Lost in the talk of the barbaric lockerroom culture in the NFL is that fact that not all teams or all players choose to conduct themselves in that manner. In fact, that discrepancy can be easily shown in the difference in “entrancement” for Richie Incognito dating back to his days with the St. Louis Rams. While there were some former Rams that showed their support for the mauling interior lineman, there were plenty that lambasted Incognito for his actions a) on the field against other players, b) in the media versus the organization and fans, and c) in the lockerroom with teammates. As a result, he was dropped by St. Louis in 2009, despite a relatively successful individual performance that season. So, the dynamic within the Miami Dolphins clubhouse is not necessarily the “standard” in the NFL; nor is the obvious lack of leadership by both the players and the coaching staff.
One of the big questions following the Ted Wells Report was,” Who would get a job in the NFL first: Richie Incognito or Jonathan Martin?” Analysts and talk show pundits all chimed in, with the vast majority pointing to Incognito as “their type of guy.” However, what many failed to point out was the simple fact that players in the lockerroom are not the ones making the personnel decisions.
Taking a page from an economics textbook, we can look at two terms: cost-value analysis and supply and demand. Which player is going to demand a salary nearest to their actual value: 1) a 24-year old, second-year, CBA-friendly tackle desperate for a home or 2) a 30-year old, veteran interior lineman coming off of a three-year, $13 million contract? Secondly, which position is more “in demand” with a more limited supply: 1) a first-contract, 2nd-round talent left tackle or 2) a 10th year, veteran guard with a long history of on-field and off-field issues that have resulted in suspensions and/or fines?
In both instances, Jonathan Martin is likely your winner.
To be fair, Martin has not performed well in his young career to this point, finishing his only full season (2012) with a -22.0 overall grade. However, given the obvious lack of support from teammates and the coaching staff, as well as the laundry list of documented psychological stresses that were heaped on Martin’s shoulder, it may be difficult to decipher which came first: the poor performances or his problems within the organization?
So, with Jake Long’s return from rehab by the start of the 2014 season still in question, and the offensive tackle depth chart looking dreadfully thin, would it make sense for the St. Louis Rams to make a move for Jonathan Martin?
The first step in answering that question would be deciding if Martin can “fit” in your lockerroom. While the St. Louis Rams are still the youngest team in the NFL, and getting younger, there is still a well established groups of veteran leaders: Chris Long, Sam Bradford, James Laurinaitis, Jake Long, etc. The latter of that group could also be key, with Long being a familiar, welcoming face in, what would be, a completely new environment for Martin. More importantly, the players on the Rams roster appear to have a profound respect for the coaching staff, none more so than Jeff Fisher, who has demonstrated a willingness to call out players for their actions; look no further than his press conference following the announcement of Jo-Lonn Dunbar’s suspension.
The second step would be pricing and availability. At this point, Jonathan Martin is still under contract with the Miami Dolphins, although that may change following their meeting at the NFL Combine this week. Presumably, they will throw Martin on the trading block. If media projections hold any validity, it is unlikely that any team will be willing to offer draft compensation, which may lead to (as some have speculated) the Dolphins merely releasing Martin and eating the relatively unsubstantial $959,734 owed in dead money.
In that case, the issue becomes price. Jonathan Martin was projected to average around $1.2 million per season with the Dolphins through his four-year, rookie contract. By being released, the former Stanford star would be forced into fighting for his “second contract,” with only two marred, under-performing seasons as leverage; if that is what you choose to call it. There is no way to accurately predict the size of a potential contract for Martin, although one could reasonably estimate that it would not usurp his previous average salary. However, you can almost guarantee that his new deal will be laced with a “games played” clause, as well as mandates for regular psychological evaluations, or, at least, more than what is already stipulated of the typical NFL player.
In the end, we are all simply making educated guesses on the outcome of the Jonathan Martin saga. However, at least for the St. Louis Rams, it does appear as though bringing in the Stanford alum would be a sensible endeavor.
For starters, there is an immediate need for offensive line depth on the roster, especially with question marks surrounding the re-signing of Rodger Saffold and the rehab progress of Jake Long. Secondly, the St. Louis organization would be an ideal fit for a “troubled,” young player, with 1) a stable, well-respecting head coach with a history of handling “difficult” situations 2) a myriad of high-character leaders in the locker room, including one of Martin’s former teammates, and 3) being located in an extremely small, media-friendly market. Thirdly, his price tag could be easily managed, even on a roster with little-to-no wiggle room under the cap. Lastly, the expectation to performance would be negligible (as a projected non-starter), which should allow Martin the optimal environment to progress and show his wares as a blocker in the league; all while being under the tutelage of the infamous Rams offensive line coach, Paul Boudreau.
Sounds like a win-win for both parties…