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Myths about football culture and money are ruining how fans view players

Football is a game, and a business, so stop acting like it’s war.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Julio Jones was not attending voluntary practices and was reportedly looking for a new deal, though he dismissed those reports over the weekend in comments to TMZ.

Some folks had very strong opinions on this being a bad thing for Jones to do.

My question is, uh, why?

You say things like “he’s not a team player,” and “it’s wrong for him to want a raise; he needs to finish his contract,” and “he’s being a distraction,” and “this isn’t fair; he’s going to hold the team back,” and “hoidy doidy let’s trade that bum!” Perhaps you didn’t actually say hoidy doidy.

My response, either way, is still no.

I know why you say this — you’re terrified someone getting a bump in their paycheck will hamper your Sundays. Jones’ focus on business is beginning to unplug you from the Matrix of football, a dutiful simulation where all 53 players in the locker room are hellbent on making sure they give everything they have, and sacrifice what must be sacrificed, to forge ahead and battle with the enemy to achieve ultimate victory for the honor of the Brotherhood, with the the gener...I leading the charge!

It’s about honor, and dignity, and fighting for the man next to you. It’s about the blood, sweat and tears, and the beautiful glory of the game. It’s a tried-and-true tradition, no place for me, only we. But we all know, or should know, that this is a game, and while it has tied itself tightly to the military, it is emphatically not the military. War metaphors only serve to cheapen the real thing.

Dan Quinn’s Brotherhood is a heck of a culture builder, and it seems to be something the locker room buys into. Businesses with strong internal cultures tend to perform better than the ones without it, and teams in the NFL are no different. Getting your employees to care about one another, and the cause of your organization, is never a bad thing, and can often lead to stellar performance when it’s time to get to work. But the organization still doesn’t subsume the individual.

Discounts versus reality

Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn weren’t going to take the hometown discount in order to stay a part of Quinn’s system. No way! They were going to go where they could get the biggest contract, and be assured their snaps would stay the same, if not increase. Few football players get sentimental when it’s time to get their contracts settled. They do the right thing for themselves and their families, and get as much money as they can.

These guys don’t have the same career plans that most of us do. They play for as long as their body will allow, or as long as the league wants them. Then, it’s happy trails, and hopes that a second career will materialize in, traditionally, broadcasting, coaching, scouting, sporting or business. Some guys will go to the grave relying on the financial decisions they made during their careers, and you can’t fault a guy for wanting to get as much as he can now so later won’t be as stressful or impossible. There’s a reason rookies spend time learning how to properly divide up their finances when the first windfall begins. Managing money is hard when you’re young, and you only get so long to make it.

Jones is probably the best receiver in the league, or at least pushes Antonio Brown for the crown. He made a fair market deal in 2015, but y’know, markets change. His contract as it stands is under the value of what he provides to the organization, and given that value and the shifting marketplace, he’s not wrong to want to re-visit the contract. It’s not the most enjoyable process in the world for a team to go through, but it’s necessary, and for Jones, it’s both his right and the right thing to do. Davante Adams is a very good receiver, but he’s not Jones, and he doesn’t need to be making more money than Jones. It’s that simple, even if the cap picture for Atlanta isn’t.

Most players are professionals. They’re not going to demand a new deal every year. But, requesting updates every so often if you’re one of the elite guys at the position is more than fair. Whether Jones gets one or not after this offseason ruckus, the reaction to these reports tells you a lot about how it will be received.

Remember — all players are a hit away from their careers being over. This is a dangerous field, and guys need to make sure they have as much guaranteed money waiting for them if the worst does happen.

The commentary around Jones trying to get a new deal is toxic, and those toxins are originating from a strange perception of what football ought to be, one that elevates the game to something sacrosanct when it is not. Sure, they care about their work. Sure, they want to win the same things you want them to win. Sure, they work hard and play for the guy next to them. They’re also employees that are part of an entertainment business who make a lot of money for ownership, and deserve to get fair compensation, the same way we all would hope for (if not always receive) fair compensation for our work. We just often lack the same leverage.

People hand-wring about players getting bigger deals, and say that Tom Brady took less money that one time to win Super Bowls and the Patriots and team culture. That’s not real, and Brady did that because they eat $20s as snacks at his house. They’re one of the wealthiest families in all of sports, and did you see where he’s literally wanting a raise? He took a slight pay cut for, like, two or three seasons. Even the richest among us still want more. The Patriots also, y’know, have to pay their players, and win games because they have the smartest coach of all time calling the shots, and are genius roster builders. It’s not because everyone up there wants to take less money for the love of the game.

Stop freaking out about the cap, stop expecting players to just take less money for an imaginary sense of unnecessary selflessness, and stop treating football like the most serious, forlorn thing on the planet. You’ll enjoy football a lot more if you can let go of those ideas.