In NFL contract negotiations, each player is like a snowflake — although since that word has been hi-jacked by the insecure alpha assholes of the right, let's say fingerprint instead.
- Konata Edwards.
What I mean to say is that each player, each agent, each owner, each contract has its own complex nuances and must be treated differently by teams, fans and others. In reaction to each piece of news during said negotiations, however, fans often don't take this into account, and in turn, some negotiations turn more contentious than others.
Every spring begins the annual tradition of NFL veterans trying to squeeze every precious dollar out of the team they're employed by. And who can blame them?
After all, football careers can end in a snap, literally. The lack of guaranteed money in football separates it from every other professional sport, so it's hard for the objective observer to fault NFL players for wanting to re-negotiate their deals every time one outperforms his contract. Keep in mind, the average career in the NFL spans around 3 years.
Now let's take a look at the difference in fan reactions to the contract negotiations between the Panthers and Greg Olsen of this year as compared to Josh Norman of last year. Norman, at the time, was about to be a free agent and had been franchise tagged, which in effect gave the Panthers first dibs on contract negotiations with him.
Other teams would have to give up two draft picks to sign a player with a franchise tag, so they're usually reticent to do so.
As an older cornerback (29 years old), Norman had outplayed his contract in his final two seasons in a Panthers uniform. Business logic told him that this likely was his only chance for a big payday. So instead of signing the franchise tender, Norman decided to go on a press junket of sorts to campaign publically for a long term deal with the Carolina Panthers.
"I can't report if I haven't signed anything, so I don't feel as if I'm at the point where I'm ready to get back to working right now," Norman told NFL Network. A few weeks after that comment, Norman was released from his franchise tender and was free to sign with any team without penalty.
Fan reaction fell heavily on the side of the Panthers. Many felt betrayed that Norman, a man who had made only $3 million through his career up to that point, would rather seek the payday than stay on a winning team. It is also a grudge that some fans still hold to this day.
Which, brings us to the curious case (in comparison) of Greg Olsen, a man with one year left of his contract. He received a new contract with the Carolina Panthers in 2014: three years, $22 million in total, with just $12 million guaranteed. Olsen, a free agent at the end of the 2018 season, would like a new deal in order to finish up his career as a Carolina Panther.
"In the ideal world, that'd be great," Olsen said, in an interview with the Charlotte Observer. "I'm very confident on where I stand in the league and where I belong. Both productivity and all things considered, there's nobody that's been more productive or more consistent than I have. And I'll stand on that until the cows come home. You can make of that what you may, I feel comfortable with where I belong, and hopefully other people do, too."
Among Panthers fans, Olsen's comments inspired indifference. Many even took his side, saying the Panthers should give him a new deal out of loyalty because Olsen was loyal to the Panthers for so long. For many, Olsen was the exception rather than the rule when it came to athletes negotiating in the public.
The only question that leaves is, What makes the cases of Olsen and Norman so different? Why is it okay for Greg Olsen to negotiate in the public spectrum and yet for Norman, it was an unforgivable sin? Both Norman and Olsen continue to do charitable works in the Charlotte area, and yet only one is cheered upon to grab as much money as he can from the franchise, whilst the other was shunned and blasted verbally through many different mediums on his way out of town.
If the argument is loyalty, then fans should've been just as enthusiastic for Norman to get as much money as he could from the Carolina Panthers as possible, just as it was their right to release him from the franchise tag later.
However, if the duality of the fans in both of these scenarios proved anything, there remains an implicit bias within the fan base, one that they only need to look in the mirror to confront.