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December 06, 2001

Ogden is NFL's A-Rod
By Dan Patrick

In the days following the Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez signings, I had an urge to find some perspective on all the money baseball players make. Perspective beyond the notion -- and I'm paraphrasing David Mamet from "Glengarry Glen Ross" -- that A-Rod's watch costs more than my car.

Quick! Name the highest-paid player in the National Football League.

Jonathan Ogden
Jonathan Ogden's blocking skill earned him the NFL's biggest contract.
Keyshawn Johnson? No.

Kurt Warner? No.

Marshall Faulk? No.

Peyton Manning? No.

Jonathan Ogden? Yes.

Whoa! What's wrong with this picture? No offense to Ogden, but it's surprising that an offensive lineman makes the most money. But it shows that the system is so fair that a guy in the trenches can have a great payday. Now, Ogden won't hold the highest-paid title for long. But just the fact that the highest-paid player is not by default a glamorous QB like Brett Favre or a dangerous skill player like Jerry Rice or Deion Sanders speaks well for the NFL's salary structure.

In the NFL, you have guys like Faulk or Emmitt Smith who make what middle relievers make in baseball. So there is money for a guy like Ogden. Does that mean the NFL system works better than baseball's? Obviously, the answer is yes.

This year in the NFL, we will definitely tie, or even surpass, the mark for 10-win teams, which is 11. Teams like Tennessee and Cincinnati can play for the Super Bowl. It's been 10 years for the Bengals, but they have been there twice. The revenue sharing system works in the NFL. The money is distributed equally among the teams and the players. Playoff success is within the reach of every NFL team. Not so in baseball by a long shot.

It makes me wonder what a bargain is in baseball. Is Jose Mesa a bargain? You can make an argument that Manny Ramirez is a bargain at $160 million. He makes, after all, about $92 million less than Rodriguez does. If you match up their offensive numbers, and factor in A-Rod's much better defense, Ramirez is still a bargain -- which is kind of scary.

The problem with baseball, however, is not the high-end salaries. You can justify those contracts because people will come out to see them play (more on that later).

The problem with baseball is what Darren Dreifort got from the Dodgers -- $11 million a year -- without even having a lifetime record over .500. Kevin Appier is 33 and two years removed from shoulder surgery, but the Mets gave him $40 million for four years. Not good business decisions to me. You need to see those contracts to understand how A-Rod got what he got.

Kirby Puckett told me that A-Rod will definitely experience some new things this year: for one, getting booed. In 1989, when Kirby was the highest-paid player in the game, he got death threats from people who said he was not living up to his $3 million-a-year contract. And Harold Reynolds said the same thing. He went to Baltimore for $1 million a year and had his worst season. Too much pressure and high expectations.

Anyway, Jonathan Ogden is the highest-paid player in the NFL. But most people could not tell you what team he is on or identify him if he walked into the room. Not true for Shaquille O'Neal or Kevin Garnett or A-Rod or Ken Griffey Jr.

We did a baseball poll recently, and I think the results were interesting. We asked people which everyday ballplayer they would pay to see. Griffey got 41 percent of the vote. The results, in descending order:

Barry Bonds
Mike Piazza
Alex Rodriguez
Manny Ramirez

Now A-Rod is not even changing divisions. The same people will be seeing him play. Griffey changed leagues and was able to win over some new fans despite an off year on a non-playoff team. The Reds still led in road attendance last year. If A-Rod went to the Mets, he'd have had the chance to really expand his fan base. Now we'll never know. Still, the exciting everyday players are worth a lot over a 162-game season.

Back to Ogden. He is the highest-paid player in the NFL and makes $16 million this year, including his bonus. But $16 million is not really top-end money in baseball, and it is $9 million less than what Texas will pay its shortstop for the next 10 years.

The next highest-paid players are brand-namers like Keyshawn and Isaac Bruce. You wonder if the top NFL players have much ego about being the highest-paid player in the game. Probably not.

When is the last time you heard about a pitcher redoing his deal to help the team? But quarterbacks do it all the time. The NFL salary cap has something to do with it, but I still think we're a long way from Kevin Brown telling Rupert Murdoch, "Hey, Rupe, take back some of my money and shore up that infield defense."

Come to think of it, we are a really long way from that. But we are not that far away from a work stoppage in baseball, one that will feel to the fans like a pancake block from, I don't know ... Jonathan Ogden, maybe?

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