At a time when it has become fashionable for NFL players to “bet on themselves” as they approach free agency, the case of Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins shows that it’s wise to know when to run to the bank.
Atkins, who was entering the final year of his rookie contract and drawing praise throughout the NFL as the top defensive tackle in the game, could have pulled a Flacco, rejecting the best offer from the Bengals and forcing his way to free agency — or at a minimum toward an extra year at roughly $8.5 million under the franchise tag.
Atkins opted instead for security, which in the NFL primarily means shifting the ever-present risk of serious injury from the player to the team. And the $22 million he’ll receive over the next six months, part of $31 million over the first three years, wouldn’t have been there for him after Thursday night, if as it appears he has a torn ACL in his knee.
Suffering an injury like that less than six months from free agency would have resulted in no big-money offer from the Bengals, no franchise tag, and no free-agency free-for-all. He would have gotten at most a multi-year deal that would have included a balloon payment after one year if healthy and effective.
As other players approaching free agency have the opportunity to sign very good deals but are inclined to swing for the fences of a great deal, they need to realize that they could end up with neither, if they tear an ACL in the final two months of the 2013 season.