|COLUMN: Richardson cheap? Past, present prove that couldn't be further from the truth|
|Written by Steve Reed|
|Thursday, 28 July 2011 04:11|
CHARLOTTE – They called him cheap.|
They said he wasn’t willing to spend the money to field a competitive football team, said that he was more concerned about the NFL shield on the 50-yard line than his own flailing football team.
The criticism last season stung Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson like a boy who’d accidentally stuck his hand in a bush only to find an active wasp’s nest.
Always fiercely competitive, Richardson fired back.
In January, after the Panthers finished 2-14, Richardson held a press conference at Bank of America Stadium and when a reporter asked him about the perception the Panthers were “cheap” last year, the wrinkles in Richardson’s forehead clenched together and he glared at the questionnaire. He bowed up like a dog backed into corner, ready to fight.
He pointed to the stadium’s luxurious concourse where the press conference was being held and asked if it looked like the handprints of someone who was “cheap.”
The reality is Richardson has never been cheap.
It’s just that some folks have short memories.
In 15 of the 16 previous seasons Richardson has been the owner of the Panthers he’s proven more than willing to write the big checks if it meant improving his team. The reality is in most years the Panthers were always at the brink of exceeding the salary cap, acquiring as many quality players as the rules would allow. Did those moves work out? Not all of them.
Last year things changed.
Last year was an anomaly, a fabrication.
There were mitigating circumstances that caused Richardson to hold off on writing big checks, most of those focusing around the uncertainty of the labor negotiations with the NFL Players Association.
When the Panthers went 2-14 critics were quick to label him frugal.
Underneath it all, Richardson knew a lengthy lockout was looming around the corner. Unlike many of his peers, he was never optimistic a deal was close at hand last spring. He knew there was a bitter battle around the corner that would ultimately change the way the CBA was constructed. And he knew there was a possibility there might not be football at all.
So he dug in.
He didn’t renew contracts last year or hand out signing bonuses to free agents as the team had done in every other season before. He and general manager Marty Hurney also used 2010, a non-capped year, to dump a lot of bad contracts from the books. Richardson knew the salary cap would eventually return and when it did the Panthers would be in a great shape to build for the future.
That strategy doesn’t look so bad now, does it?
When teams were allowed to begin contacting players on Tuesday, the Panthers came out with both guns blazing throwing cash around like it was Monopoly money.
They promised to be aggressive and they’ve been true to their word.
Richardson flew Hurney, Coach Ron Rivera and three members of the defensive coaching staff on a private jet to Miami to convince top free agent Charles Johnson to re-sign.
Johnson did – for $76 million.
That’s not being cheap.
Then Richardson signed off on a $43 million contract for DeAngelo Williams. Then came a $22 million deal for James Anderson and another undisclosed five-year contract for Thomas Davis which almost certainly exceeds Anderson’s contract.
Not only did the Panthers keep their own guys, but they also lured free agents Ron Edwards ($8.25 million) and Olindo Mare ($12 million). John Kasay proved to be a casualty in the personnel moves, but it’s because the Panthers think they’ve upgraded at that position, not because they’re going cheap.
In all, Richardson shelled more than $150 million in total money.
In the next few days he’ll agree to pay another $100 million to extend the contracts of Jon Beason and Ryan Kalil and get No. 1 pick Cam Newton under contract. Other free agents will be signed soon.
Does that sound like someone who’s cheap?
Sure, you can argue that every NFL team is required to spend 99 percent of this year’s $120 million salary cap, but the deals the Panthers struck are long-range contracts designed to make them competitive for years to come. You can bet they’ll be flirting with the salary cap maximum again year after year.
The goal is to build the Panthers into a consistent winner.
If there’s one thing that may irritate Richardson more than being called cheap, it’s that the Panthers have never been to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
That’s why he didn’t give John Fox a contract extension. He only had three winning seasons in nine years and none back-to-back. It wasn’t good enough for Richardson.
It’s why he’s spending money hand over fist eager to get the core of the team established.
You can’t take one lost season like 2010 and call it a trend.
Cheap is a completely unfair and entirely inaccurate portrayal of Jerry Richardson.
Shrewd businessman? Yes.
Cheap? Heck no.
History has shown Richardson will write the checks. History has shown he wants more than anything to win football games on a consistent basis and bring the Lombardi Trophy home to Charlotte. He’s shown it time and time again.
And he’s showing it again this week.