Green gets the gold
Running back settles in with a five-year deal Wednesday, July 25, 2001
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Running back settles in with a five-year deal

of the Journal Sentinel staff

Risk vs. reward.

It's what all big-money contracts come down to in the National Football League. And it's exactly what the Green Bay Packers considered before signing running back Ahman Green to a five-year deal on Tuesday believed to be worth more than $4 million a year.

Green, a former restricted free agent who rushed for 1,175 yards last year, was under contract for one year at $1.115 million. Rather than allow him to exercise his right to explore the free market next winter as an unrestricted free agent, the Packers forked over a sizable signing bonus (around $5 million) to lock him up for four more years.

Three years ago, the Packers were in the same position with another running back in a similar stage of his career. Only they chose not to sign Dorsey Levens early and the result was a lot of headache.

Levens rushed for 1,435 yards during his contract year, but that only raised his market value and the Packers had to slap the franchise tag on him when the season was over. That led to a 44-day holdout in training camp by Levens, who then injured his right ankle and missed most of the 1998 season.

This time around, the Packers decided to go another route.

"Everything we do is with the future in mind," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "There's no question when you have free agents testing the market it's disruptive. A lot of players play better when the deal is done than when they're negotiating. I think it will help him (Green) to know he's part of Packer history in the next five years."

And, Sherman noted, "I will be able to sleep a little more soundly."

In signing Green to the new deal, the Packers assured themselves they would have the services of their leading rusher and receiver last season for years to come. Green was the team's most productive offensive player, piling up 1,734 yards from scrimmage in his first season as a regular.

As nice as it is for the Packers to lock up a promising performer like Green, 24, there is still considerable risk in handing over a large amount of money to a guy who has been successful for just one season. The Packers had the luxury of waiting to see how Green performed this year before finalizing their strategy, but they chose to act now and purchase at a price they felt would ultimately go up.

The deal Green received doesn't match the seven-year, $41.25 million deal ($10 million signing bonus) Eddie George received from Tennessee last summer or the five-year, $32 million deal ($10.5 million signing bonus) Corey Dillon received from Cincinnati this spring.

But it does come close to the six-year, $25.5 million deal ($7 million signing bonus) Tiki Barber received from the New York Giants in March. Thus, it puts him in the upper tax bracket among NFL running backs.

The risk, of course, is that Green could become the fumbler he was in Seattle before Mike Holmgren jettisoned him to Green Bay in a one-sided trade for cornerback Fred Vinson. The Packers are betting on him holding onto the ball the way he did last season when he only fumbled six times (lost four) in 336 touches.

Green led the team in receptions with 76, but there are still doubts about whether he has the natural ability to be a consistent receiving threat. He must also prove he can carry the burden of being the lead man in the backfield, especially with Levens still around.

If Green fails, the Packers won't feel the squeeze in their bank account as much as they will with their salary cap.

"I think the goal of any team under the cap is to identify players who are ascending players and have a bright future and where it's a good bet (to re-sign them)," said negotiator Andrew Brandt. "Any contract negotiation is a bet and you have to develop a sense of what are the risk factors.

"We thought that with this player there was a low risk, and we felt we had a player who six months from now could be a free agent and be facing a very large income. We thought we'd alleviate that risk."

In the Packers' favor is Green's work ethic and character. Of the Packers' most recent acquisitions, perhaps none has adapted to the Green Bay scene quite like Green, who grew up in Nebraska and played for the Cornhuskers but now makes his home in De Pere.

"I honestly didn't want to be put out on the market because I love Green Bay," Green said. "I love this city and I really can't say anymore about it. It reminds me so much of Lincoln. If Nebraska had a pro team and played in Lincoln, I would have (played there).

"But this is it in Green Bay, Wis. Being in the free agent market is good because you get that money. But money over where you feel comfortable and having a bunch of guys who you love to play with? I wouldn't take money over that."

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