Pro sports is always more about business than anything else, despite all the rhetoric you hear about the importance of winning and championships.
Sure, teams want to win, and both players and owners delight in titles, but the bottom line is always about money. That is especially true in the National Football League. Despite being the nation’s most successful and lucrative pro sports league, it is also one that does not guarantee player contracts. While no one can credibly claim pro football players are underpaid, the NFL operates a curious system that combines a salary cap with a structure that overpays quarterbacks and slots other players by position no matter how well or valuable they may be.
That can result in some awkward situations if clubs want to make moves but owe players large salaries on existing contracts.
That’s the case with the Tennessee Titans and star free safety Kevin Byard.
The Middle Tennessee grad has been among the top free safeties in the league since he joined the Titans seven years ago.
He’s made All-Pro and Pro Bowl squads, had 27 career interceptions, and seldom played at less than a star level.
Byard signed a five year deal for $70 million that is now in its final season. He is owed $19 million plus.
But the Titans have asked him to renegotiate and take a pay cut. New general manager Ran Carthon is determined to reshape the roster, and has already cut several veterans, signing less expensive players as replacements in several instances.
But Byard is refusing to take a pay cut, rightly saying he was one of the few Titans whose play wasn’t sub-par despite the team’s losing record.
Byard has been exemplary on and off the field, and no one disputes that. But his is among the highest salaries on the team, and his fate remains uncertain. Some NFL insiders are openly speculating if Byard maintains his stance the Titans may cut him.
That would be a shame, just as it would be a shame to see Derrick Henry traded.
But the hard truth is the Titans need to make major changes, and Carthon is prepared to make them. An equally hard truth is Byard didn’t do anything to deserve a pay cut, and is entitled to what his contract stipulates.
How this ultimately works out will be one of the big stories in the NFL, and it will also say a lot about the future of the Titans.