COMMENTARY | NFL players don't have guaranteed contracts outside of their signing bonuses, so when they are released, the team can take heat for what can be perceived as unfair decisions. The New England Patriots took a lot of flak after releasing defensive tackle Kyle Love on May 15, but there are plenty of reasons why they should not be criticized for the personnel decision.
According to ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss, Love was released by New England following his diagnosis of Type-2 diabetes. Love's agent Tom Kopelman confirmed he was told by the team that the official reason for release was a non-football injury, lamenting, "Naturally, we are disappointed that the Patriots decided to part ways with Kyle, especially in light of the fact that a number of elite, professional athletes with diabetes -- both Type 1, which is known to be far more difficult to manage than Type 2 diabetes -- have had very successful careers in professional football, hockey, baseball, and basketball."
It's unfortunate that it's being insinuated the Patriots acted inappropriately or in a discriminatory manner towards Love. Taking a deeper look shows the criticism the team is receiving is unfair.
Love didn't receive the outright release experienced by most players. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported that New England gave Love the option of retiring for a year (while keeping his full $500,000 signing bonus on his two-year, $3.09 million contract) or taking an unconditional release. Wanting an opportunity to play, Love chose to move on.
According to the Boston Herald, the lineman became aware of his medical condition after suddenly losing around 20 pounds. Although he has gained about 10 of those pounds back, the 6-foot-1 315-pound Love faces unique challenges in balancing his new-found health concerns and athletic career.
Although athletes can succeed on the field while managing diabetes, Love's case is different because he plays an interior line position where weight is an asset and a necessity. Without exception, NFL defensive linemen weigh in at over 300 pounds and above. However, obesity is one of the exacerbating factors of diabetes, making Love's diagnosis diametrically opposed to his profession. Remaining in the weight range needed to be an effective defensive lineman will make managing his condition all the more difficult and potentially dangerous.
Releasing Love was a business decision by the Patriots, made within the bounds allowed them by the current bargaining agreement with the player's union. While the NFL is held to the same standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act, making accommodations for a professional athlete is not the same thing as doing so for an employee with a desk job.
Additionally, the Patriots' decision to cut Love represents their willingness to take on salary liability for a player who may not been a big part of their future plans to begin with. If he had been released after tearing up a knee, there wouldn't be nearly as much attention being paid. Conversely, he could have been released without any cause being given, and it would have raised few eyebrows. When it comes to accommodations and professional sports, reasonable comparisons to the regular work world simply cannot be made.
A lot of the outrage seems to center on the assumption that Love was an integral part of the defensive unit. But he was far from being a star. He was undrafted out of Mississippi State and started only 25 of a possible 41 games in three seasons with the Patriots, accumulating 36 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Like most linemen, he was not a three-down player, as he played in just 49 percent of New England's defensive snaps in 2012 according to Reiss.
The Patriots had already forged a path indicating they were remaking their defensive line well before Love's release. The team is switching to a 4-3 defense next season, which requires athletic defensive tackles instead of more immobile run stuffers, As a result, free agents Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead have been brought in this offseason, while Brandon Deaderick was jettisoned in addition to Love.
The Boston Globe indicated Love's release will save the Patriots approximately $850,000 in cap space. That's no small sum, especially considering he has never been a full-time player, and his future was so much up in the air for next year, regardless of his health.
The Patriots are as well known for their cutthroat business practices as any team in the NFL, having cut ties with expensive veterans like Drew Bledsoe and Mike Vrabel once dollar figures got too high for the team's taste. However, CSNNE.com's Tom Curran cautions those who would be quick to judge about assuming the Patriots are unfair to players with illness or injury, pointing out a number of instances to the contrary. "The signing of Armond Armstead (heart attack at USC) last winter. The drafting of Marcus Cannon (non-Hodgkins lymphoma) in 2010. The employment of Matt Light for 10 seasons while Light battled Crohn's Disease. The patience with Jeff Tarpinian as he recovered from a serious health issue in 2011. Sticking by Tedy Bruschi after Bruschi's stroke in early 2005."
Ironically, Armstead, who is three years removed from a heart attack, might be the player who ultimately replaces Love on the Patriots' roster. His signing is a clear indication that New England is willing to work with players with non-injury health concerns as long as they believe they fit in with the overall team framework.
Love has subsequently signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he will attempt to continue his career. It's unfortunate his relationship with the Patriots was unable to continue, but releasing him wasn't inappropriate or anything that hasn't already been done untold times by every other NFL franchise over the years.
Andrew Martin writes for Bleacher Report, where he serves as a Featured Columnist (Boston Red Sox), and he has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts. He has also written on the topics of sports and history for a number of publications and websites.You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew
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