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The Bengals have been against free agency since its inception

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In a recent interview with Jim Quinn—a prominent sports attorney and author—he recalled a story pointing to Bengals’ ownership being ardently opposed to the free agency model that is prominent in the league today.

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When a team is stringing together winning seasons, operational practices are immune to criticism. Such was the case with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2011-2015 when the team made five straight postseasons, largely thanks to a small handful of quality draft classes.

But, as the team faces their fourth consecutive year with a losing record here in 2019, familiar criticisms are coming back out of the woodwork. The team’s ownership has seemed to be an easy target once again, given the myriad of issues that have plagued the beginning stages of the Zac Taylor era.

One area that has received increased criticism volume is in the team’s inactivity in outside free agency. The team hasn’t always been totally dormant in the spring festivities, but recent offseasons have yielded few high-impact players from the outside.

This week on The Orange and Black Insider, we welcomed in author and attorney, Jim Quinn. He recently penned a book titled, “Don’t be Afraid to Win: How free agency changed the business of pro sports”. In his decades-long career in advocating for players in the four major North American sports, Quinn battled with many billionaire owners in his quest to shape free agency into the beast it is today.

In the interview, OBI co-host John Sheeran asked a poignant question of Quinn, in terms of how teams can effectively work within the confines of the salary cap. He had quite a bit to say, in terms of the dichotomy of successful franchises and how they maneuver in the month of March.

A few minutes later, we asked Quinn to give us a story about the Bengals and/or Mike Brown that many may not know. Let’s just say he gave us an anecdote that made us simultaneously raise our eyebrows and shake our heads.

“The one memory I have; and this goes back to when we were fighting about free agency early on and we actually won the first case and we were trying to reach a settlement that would allow free agency and some kind of a salary cap; I remember being in a conference room in the airport in Dallas-Fort Worth,” Quinn recalled.

“And, Mike Brown was one of the owners that was on their negotiating committee—there are a number of difficult owners, including Al Davis, who was a superstar difficult person—but, we were sitting around the room trying to debate different issues. At some point, even though we had already won the case, Mike Brown just shook his head, looked at Gene Upshaw (Pro Football Hall of Fame player, former NFLPA Executive Director) and me and said ‘I’m never ever going to agree to this. Never. I think it’s wrong, I think I should have control over my players,” Quinn said.

“I remember looking at Upshaw and saying: ‘this guy is crazy’”.

Of course, Quinn looks through a pro-player lens and went up against sports owners, so his stance here is predictable. Brown isn’t “crazy”, in it’s truest sense of the word, but he has been known as a bit of a “lone wolf” when it comes to his stances. He often is in the vast minority of voting at the annual owner’s meetings and, as Quinn noted, is not known as a player-first owner.

However, what’s also worth noting is that this was a conversation that was nearly 30 years ago and the idea of free agency was daunting and uncharted territory. Surely the Brown family has a far more open mind on the process than they did during these negotiations. Let’s also not forget that Brown attended Harvard Law School, so his side’s cession of items in a negotiation may not have sat well with him.

Still, given what we know and/or have heard about this management, the team’s overall lack of success and their being at odds with some of their better players, are these stories and sentiments surprising? Unfortunately, it’s these perceptions that have hurt the team frequently over the years—from both a morale and free agency standpoint.

Also on this week’s episode:

  • Attorney and author, Jim Quinn, talks about his experiences in helping to shape free agency in the four major North American sports.
  • Quinn also gave his thoughts on the future of free agency, the next NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement and the viability of the XFL redux.
  • Jacob Loque of SB Nation’s “Baltimore Beatdown” Ravens site joined us once again to preview the team’s Week 10 rematch versus the Bengals.
  • The OBI crew also takes a look at Carson Palmer’s recent comments about the Bengals and its front office.

Our thanks to the live listeners and to both Jim Quinn and Jacob Loque. If you would like, Quinn’s book, “Don’t be Afraid to Win: How free agency changed the business of pro sports” is available through most major outlets, including Amazon, via eBook at Barnes and Noble and more! We highly recommend the book for all sports fans—go buy it!

If you’re unable to join us live for here at Cincy Jungle or YouTube every episode, all Orange and Black Insider content is available here on CJ, the Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Google Play Music apps, our YouTube channel, as well as through Megaphone and, as always, on iTunes! You can tweet us @BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. Thanks for listening and go subscribe to our channels!