Expert Negotiator Joe Courrege Recognized by Jimmy Johnson

RePosted from the Sun Sentinel
August 6, 1998|By JASON COLE Staff Writer

DAVIE — Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson has accomplished one of his goals for training camp. He has made the negotiations with defensive tackle Tim Bowens a non-issue.

Joe Courrege and Brady Tinker on SetSure, there is concern on the faces of other Dolphins, knowing that winning consistently without Bowens is a more difficult proposition.

But it’s really become an out-of-sight, out-of-mind situation. Practices go on, the defense continues to get better, Bowens is less of a concern.

In the background, the Dolphins and Bowens are turning their backs and ignoring each other. As in most petulant childlike squabbles, both are right and both are wrong. Unlike those fights, there is no end in sight. Bowens has sat out 13 days of training camp.

Bowens is worth more than Johnson and the Dolphins have offered and he’s not worth what he’s asking for. Settling for something in between is problematic for both sides.

Bowens is one of six “franchise” players who remain unsigned. Franchise players were essentially prevented from negotiating with other teams. The others are running back Dorsey Levens of Green Bay, cornerback Ryan McNeil of St. Louis, defensive lineman Dan Williams of Kansas City, defensive end Joe Johnson of New Orleans and center Wally Williams of Baltimore.

In most cases, those players were worth enough to their teams to keep off the free-agent market. At the same time, they are not worth the top salaries at their positions based on their ability.

Part of the problem for the Dolphins is that while they hold the hammer in negotiations with Bowens, they have played a role in this market-value vs. playing-value puzzle. After trying to sign perennial All-Pro defensive lineman John Randle, the Dolphins went after Sean Gilbert and Chester McGlockton, offering both more than $5 million per year for long-term deals.

The problem? Gilbert didn’t play last year and McGlockton has made his money on talent, not performance. Bowens has been more reliable.

Then again, Bowens is also the same limited player he was when he earned NFL Rookie of the Year honors in 1994. He is not a pass-rusher and he doesn’t dominate on a game-to-game basis. Johnson has become frustrated with Bowens over the past two years, having had numerous meetings with his defensive captain to request more consistent play.

But the issue for the Dolphins and agent Drew Rosenhaus is how to get Bowens signed. What the team realizes is that there is a point of diminishing returns. Bowens is not a workout devotee.

Bowens is what scouts call “country strong.” He’s the type of guy who if he needs to lift the engine out of his car, will do so. He is not the type to work on his bench press or study the usefulness of squatlifts vs. deadlifts. To stay at peak condition, Bowens needs to practice.

That means he needs to get to camp soon or he won’t be of use for a good portion of the season.

How will that happen? It’s time to get creative.

The Dolphins took the first step by offering Bowens a two-year, $6.5 million deal with the promise that they wouldn’t declare him a franchise player again. By the end of that contract, Bowens would be 27 and a free agent, capable of cashing in with a huge deal under what should be a $70 million salary cap.

But Rosenhaus doesn’t like the gamble in that equation. He wants a big contract now that he can hold up as a victory, or at least a representative deal. Rosenhaus lives in a cutthroat world where one bad contract is held up to ridicule by other agents to the players they all recruit.

How does Rosenhaus lessen the gamble? First, he can ask the Dolphins to guarantee the entire deal, not just the $3 million signing bonus. Second, he could negotiate several incentives for things such as sacks and make those bonuses roll over into the second year.

Third, Rosenhaus and Bowens could buy an insurance policy to cover Bowens against a career-ending injury. They could even ask the team to buy it. For example, a $5 million policy (that’s tax-free) with Lloyd’s of London would cost a player such as Bowens between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. That’s not prohibitive.

This is not to say that the onus is on Rosenhaus. At the root of this is Johnson’s general disdain for how salaries are being driven in the era of free agency. Johnson left Dallas just before free agency took hold and players could market themselves to force salaries into the multimillions.

Earlier this week, Johnson was somewhat ruffled when it was suggested in print that offensive tackle Richmond Webb could get $5 million per year in his next contract.

“So you’re negotiating contracts, I see,” Johnson said with a kidding grin to the reporter. Later that day, when asked rhetorically what he thought the market for Webb would be, Johnson said, “Damn salaries.”

Even in his pre-free agent day in Dallas, Johnson had his difficulties.

“I even did some player contracts at first, but told Cowboys owner Jerry Jones pretty quickly that he’d better handle them all,” Johnson wrote in his 1993 book, Turning the Thing Around. “If I ever tried to handle contracts again, we’d have a revolt from the players around here. I’ve got a real problem about money: If it’s mine, I’ll give it away; if it’s the company’s, I’m too tight-fisted.”

“Here’s a perfect example: In the summer of 1992, on my crew’s annual vacation together, which I pay for, I gave Mike Woicik, our strength and conditioning coach, a $5,000 chip at a casino in Nassau. Five thousand dollars in cash out of my pocket, for the hell of it, because Mike is one of my guys and we were having a good time.”

“Then in March of 1993, after we’d won the Super Bowl, Mike came into my office and said, `Coach, you once took care of me out of your own pocket. And I want you to know I appreciate that. But, Coach, I’ve been looking around the league at what other strength and conditioning coaches are making, and I just think I ought to be making more money.’ Well, before I got all worked up as I usually do over company money, I just said, `Mike, I think what you’re making is fair. But if you don’t, I suggest you go see Jerry.’ ”

Johnson said Wednesday that his biggest problem with negotiations occurred when they became personal. He once sat down with agent Joe Courrege in Dallas to work on a deal for quarterback Steve Pelluer.

“It just became combative and personal as to who was going to win. It had more to do with that than the amount of money,” said Johnson, who does not sit in on negotiations.

Johnson, as the Dolphins’ general manager, sets parameters for contracts. In Bowens’ case, he wants a better player for the money and is willing to test Bowens’ resolve. To Johnson’s credit, he is not letting the coach in him dictate. Most coaches would push to get the player signed. The Dolphins have started to wield the Johnson hammer on players who are powerless to do anything about it. Over the past three years, several agents who have represented Dolphins’ draft picks have complained about the heavy-handed language of the contracts.

“If this was a free-agent player, a team wouldn’t dare try to pull this stuff because they know the agent and the player would just walk away,” one agent said. “With a rookie, there isn’t much you can do.”

Stoking a player’s fire is sometimes necessary in the NFL, but it doesn’t engender loyalty.

“There are a few teams, like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, that basically say, ‘This is the system, live with it.’ The Dolphins are getting into that category,” another agent said. The recent respective failure and success of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh make a good case for both sides of the hardball tactic.

The Dolphins will just have to see how it turns out with Bowens.

About Joe

Joe Courrege, President of Car TV Media, Inc. has spent the last three decades developing his systematic program generating high gross profits for dealerships. While successfully representing 100’s of NFL players Joe moved into the car business purchasing his first dealership in the 70’s. This direct knowledge of the car industry gave Joe the blueprint to his successful formula. Joe now works with dealerships to achieve this same success proven in any market condition. Call us today to have Joe star in your Auto Dealership Commercial.