Len Pasquarelli says there's no movement in the contract talks for some of the biggest unsigned "franchise" players in the NFL:
... for the five unsigned veterans who carry the franchise tag and the club negotiators who must hammer out a way to bridge the huge negotiation differences that always seem to exist, things figure to get ugly in coming weeks. Realistically, no one should count on any of the unsigned franchise players -- offensive tackles Walter Jones (Seattle) and Orlando Pace (St. Louis), corners Charles Woodson (Oakland) and Chris McAlister (Baltimore), and linebacker Julian Peterson (San Francisco) -- being in training camp on time for the first night's bed check...
One common thread for Pace, Woodson and Peterson: All are represented by brothers Carl Poston and Kevin Poston, whose names send chills up the spines of club officials. The Postons, in the past at least, have never demonstrated a qualm about keeping a player out of camp. In many cases, like that of Pace, their contract proposals are unrealistic. All the better, perhaps, for the three teams that have to deal with the Postons to just face the poison as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet, and likely won't.
"Poison", "hardball", "the Darth Vaders of football agents", "an abomination to the league itself", "no bigger boil on the backside of the NFL", "the cancer of the Poston brothers...", "a horse's ass". These are some of the references to Carl and Kevin Poston from a quick online search on their names. Granted, those aren't the words of NFL General Managers. They're the words of journalists, Internet columnists and commentators. But it's hard to find someone who has anything good to say about them. And when team officials do speak up it's usually in frustration. Rams President Jay Zygmunt, referring to the Postons' proposal for Orlando Pace, said "It's not an offer; it's a ransom note." Kevin Poston defends himself in this Argus article:
"My job is to work for my clients," Kevin Poston said. "I happen to have some very good young clients. A lot of it is very unfair. My job is to get my guy fair market value, not to squeeze blood out of a turnip. There's nothing evil about me. I've got a family like everybody else. I've got kids. I think that's a very unfair assessment."
Carl and Kevin Poston, profiled here in the Saginaw News, made a big splash in athlete representation with Penny Hardaway, and have since added big stars like Pace and Charles Woodson to the firm. But they are known for hardball tactics and long holdouts, and are seen by many around the NFL as a pernicious influence. For better or for worse, they make the list of Sports Illustrated's Top 100 Most Influential Minorities in Sports, coming in at Nos. 64 and 65. I have not heard anyone suggest that they are anything but effective in achieving good contracts for their clients. But they often cost those players and their teams valuable practice time, and manage to alienate both teams and players with their tactics. This has made the franchise tag option the court of last resort for NFL teams negotiating for the Postons' clients. The teams feel forced to use it because the demands of the Postons are often too outrageous to even consider. In most cases, both player and team would prefer to sign a long-term contract, but the agents are in the way. Orlando Pace for one has considered dumping the Postons as his agents in order to resolve his longstanding dispute with the Rams. And the 49ers would like to keep Julian Peterson, as this "49er Commentary" says:
General Manager Terry Donahue really likes Julian Peterson and considers him a part of the future for the franchise to build around. However no matter how much he thinks of Julian it doesn't equal the greed that breaths in the lungs of the Poston brothers.
Tough stuff. But with the Postons, it often gets ugly. Mark Stone at FootballHuddles.com lists some of the nasty high-profile cases involving the Postons' clients:
Julian Peterson is threatening to hold out for over 10 million dollars in San Francisco, wanting to be paid like Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens.
Orlando Pace wants to be a 10 million dollar offensive-lineman.
Lavarr Arrington files a grievance the Washington Redskins over a 6.5 million dollar contract dispute.
Charles Woodson almost single-handedly forced a coaching change in Oakland, rescued only by a poor season by the Silver and Black.
Ty Law finally agreed to play under a 7 million dollar contract, but not before accusing the media of turning the story into a "I never said that" claim.
All of the above players have one thing in common: their agents, Carl and Kevin Poston...
...Even the NFLPA is contemplating taking action against Carl Poston, in light of the grievance that he and his client, Lavarr Arrington brought up against the Washington Redskins. While the NFLPA says they’re doing everything they can to settle the issue between Arrington and the Redskins, the Poston issue is one that not even the NFLPA is sure what to do about.
Washington Redskins officials have made no secret of the fact that they passed on Winslow with the 5th pick in the draft because they didn't want to go around again with the Postons after the ugliness of the Lavar Arrington lawsuit situation. Some teams are deciding it's just not worth it. Green Bay had a bad holdout with Terrell Buckley, an early client in the Postons' career as agents:
Asked if he believes NFL teams would turn their back on a player because he was represented by the Postons, (then-Packers G.M. Ron) Wolf said, "I don't know if they do, but I would."
So some of the most contentious, bitter and protracted negotiations in the NFL today involve the brothers Poston, and they'll soon be sitting down with the Cleveland Browns to negotiate for Kellen Winslow Jr. The Poston brothers have got to be licking their chops. The two members of the Browns front office most experienced at player contract negotiations and salary cap management, President Carmen Policy and attorney Lal Heneghan, have both been sacked in the recent housecleaning establishing Butch Davis as the Master of All He Sees. Owner Randy Lerner personally intervened to help end the Dennis Northcutt fiasco, and it looks like he'll be front-and-center for the franchise in their dealings with the Postons. No telling yet how capable or involved John Collins will be. He was a rising marketing executive with the NFL office and was hired as President when Policy was ousted. With that as the backdrop to the upcoming
fight negotiations, I like the Postons in a TKO.
So what can the Browns expect? The Postons have already weighed in on what their negotiating posture will be. From a piece in The Tennessean:
Kevin Poston already has fired the first verbal warning shot. He said Winslow Jr. should be paid like the draft's first pick overall because some teams may have had him as the top player on the board and then compared Winslow Jr. to LeBron James.
"He's an unbelievable talent, a star in the making," Kevin Poston said. "The bottom line is the Browns know how good Kellen is and was projected to be, and my job is to make sure he gets his fair market value."
The Browns have of course already invested a lot in the selection of Kellen Winslow Jr. Way back in January this blogger noted the hiring of Rob Chudzinski, former Offensive Coordinator for Winslow at U. of Miami to be the Browns' new tight ends coach as a sign the Browns planned to take Winslow Jr. (Yeah, I know...rocket science..)
Then they got so nervous with one selection to go on Draft Day that they traded a second round pick, the 37th overall, just to move up one spot to assure themselves of the Winslow selection. In the mini-camps the kid has looked ready to start, contribute, and maybe even "star" for a team largely devoid of offensive difference-makers. The Browns front office is fairly desperate to avoid alienating fans and media following a miserable 5-11 season in 2003, and may be inclined to just roll over for the Postons' proposal, just to keep the peace and get him into camp on time.
But it won't be that easy. The NFL has a fairly well-defined "slotting" system when it comes to negotiations for 1st Round draft choices, especially the top 10 or so players. There's no quicker way for a team to alienate their NFL lodge brothers than to opt out of the tap dance that teams and agents do each year to make sure the 4th pick gets more than the 5th pick, and less than the 3rd pick, etc.
In clients like Woodson(4th overall), Charles Rodgers (2nd overall), and Pace (1st overall), the Postons have plenty of experience dealing at that elite level. The Browns, with their experienced negotiators gone, appear to be approaching the negotiating table armed with a popgun to try to take down a grizzly bear. Not too many first rounders actually end up sitting out regular season games in contract disputes. And I think that too much is made of the supposed ill effects of training camp holdouts.
That said, a lengthy Poston-style holdout for Winslow seems almost guaranteed unless the Browns completely cave. I think a complete rollover is unlikely though. The team has to be aware that officials around the league have been wondering what the hell is going on in Berea, so they're sure to act like a responsible lodge brother should, and try to "slot" Winslow's contract accordingly. The Poston brothers are poised and ready to do business as only they do it. Pasquarelli said to prepare for a "long hot summer."
UPDATE 7/18: After posting this late Saturday, I get up to find a feature on the Poston brothers by Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot in the Sunday Plain Dealer. Cabot does manage to find some positive quotes about them, which is more than I turned up. It strikes me as a bit of a "puff piece" on these guys though. The article's angle is how the wholesome upbringing of the Postons gives them the strength to deal with the nasty things people say about them. Somewhat less emphasis is given to the actions and tactics of the Postons that are the reasons people are saying those things.