Transaction No. 1: The Baltimore Ravens, about five weeks after they won the Super Bowl, trade star wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick – largely to save money – and the Internet mostly yawns.
Transaction No. 2: The Memphis Grizzlies trade small forward Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors for three players, cash and a second-round draft pick – largely to save money – and social media and the blogosphere goes bonkers.
“Where is the outrage?” a friend of mine wondered in an email Tuesday. “The defending champion trades their best or second-best player to a big-market team for a sixth-round draft pick and nothing else, purely for financial reasons. ‘The NFL CBA must be broken. It might bring down the whole league…’ Oh wait, no one is writing that but Rudy Gay getting traded was the end of civilization. Care to make any sense of that for me?”
Well, sure. That’s what we do here at Hang Time Headquarters. Or try to do, anyway.
It’s true that the Ravens’ decision to ship Boldin to the team they beat in Super Bowl XLVII passed without much hysteria. What criticism it did generate zeroed in more on Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome, rather than anything systemic indicating a sea change in the ways NFL teams build, pay and maintain rosters.
Here was longtime NFL scribe Gary Myers‘ “tweeted” reaction:
So the Ravens invest all this money in Joe Flacco and refuse to pay his best WR Anquan Boldin the $6 mil on his contract and trade him.—
Gary Myers (@garymyersNYDN) March 11, 2013
And here were comments from a couple of Boldin’s former teammates, as posted on ESPN.com:
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco reacted with disappointment when he learned of the trade Monday.
“Anquan was a great receiver for myself and for our football team,” said Flacco, who signed a six-year, $120.6 million deal with the Ravens last week. “It’s sad to see a guy like that go, but at the same time you want what’s best for him and you just wish him the best of luck.
“Anquan was a big part of this football team, a big part of this offense. He’s one of the many reasons we won the Super Bowl this year.”
Boldin was also a strong voice in the locker room and a teacher to second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith, who will likely become Flacco’s top target in 2013.
“Definitely shocked,” Smith said of the deal. “You lose a great guy, a great leader. A mentor. All of that.”
Still, the furor triggered by the Grizzlies’ trade of Gay to Toronto, as a way to unburden their $74 million payroll of their long-term commitment ($37 million in 2013-14 and 2014-15) to the talented but underperforming forward, was wild by comparison. Imagine if Memphis GM Chris Wallace had first tried to convince Gay to negotiate his $16.4 million salary down by one-third, as the Ravens did with Boldin, and then traded him – for something of marginally greater value than a potted plant. (NBA rules prohibit players from renegotiating their contracts down, by the way.)
There’s no denying the difference in reactions in the public arena. But here are some possible reasons for that:
- The Ravens just won a championship. The Grizzlies still are chasing one, and were seen with the Gay trade to be putting their finances ahead of their competitive ambitions.
- NFL teams are vast, complicated machines with way too many moving parts for your average fan or sportswriter to tinker with. They have a complexity under their hoods that requires sophisticated computer diagnostics, compared to an NBA team’s relative simplicity suited to a Saturday afternoon in the driveway.
- Even though Boldin is a three-time Pro Bowl selection to Gay’s zero-time All-Star, one key guy of Gay’s caliber and skills matters more in the NBA in what a team can do on the floor and how it is perceived and marketed. Only one key guy, the starting quarterback, matters that way in the NFL.
- The absence of guaranteed salaries in the NFL and the pressure that can be applied to players to renegotiate drastically shortens their shelf life as cap burdens. Playing salary hardball trumps the sanctity of a signed contract, because football doesn’t offer much “sanctity” in the first place, and the maneuvers have become commonplace.
- The shelf life of an NFL players’ usefulness is shorter, so fans and media are conditioned to more frequent turnover than in the NBA.
- The sports are intrinsically different. Football involves a sequence of events, somewhat independent of each other in the work flow, which makes it easier to replace any particular part. Basketball requires more synchronization of actions, with more freedom within plays to improvise. Familiarity with teammates looms larger, so the impact of someone’s coming or going is greater.
- The NBA’s new CBA was negotiated at a much higher price, at a higher profile, than the NFL’s, in terms of what each lost in the lockout that produced their new contracts. So the sensitivity to how basketball’s new labor deal would work got heightened.
- Boldin was traded in the NFL’s offseason. Gay was moved in the thick of the NBA schedule, invoking a lot of “don’t fix what ain’t broken” protests.
- As defending NBA champions, the Miami Heat seem to have provided the current blueprint for success: Three marquee stars. With Memphis shedding Gay for role players and future assets, it appeared to be straying from that plan – if Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Gay could be considered the Grizzlies’ stars – rather than embracing it. Success in the NFL involves far more players and is unwieldy, by comparison. Blueprints in that league vary, too.
So those are a few possible explanations, which might or might not satisfy my buddy.
A couple other things that could assuage him are the fact that some media outlets didn’t go all Chicken Little on the league and the NBA at the time of the trade, such as this one , this one and this one. Also, Memphis’ 13-4 record since the trade heading into its game Tuesday at Portland is the best counter-argument possible that trading Gay – who has been good for the Raptors but something less than a savior (8-8 since acquiring him) – wouldn’t necessarily be the undoing of the Grizzlies. Or, for that matter, of the NBA.
The league’s fans and media just might be a little louder in considering that possibility. Which, frankly, isn’t a bad thing either.