COMMENTARY | Signing players to long-term, lucrative contracts can come back to bite you.
Not every team strikes gold in the free agent market. There are no risk-free moves in the NFL, but risk can be limited by being cautious with how money is being spent. When a team pays a player top-market salary, they open the door for catastrophe. One injury could wreck all the expectations a team had when it signed that player. When a team makes high-risk, high-reward transactions in the free agent market, every now and then, they are bound to get burned.
Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the most salary cap space available in the league, and used that extra money to lure hot free agents Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks to the 'Bay Area.' While Tampa Bay seems to have struck gold with Jackson, they've hit a pothole with Nicks. Injuries are a part of the game, but they've derailed the offensive lineman's season, and put his career in jeopardy. His time in Tampa Bay has been a disappointment, and it's now clear that his big contract signing was a mistake.
A Waste of Money - Buccaneers fans might not be as upset with Nicks if he wasn't signed to a five-year, $47 million contract, with $31 million guaranteed. The deal made him the highest paid guard in NFL history, both in terms of annual pay ($9.5 million a year) and guaranteed money.
His first year in Tampa, he missed the final nine games due to a nagging toe injury. In the offseason, after more foot problems and infections, Nicks had surgery on the ailing toe. After sitting out the preseason and the first two games of 2013, he attempted a comeback. Two games later, he was shut down indefinitely and considered another surgery to fix the problem.
However, doctors told him that there was no fixing the toe, and that he'd have to live with it the rest of his life. He's struggled the most with turf toe, a debilitating injury that cut short the careers of Hall of Famers Deion Sanders, Jonathan Ogden, and Jack Lambert. He can rehabilitate and wrap his toe, but he'll feel constant pain even after he retires.
He Hasn't Been Missed -- Even when Nicks was able to start, his play wasn't game-changing. In fact, the offensive unit was better with him out of the lineup than when he was starting. In 2012, Doug Martin was far more productive rushing the ball in the final nine games than in the first seven games that Nicks started. Martin had four 100-yard games, including a 251-yard, four touchdown outburst Week 8 versus the Oakland Raiders -- the first week Nicks missed due to injury. The running back accumulated eight of his 11 rushing touchdowns in the final nine games, en route to a rookie of the year nomination.
Nicks may have helped the offensive line in the long run, but his sample size is too small. In two seasons, he's played a total of nine games. He battled toe injuries off-and-on as a member of the New Orleans Saints, but the injury didn't become a hindrance until he showed up in Tampa. He's likely dealt with the injury his entire tenure in Tampa Bay, as he's just a shadow of the Pro-Bowl player he was with the Saints.
Compound Injuries and Infections -- As mentioned previously, Nicks has gone through a slew of injuries. But none resonate as loudly as a toe infection he first developed in August of this season. The infection turned out to be MRSA, a contagious staph bacteria that is potentially fatal.
According to WebMD, MRSA is called the 'super bug' because of the difficulty to treat it. It's resistant to some commonly used antibiotics, and it frequently adapts to counteract medicines meant to limit the infection.
Tampa Bay's team facility was quarantined, but not before it spread to starting kicker Lawrence Tynes. Weeks passed and it seemed like the sickness was contained. However, in early October, team doctors revealed that Nicks was again being treated for a MRSA staph infection on his left foot. After another round of quarantines, the facility was deemed safe.
The fear of infection left a toll on Tampa Bay. They were unable to use their team headquarters, they feared for the safety of Nicks, and of future teammates who picked up the infection, and the infection took their focus off football. Tampa Bay began this season with eight straight defeats. Is it too much to assume that one or two of those losses were due to insufficient game-planning due to the MRSA scares?
The story of Carl Nicks in Tampa Bay is a reason why it's dangerous paying top-market salaries to any player. He is the highest paid guard in NFL history, and through two seasons, he's been a complete waste of money. This isn't to say that players shouldn't be awarded for playing at an All-Pro level, but team owners and general managers should be more cautious with how money is being spent.
When you throw caution to the wind, every now and then, you're bound to get blown away.
James LoPresti lives in Tampa and has a journalism degree from the University of South Florida. He has eight years experience working in print media with the Tampa Tribune and you can follow him on Twitter @JLoPresti3114.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Carl Nicks
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers