LITTLE ROCK — Nitpicking the contracts of four well-compensated athletes, you can argue that one only plays in about 20 percent of his team’s games, that another will change positions in a few years, that a third would never have been in the Super Bowl if not for a misplay by a defensive back, and the fourth has had his team in the NFL playoffs only once since 2009.
On the other side are arguments that knock down any carping about the first three:
• Detroit’s Justin Verlander is an American League MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Cy Young winner. The 30-year-old signed a seven-year deal that is the richest for a pitcher. In seven years, he has led the league in strikeouts three times, victories twice, and ERA once. Sandy Koufax was the only other player to win the pitcher’s Triple Crown, Cy Young, and MVP in the same season. Verlander’s contract is for $180 million.
• San Francisco catcher Buster Posey won the National League batting title last year and led the Giants to World Series titles in two of the last three years. The NL Rookie of the Year in 2010, he sat out most of 2011 with an injury. He is 26 and he will probably wind up at first base because of the wear and tear on a catcher. Posey’s contract is for $167 million.
• Baltimore’s Joe Flacco started all 16 regular-season games in 2008-09 and became the first rookie quarterback in league history to win two playoff games. He has won nine playoff games, including at least one in each of his first five years. Three times, the Ravens have been in the AFC championship game with the 28-year-old Flacco. During the recent postseason, he threw 11 touchdown passes without an interception. Flacco is guaranteed $52 million, the segue to the contract of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo.
• Decent at math, I can’t get Romo’s $55 million guarantee to jibe with the Cowboys’ record during his tenure. Understood is that football is a team game, but a quarterback is the most important player on the field and, right or wrong, is No. 1 in money, blame, and credit.
Each of the last three years, the Cowboys have finished third in the four-team NFC East. During that time, they never did better than 8-8. They lost the final game of 2011 when the Giants won the division at 9-7. Last year, they lost the final two games of the year and finished two games behind Washington.
If you don’t like the Flacco comparison, how about Romo’s money being barely a notch below Tom Brady’s $57 million and dead even with Drew Brees’ $55 million. Aaron Rodgers’ new contract is still in the works and his guarantee will probably be close to $60 million. I wonder how many Dallas fans would prefer Romo over Flacco, Brady, Brees, or Rodgers.
All that said, it is clear that my former high school classmate and owner of the Cowboys is a much better businessman than I and there is no doubt he had the final say on the Romo deal. Clearly, Jerry Jones is convinced that Romo, who turns 33 this month, is the quarterback who can get the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. Dallas’ long-term commitment to Romo, plus a remark by the Cowboys’ executive vice president is a heads-up for others.
“It’s not all on Tony’s shoulders,” Stephen Jones said. “He has to do his part, but the team around him has to play better and we also have to coach better.”
By the way, the contracts of Verlander and Posey and the money guaranteed to Flacco and Romo totals about $455 million. During the current fiscal year, the state has budgeted about $400 million total for prisons, state police, parks and tourism, and the Department of Agriculture.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.