Although I have resisted commenting on the recent Florida court ruling regarding Donte Stallworth, or as I like to refer to it as…the armpit of American justice, based on the overwhelming disgust emanating from the verdict, I feel compelled to offer some attempt at closure towards a situation that is utterly unresolved. Thanks to Tony Grossi, I have found an angle that makes the whole tragedy a bit more digestible in terms of our Browns moving on.
First, allow me to put on my moralistic alb and join the legions of other Browns followers who share in the sentiment that a) it is a shame that a pedestrian died in this situation, b) Stallworth is a bum, c) the legal verdict given to Stallworth was not even close to exacting real justice and finally, d) money, good lawyers and contrition are a great triad to avoid serving real jail time.
Now that the human element of this story has been covered, and again, someone died in this unfortunate situation, and the personal guilt hopefully being experienced by Stallworth is not worth presently mentioning, I feel the only worthy coverage of this story going forward is how the situation affects the Browns roster.
And much like how money played an essential role in Stallworth avoiding real punishment, money will also play a factor is his involvement with the Browns in the near future.
Finances will play the biggest role in deciding Donte Stallworth’s roster status with the Browns.
That is why multiple NFL sources said Thursday that the team would not act on the jailed wide receiver until it absolutely needs to.
Although Stallworth was suspended without pay indefinitely by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday, it doesn’t mean Stallworth’s huge contract figures come off the salary-cap books of the Browns.
The NFL salary-cap rules are complex and unforgiving. There are no exceptions for injuries or contract terminations. Only a player’s base salary — which is often purposely kept to the NFL minimum — is wiped off the books during a suspension. But larger sums such as signing and roster bonuses are not removed.
While Stallworth is suspended “indefinitely,” the Browns will get immediate salary-cap relief of $745,000, which is Stallworth’s scheduled base salary for 2009.
But if they cut him now, he would cost the Browns about $7.6 million on their cap. The cap for every NFL team in 2009 is $128 million. So banishing Stallworth would eat up about 6 percent of the Browns’ cap for a player not contributing.
Regardless of whether Stallworth feels guilty for his actions, or is merely relieved that he will not spend the next years of his life in jail, this whole situation is a complete mess for the Browns’ franchise. As Grossi points out, cutting ties with Stallworth, which is the most natural and justifiable action, would hurt the team’s bottom line.
Talk about a shame…as it is apparant that the new regime (or any regime not owned by Mike Brown) would want to cut ties with Stallworth as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the Browns will have to keep Stallworth around as dead weight until after Roger Goodell and the league office have their say.
The Browns’ action on Stallworth’s roster status will depend on the length of his suspension. In a letter, Goodell wrote that he will “in due course” meet with Stallworth and his representatives and then make a final determination on discipline.
Although the Browns would not comment about Stallworth, General Manager George Kokinis did release this statement: “We support the action taken by the commissioner today and will continue to work closely with the league regarding this matter.”
Goodell can do the Browns a big favor by suspending Stallworth for the entire 2009 season.
Anything less than that will force the Browns to decide whether to jettison Stallworth and take the cap hit, or string it out until 2010. If Goodell’s suspension is longer than eight games, the Browns conceivably could retain Stallworth on a reserve list and not release him until 2010.
So in this sense, let’s hope the Sheriff of the NFL comes down hard on Stallworth. In an ideal world, Goodell will consider the human element of this tragedy, as well as reflect on the image his league has suffered because of the national media coverage of the story.
Obviously, a long-term suspension helps the Browns jettison a complete bum, on and off the field, as well as removes the team from having to carry a financial dead-weight. Some are already speculating that Stallworth’s suspension could rival the recent one given to PacMan Jones, which could both justify Stallworth’s actions, as well as give the Browns some emotional and financial relief moving forward.
However, in thinking about this sad case, a couple random thoughts have popped into my mind. First, how did former commissioner Paul Tagliabue have such a long, fairly distinguished run as NFL boss, without dealing with the kinds of criminal cases and suspensions that Goodell is seemingly always involved with? Has the culture of the league changed this dramatically in the past several seasons, or has the quality of the players involved plummeted enough to warrant such constant front-page headlines?
Second, in the spirit of contrarianism, would this situation play out differently if a higher-quality player was involved? For example, if a player who had the talent level of a top 5 offensive tackle, or possessed truly game-changing ability were involved, what would the fan reaction be towards the situation? I think the unspoken sentiment being shared among Cleveland fans has to be that Stallworth is a bum on the field, at least based on his 2008 production.
Considering that Stallworth contributed just 17 catches and one touchdown in 2008, it makes it a lot easier for fans to completely dismiss him as a member of the Browns. Obviously, if you combine this minimal production with his recent actions, it makes him utterly disposable. However, I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would be if Stallworth was actually a contributor on offense.
And finally, one more note of interest.
If the Browns waited until 2010, there would be no salary cap ramifications because the cap is expected to be abolished — unless the NFL and its players union reach an extension of the current collective bargaining agreement.
Looking beyond the Stallworth mess, the uncapped 2010 season, which is looking like a real possibility, is going to have some serious ramifications for the Browns. Besides Stallworth, I have to wonder how many other current Browns veterans will be victims of this cap-less frenzy. Looking at the current Browns roster, it is possible that the likes of Eric Steinbach, Jamal Lewis, Derek Anderson, Corey Williams and some other highly paid veterans could be playing their last season with the Browns in 2009.
The labor situation should be interesting to watch in the coming months.
And to end on a more upbeat note…(as if mentioning Tony Grossi in a purely positive light was not enough…)
If you get a chance, check out a new favorite site of Reboot:
Sports Jabber features some great coverage of all sports, big and small, and boasts a great collection of readers who are focused on teams from the AFC North. I urge you to take a look…even though the wonderful lady who runs the site is a Cowboys fan, she’s still good people.
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