Collins way?"

My biggest concern, however, is Jennings. I have vowed that when Jennings signs his extension, I will be buying his jersey. White, I think. Maybe yellow. But it seems like I'm waiting quite a while. The extension, which has been discussed extensively since the middle of last season, is becoming conspicuous by its absence.

As usual, I may be making a mountain out of a molehill. But Thompson has built a strong approach to how he has built and rewarded those on this team. While I don't always agree with his approach and methods, he deserves a chance to succeed or fail on his own terms.

And I also know that every team has its whiny player who wants to renegotiate his salary, usually because he wants to cash in before it is too late.

I've never been a big Nick Collins fan. I thought he was overly touted in 2005 when he started as a rookie on a defense that was among the worst in franchise history against the run, making the pass defenders look much better than they really were. He struggled the next few years, before suddenly breaking out in his fourth year of a five-year contract.

I think he is a close-to-the-line strong safety type who is still being miscast in a free safety role. I also think he ain't all that bright, which explains (like Walker) why it took him so long to finally find his stride.

Like it or not, the McKenzie and Walker situations was the beginning of the end for Mike Sherman and how the players respected his ability to handle their contracts. I have no desire to have a return to those days, and I'm sure Thompson doesn't either.

I have no idea how this will turn out, or in the end, what the wisest course of action is going to be for Thompson to go. I know, however, I would be happy to play ball for $3M this upcoming season. Collins should know that if he could duplicate last year's performance, he would get his coin somewhere or another.

That's what worries me. Like Grant, is Collins that worried he can't do it again and needs to cash in?

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