Power imbalance between NFL owners and players firmly in place
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Did the famously inept Jets just not know how to get the most out of him? Did they not have the talent around him to maximize his abilities? Was Bell not the same guy after missing a year’s worth of games and practices? Was he too comfortable after getting paid? Whatever the reasons, he went from a Hall of Fame track to a player who was released by a winless team because they couldn’t get anyone to trade for him. All in two years.
Bell tried to fight the system, but the NFL’s system can’t be fought. His release from the Jets came just days after Dak Prescott, quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, suffered a cover-your-eyes lower leg injury that ended his season. Prescott was in a similar situation with the Cowboys as Bell was with the Steelers, but rather than hold out and try to force Dallas into giving him a massive long-term deal, he took another one-year contract. It looked like a hell of a bet on himself, as Prescott was putting up ridiculous numbers with the Cowboys, right up until his ankle was pointed in the wrong direction. He’s expected to recover and will likely still merit some kind of big-dollar contract, but Prescott is unquestionably a devalued asset as a result of his decision to take another franchise-tag deal.
The Bell and Prescott cases underscore that the big NFL machine is one where the power imbalance still tilts heavily toward the league’s owners. The NBA is in the throes of the player-empowerment era, where stars can force trades to preferred destinations, or sign free-agent deals while conducting back-channel talks with other stars, all of which makes sense when the value of a single star to a basketball roster can make a huge difference to results. But in football the trend is moving the other way. Teams have realized that with the exception of high-end quarterbacks and perhaps a handful of elite stars at other positions, very few players will make an impact significantly different from that made by someone else who can be plugged into their spot. An offence or defence is a big, complex scheme with various package and parts, and with few exceptions a player is only as good as the teammates and coaches around him. See, for example, Le’Veon Bell, New York Jet.