Lions receiver Golden Tate finds himself in an awkward spot. Three years in to a five-year, $31 million deal, he admits that he’s underpaid. But after tweeting on Thursday night that he hopes to get a new contract, Tate backpedaled clumsily with an explanation that he doesn’t want a new deal for a year or two.
Tate, who said “yep” when asked if he’s underpaid, realizes he has few options. Most teams won’t extend a non-quarterback’s contract with more than a year left on the deal. And if Tate would have boycotted offseason workouts, he would have undermined his own ability to be ready for a season that, if it goes well for Tate, could prompt the Lions to give him the financial reward he covets.
The broader lesson for players who pounce on long-term deals could be to not agree to anything that lasts longer than two or three years. For most contracts, if the team’s decision to keep the player around for the fourth or fifth year means that the team believes it’s getting a good deal. If it wasn’t, the team would be squeezing the player to take less, under the threat of giving him nothing at all.
Yes, it’s unfair that a team can cut a player who is deemed to be overpaid but that a player can’t do much of anything when he believes he’s underpaid. The best way to guard against that outcome is to insist on short-term contracts, ensuring that the player will get back to the market sooner than later — and because the contract naturally expired, not because his team terminated it.