Recently, Lito Sheppard, former Eagle and current New York Jet blasted the Eagles, saying that the Eagles purposely limited his playing time after he put it out there that he was not happy with his contract situation. Not only did Lito talk about his own situation with the Eagles, he also intimated that Sheldon Brown will soon find himself in a similar situation, stating of Brown, "He ultimately won't even be playing before the end of the season. It's a known fact. I hope they prove me wrong." Most Eagles fans are not happy with Lito Sheppard, but is he wrong? Who is right or wrong in this whole contract situation in the NFL?
Each player and their agent are responsible for signing their own contract in the NFL, so if a player wants more money halfway through their contract, it is their own fault, because they are the ones who signed the contract in the first place. To make up for the fact that football contracts are not guaranteed, and the team can cut the player at any point, the player usually receives a sizable signing bonus when they sign the contract, which is guaranteed.
It also never helps when we as "normal," working class, non-millionaires have to listen to these multi-millionaire athletes complain about making more money. Sure, they are elite athletes, so they deserve the money that they make, but it still is not something that we as fans want to hear from the players. We generally feel that if a player signs a contract, they should honor it, and play through it.
Unfortunately, it isn't always that easy. Because football contracts are not guaranteed, the team holds the power. Not only does the team never have to renegotiate a contract, but they can also cut a player or ask a player to take a pay cut whenever they like. John Runyan was once asked to take a pay cut to stay here, and unfortunately, the player has minimal choices in that situation. The Eagles can go to a player, like they did to John Runyan, tell him that he has played well and done everything for the team, but is now getting older, and they would like him to take a pay cut, or he may get cut from the team.
Also, initially you would think that Lito saying that the Eagles purposely don't play players that give them the best chance to win regardless of their current contract situation is ridiculous. Let's take a look at the Michael Lewis situation. Michael Lewis was offered a contract by the Eagles, much like they offer a lot of their younger player, trying to lock them up for the long term. Most players sign this, as it is definitely tempting for a young player to sign and get long term financial security. Lewis, thinking that he was going to be the next Brian Dawkins, did not sign the contract, thinking he deserved more money. Lewis did not sign the contract, because he did not want to be in the situation that others like Lito, and Sheldon Brown find themselves in, regretting the contract that they initially sign.
So, even though the Eagles offered a contract to Lewis, as soon as he rejected it, all of a sudden the team felt he couldn't cover anybody anymore. Fact is, Lewis was not good in coverage, but the Eagles knew that before and after they offered him the contract. Not only that, they started Sean Considine at safety in place of Lewis after this, which was an absolute joke. You cannot honestly argue that Considine was a better player than Michael Lewis. Again, Lewis was by no means the all-pro safety that he thought he would become, but the Eagles were absolutely not a better team with Considine starting in his place. It was one thing to bench Lewis for a game or so, but to ride Considine into the playoffs seems fishy.
Another example may be Lito Sheppard himself - at least he certainly feels that way. Asante Samuel is better than Lito, and Sheldon Brown may be as well, but you cannot tell me that Joselio Hanson is better than Lito Sheppard, and should have been playing over Sheppard at the nickel spot in big games last season. If the team feels that Sheppard quit on them, or was dogging it out there, then that is fine, I do not have a problem with Lito sitting if that was the case.
I feel like there is no right or wrong answer to these contract questions and issues. While I find it annoying when a player feels they are entitled to more money because they play well, which is actually what they are supposed to do in the first place, I do not have a problem with a player asking for more money, simply because the team can cut or ask a player to take a pay cut. The signing bonuses are there for a reason, and many people feel like if a player wants to re-negotiate a contract, they should give back the signing bonus, which seems like a fair point.
Also, even though Michael Lewis may be a good example, I would like to think that Andy Reid, or more importantly, Jim Johnson is putting the most talented group out there to win each game.