by Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
July 21, 2004
That is the trade-off of the NFL. Revenue sharing, an unbending salary cap and easy-cut contracts provide for a great league in which just about everyone begins the season with a chance to win it all.
Even if it stinks to be Eddie George these days.
Arguably the greatest player in Tennessee Titans history, the rough-and-tumble running back who willed the team to the brink of a Super Bowl victory was granted a release on Wednesday. The Titans wanted to cut his contract from $4.25 million next season to $1.5 million.
In a league in which no deal truly is guaranteed, it is the cold, cruel reality that every veteran dreads. Give your heart, soul and ACL to the team, and the moment you can cut on only a nickel rather than a dime, you're done.
But that is the NBA's burden. Make a horrendous signing such as Vin Baker or Bryant Reeves, and the franchise has to pay for it on the court for years.
In the NFL it is just cut, dump and move on.
No hard feelings. It's all business.
Which doesn't make watching this go down any easier. You couldn't give more to a NFL team than George did the past eight seasons.
In NFL history only Walter Payton (170) has started more consecutive regular-season games at running back than George (128). Only George and Jim Brown have rushed for at least 10,000 yards while never missing a start.
And those comparisons aren't just statistical. George may not be as great as Payton or Brown, but he plays with the same hard-nosed style. His Clydesdale-like strength has helped him grind out 10,009 career yards without ever averaging more than 4.1 yards per carry in a season. His heroic effort in the second half of that Super Bowl XXXIV loss to St. Louis is the stuff of legend.
But that was then. Lately George has begun to slow (although he is coming off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons), and the Titans have become more pass-oriented behind Steve McNair. Approaching 31, an age when running backs tend to fall apart, he is deemed no longer worth the big money.
In a perfect world George remains a Titan for life, retiring well appreciated. This is the guy who helped steady the franchise as it went from a deadbeat team in Houston to just passing through in Memphis to planting roots in Nashville.
He was the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State, the classy face of the Titans, the one constant whom fans could rally around. He has given more than just all those first downs to this organization. He is everything you could ask for in a player.
"I hate to sever the ties here," George told The Associated Press earlier this week when he asked for his release. "My first and only option was to finish a Tennessee Titan under fair circumstances. Unfortunately, that's not how I perceive it at this point."
It says a lot about the NFL that, even after all he had given, George was willing to take a pay cut – down to $2.5 million. But losing another million seemed to be an insult, especially without an incentive package.
"I didn't see the win-win situation," he said. "If I'm helping the organization out, I thought they would help me out and have a win-win situation and I would basically make my money up in incentives."
The Titans weren't eager to make this move. But in the end, business beat out sentiment. The talk-radio callers and season ticket holders may be miffed. The way George is being treated may not seem fair.
But that is the NFL.
On the eve of last season, New England cut captain Lawyer Milloy because coach Bill Belichick, in merciless fashion, thought the safety had lost a step.
And we know how that turned out.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Wednesday, Jul 21, 2004 10:51 pm, EDT