Kevin Greene: Free agency good for players, "debatable" for game

Hall-of-Fame linebacker Kevin Greene was one of the first NFL players to reap the benefits of free agency, and he likes what the system has done for players. But is it good for the game itself? Ah, that's where he's not so sure.

Hall-of-Fame linebacker Kevin Greene was at the front end of the free-agent movement, signing a three-year deal with Pittsburgh in 1993 -- the first year of free agency. And he rode it to a contract there ... and to Carolina ... and San Francisco ... then back to Carolina again.

So he knows the value of the free-agent system, and, as he says, it's been a boon for players who today make gazillions off of it. But there's a broader question here, and it's one Greene was asked on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.

Namely, has it been good for the game?

"No question, that's debatable," said Greene, who now looks at it through the lens of an assistant coach (he's with the New York Jets). "It's definitely been good for the players. But you would kind of have to say that teams are more in a state of flux now with free agency than they were without free agency.

"(Under the old system) you knew players were coming back the following year that were there the previous year. Those players were continuing to come back and come back ... There was more of a consistent team and unity feel among different professional football teams, whereas now teams are definitely in a state of flux.

"Every year you're adding people, trying to bring them up to speed as quick as you can on your system, get them on the field and get them productive as quick as you can. And you're losing good players that you have to make really hard decisions about. So, it is very, very debatable as to whether it's been good for the league or not.'

As he said, however, there's no question what it's done for players. Where Greene signed a $5.3-million contract with Pittsburgh in 1993, some free agents today earn that much in roster bonuses.

And Greene is good with that. He just hopes that somewhere along the line those players remember how they reaped that money ... and it wasn't with last year's performance. It goes all the way back to the 1987 strike that led to the 1993 decision allowing free agency.

"(The money today) hasn't really surprised me," he said, "because I think that's really what we wanted to happen (in 1987). I was a three-year guy -- (in) my third year in the league in 1987 when we actually made a decision to go out on strike for a number of different things ... but, specifically, for the ability to shop our services to different teams after a certain amount of time in the NFL and to actually sell our services to the highest bidder.

"We all knew that if we could get that accomplished through striking and eventually de-certifying and so forth, we knew that the players were going to have a better life. Because, up until that time, the players were really limited as far as their leverage with negotiating contracts because teams literally owned them for their careers. They didn't have the ability to go from team to team to team. And so salaries were obviously down quite a bit.

"But we all kind of knew that free agency was going to take off eventually, and it was just going to be good for all of us to shop our wares across the league to the highest bidder. And I'm not bitter at all. I'm happy for the fellas that are making the money that they're making now.

"The only thing I would say is: I wish that they would just remember some of the 'old heads' that did walk on that picket line back in '87 and lost paychecks ... game checks ... so that these kids now can be making multi-million dollars a year. I just wish they would remember them just a little bit more.""