Brown, Banner sound off on dispute
Upset at Eagles' reluctance to renegotiate, veteran CB would "rather just leave"
He threw the first major punch by recently announcing he wanted to be traded if he wasn't going to be offered a new contract. The Eagles responded by saying that neither a trade nor a deal would be coming. So now it's time for Brown to accept one clear truth: He had better be ready for the toughest test of his seven-year career.
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The main challenge Brown faces here is history. The Philadelphia front office has dealt with so many bitter contract disputes over the past decade -- with former Eagles including Duce Staley, Jeremiah Trotter and Terrell Owens -- that it's hard to keep count anymore. What's even more telling is that team president Joe Banner never seems to cave in to the demands of the disgruntled players. That fact is the main reason Brown has to have his game face on to endure this process.
So far, that appears to be the case. Brown has taken a look at his career production (14 interceptions and seven sacks) and his reliability (no missed games) and decided he's worth more than the $2 million he's scheduled to earn this coming season. He also hasn't shown up for any team-related events, and he might be bracing for a holdout.
"At this point, to have gone this route, I'd rather just leave," Brown said during a recent phone interview. "They want to act like this is a totally selfish act on my part. But if they had handled the situation professionally, it never would've gotten to this point."
What Brown is hoping is that he's voicing his frustration at just the right time. Even though the Eagles have denied any interest in trading him, Brown's thinking some team might be willing to offer something for his services as this weekend's draft approaches. Given recent moves around the NFL, it's not a ridiculous strategy. After all, the league has seen a handful of high-profile trades over the past few weeks.
They said it's 'counterproductive.' My response to that is 'Who is it counterproductive for?' I don't care how it affects them. If somebody wants to deal, it's going to be good for that team.” -- Eagles CB Sheldon Brown on his trade demand and team president Joe Banner's reaction
Denver traded Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler to Chicago. Cleveland traded tight end Kellen Winslow to Tampa Bay. The Eagles also just traded three picks to Buffalo in order to acquire two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters. After Peters showed up, he received a four-year, $53 million extension that included $25 million in guaranteed money.
Brown paid special attention to that move because Peters had spent the past year squabbling with the Bills over a contract that had two years left on it. Brown also closely followed the trade of former Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard, whom the Eagles selected in the first round of the 2002 draft (right before they selected Brown in the second). Sheppard spent all of last season complaining about his own extension in Philadelphia. The Eagles finally dealt him to the New York Jets earlier this offseason, where he received a four-year, $27.2 million contract in the process.
Of course, Brown's problem is that Banner apparently doesn't want to trade him. Banner also claimed that Brown has lowered his trade value by publicly expressing frustration.
"I'm trying to pressure them into making something happen," Brown said. "But what pisses me off is that they're trying to say that trading me isn't option. They put out a statement that basically said I had diminished my trade value by doing this. They said it's 'counterproductive.' My response to that is 'Who is it counterproductive for?' I don't care how it affects them. If somebody wants to deal, it's going to be good for that team."
Though Brown would be thrilled if his situation played out like Sheppard's, the one obvious factor working against him is stature. While Cutler, Sheppard, Winslow and Peters all have been to the Pro Bowl, Brown has yet to make it to Hawaii. Brown also could find little public support, especially because he has four years left on his current deal. Though his $2 million salary is a far cry from what the league's richest cornerbacks make -- the franchise tender for cornerbacks this season, which is the average of the five highest-paid players at the position, was $9.96 million -- it's hard to imagine the average fan sympathizing with him in an age of rampant layoffs and plummeting 401k plans.
If we were so disrespectful, why did we give him a new deal when he was two years into his rookie contract? Peyton Manning played seven years under his rookie deal. This thing is so far out there that the city of Philadelphia is actually on our side in this situation.” -- Eagles president Joe Banner on CB Sheldon Brown's contract demands
The fact that the Eagles gave Brown an extension two years after he entered the league doesn't help his cause, either.
"If we were so disrespectful, why did we give him a new deal when he was two years into his rookie contract?" Banner said. "[Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl quarterback and 2008 NFL MVP] Peyton Manning played seven years under his rookie deal. This thing is so far out there that the city of Philadelphia is actually on our side in this situation. That's how absurd the whole thing is."
The point to be made here is that Brown has to be willing to push this fight as far as it can go, which is a risky move. For one thing, he realizes that the Eagles sought to make an example out of Sheppard with that demotion last fall. In fact, Brown even suspects the team signed free agent cornerback Asante Samuel last offseason just to let Sheppard know how expendable he really was. That's why Brown said this entire move is all about business. He doesn't want it to turn personal.
Still, it's already apparent that Banner is ready to answer any public blows Brown plans on dealing next. When Brown claimed that Banner basically had been blowing off the possibility of discussing a new contract over the past year, Banner said those assertions were inaccurate. Banner said Brown's agent, Jason Chayut, had been involved in "numerous face-to-face meetings" with either Banner, vice president of player personnel Howie Roseman or team consultant Andrew Brandt, who formerly worked as the Green Bay Packers' vice president. Banner added that all three men most recently talked about the matter with Chayut at the NFL combine.
Banner stressed that the Eagles might not agree with Brown's stance, but that doesn't mean they have ignored him. Banner also said Brown is asking for something that is mind-boggling.
"You pick the best players in the league, whether it's Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, James Harrison, whoever," Banner said. "How many of those guys got new contracts when they had four years left on their current deals? What Sheldon is asking for is unprecedented and outrageous."
That doesn't mean Brown is about to back down any time soon. At 30 years old, he surely realizes he only has so many more opportunities to score more money before his current deal expires in 2012. The market for 34-year-old cornerbacks has never been strong. That isn't going to change four years from now.
As Brown said, "If you don't fight for what you believe, nobody is going to fight for you."
That's actually an important motto for him to remember as this offseason plays out. Right now, we've just seen the opening shots. But what Brown has to prove is that he can stick with a fight that will be extremely hard for him to win.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.