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Eisenberg: 'Hometown Discount' Is An Expired Coupon


With the beginning of free agency now just days away, the Ravens are in the final stages of their attempt to retain Brandon Williams, Rick Wagner and Kyle Juszczyk, their own pending free agents.

It's a tough situation. The Ravens can make lucrative offers, but as they learned the hard way with Kelechi Osemele a year ago, other teams with more salary cap flexibility can checkmate whatever Baltimore proposes.

I keep reading and hearing that it would be great if the players made the Ravens' job easier by giving the team a "hometown discount." That's code for accepting less from the team you've played for because, well, you like the team you've played for.

But I'm sure the Ravens aren't expecting that.

They certainly know the idea of a hometown discount doesn't jive with the complex, cold-hearted realities of today's football economics.

I'm not saying players don't work with teams. With a salary cap in effect, it's not that unusual to see big-money players renegotiate their deals and take less in the short run to free up cap space. But understand, they're not giving any money back; they're just kicking some of the team's obligation down the road.

When it comes to free agency, players are almost always going to take the best offer, period. And I don't think teams or fans should blame them for maximizing what might be their only opportunity to have teams bid for their services when they're in their prime.

The players' futures are at stake. It's their lives, their business. Would you not do the same if multiple entities wanted you? Would you not take what was best for you and your family?

It's also important to understand that these individual situations don't exist in their own vacuums. Williams, Wagner, Juszczyk and all NFL free agents are part of a collective marketplace where all decisions impact each other.

I can assure you Williams is happy his fellow widebody run stopper, Damon "Snacks" Harrison, didn't give the Jets a hometown discount when he hit free agency a year ago. Harrison discovered he was worth a lot more than anyone imagined, signing a five-year, $46.25 million deal with the Giants. Now, because of his deal, the market at his position is set a lot higher for Williams a year later, enabling Williams to earn more.

You can be sure Williams is hearing from his side that he owes it to the guys coming after him to make as much as he can, so they can benefit from his deal, just as he benefited from Harrison's.

The players didn't always have this kind of bargaining power, of course. Through the 1960s, there was no free agency and teams had complete control of the guys in uniform. Not coincidentally, salaries weren't that high.

All major sports experienced a revolution starting in the 1970s, though, with agents and unions entering the scene and players eventually earning freedoms and salaries their predecessors never could have envisioned. Those predecessors campaigned hard so Williams, Wagner and Juscczyk could be in this position.

Sure, from a business perspective, you could argue that the players do owe the Ravens something. The Ravens invested significant "R and D" (research and development) dollars in them, having drafted them, helped them hone their talents and given them the platform to showcase themselves. That's all valuable stuff that warrants a thank-you at worst and, OK, maybe a break if the right circumstances warrant.

Williams did allude to the possibility of giving the Ravens an ever-so-slight discount last month. "I'll stay in Baltimore if it's close," he said.

But a month earlier, when asked about possibly giving them a hometown discount, he lightheartedly pointed out that, ahem, he's from St. Louis.

Look, I don't know how this will turn out. The Ravens have said they're aggressively pursuing the players, who almost surely will field multiple offers if they reach Thursday's start of free agency without a deal in Baltimore. One thing I do know, though, is it's going to take a fair-market offer to keep them. Sorry, but this is a big-boy situation. No one gets to cut a corner. If you want a guy on your team, you have to pay him what he's worth. That's not an alternative fact.

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