Ask yourself this: Is it the players, the agent or the system?

As of right now, I don't have a problem with Andre Smith. I don't have a problem with the way he's dealing hiring/firing his agents -- that's his deal. I do have a concern about the agent he's reportedly hiring. That's only because he was the agent that Smith, and by extension advisor, had when he bombed at the Combine. Other than that, there's concerns based on a historic perception that Cincinnati fans have yet to experience. Maturity issues. Check. Character concerns? Not in my book. Unless of course your umbrella for character is much wider than mine -- which doesn't include immaturity.

If and when Smith declares whom his agent is, the deal will be done. Will he hold out? Probably. However, that's not because of his agent, or even his maturity level. True. Rookies should be at every session to learn the system and the speed of the game. That's a given. That's training that all new hire employees receive. However, rookies do hold out. Recently, that's been fact, while watching inflated contracts reach ridiculous levels. Not all of them are problematic characters. Often times the slots are set so late that by the time the money is projected for a certain draft pick, camp is already upon us.

So you have to ask yourself: is it the player, the agent, or the system? Consider this. Matthew Stafford signed a six-year deal worth $78 million. Of that money, $17 is guaranteed and upwards to $41.7 million in total bonuses can be awarded based on incentives. Not to take anything away from Stafford or the Lions, but that's a lot of change for a player that's yet to take an NFL snap in a regular season game. Admittedly, I'm dusting off a typical argument. However, it's a valid argument that goes unanswered.

In 2007, Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell signed a six-year $61 million contract with $32 million guaranteed. In two seasons, Russell completed 234 passes (53.9% completion rate) for 2,769 yards passing, 15 touchdowns and 12 picks; a career 73.9 passer rating. Not to demean Russell or the Raiders, but those are very pedestrian numbers with a player that has potential and/or the counter-point that "he's getting there."

There are systems in this world in which companies compete for talented college students, possibly overpaying. Lawyers. Businessmen. Even programmers. The NFL isn't exclusively overpaying unproven talent out of college. At the same time, it's immensely different. Perhaps night and day. Apples and oranges. Companies compete against other companies for the services of a respective prospect. Players coming out of college aren't allowed to pick and choose which company they wish to work for. It takes four years before an NFL player can take all available offers and pick the one they like the best. Until then, they are locked into that team.

I've supported the league going to an NBA-like Rookie Salary scale. Not only does it prevent holdouts, teams that often pick inside the top-five, aren't handing out salary cap heavy guaranteed contracts each year, preventing them from building beyond the first round pick. Many consider LeBron James to be the best NBA player today. He signed a three-year deal worth $12.96 million. Manageable. If he entered the NFL with all the hype behind him, can you imagine the contract he'd sign as a rookie?

Roger Goodell has stumped many times about the inflated rookie contracts we see today. "There's something wrong about the system," Goodell said. "The money should go to people who perform." He continues a year later saying, "You want to make sure the system rewards the players that perform and I think that's what we have to figure out in the next collective bargaining agreement. How do we pay the players fairly?"

Hammering out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be tough for the league and the players. Some suggest it just won't happen; a work stoppage is very possible. There's a lot of issues. How many games to play? A (much needed) proposed rookie salary scale. What percentage of the league's revenue goes to players and what's the percentage for a salary cap? And those are the most pressing issues.

In the end, you can blame the agent and the player all you like. And perhaps it's justified. Perhaps there's a fiscal difference of $500,000 on a deal that pays over $50 million; the differential seems ridiculously petty to people like us. However, as long as the system exists, so will these issues. First rounders will hold out. Rookie contracts are, and will continue to be, exuberant. I would also like to point out, advise if you will, to keep in mind that the system is getting out of control. The system causes the holdouts that shouldn't exist. The system forces kids in the young 20s the unbelievable pressures to perform because of their rookie contracts. Can you imagine how Stafford feels right now? If he doesn't toss 30-40 touchdowns his rookie season, there's a high probability that people are already calling him a bust. A lot of pressure for a kid, if you ask me.

So Smith will probably hold out. His unconfirmed agent Alvin Keels, an agent that greatly benefits from having an uncontained, unchecked rookie pay system in the NFL, will probably give him questionable advise that will have both team and player shaking their head because of a difference on what the parties believe Smith deserves. In truth, he doesn't deserve a thing. He hasn't earned anything. And being a first round pick shouldn't give a single player the right of passage to make the type of money that sets you up for life.

But it is what it is. Worth complaining about? Probably not. The league knows there's a problem and will address it. That's about all we can ask for. Hopefully when the new CBA is signed, sealed and delivered, this issue fades. And we can expect players like Andre Smith to attend every session while he's with the Cincinnati Bengals.

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