Where Chris Johnson quickly has become a case study in the need for caution, Pekka Rinne ought to teach a course.
Rinne, the Nashville Predators goalie, did not cash out once he cashed in. In fact, he upped the ante.
The latter half of 2011 will be remembered as a watershed moment in the history of professional sports in Middle Tennessee. Up until now, the most notable player deals were the ones that did not — or could not — happen.
Among the memorable “negotiations” of the Tennessee Titans were those with quarterback Steve McNair, who was asked to stay away from the facility, and Randall Godfrey, who unceremoniously was taken off the practice field and later released after having accepted a pay cut. Then there was the salary slash — mandated by salary cap restrictions — that removed the likes of wide receiver Derrick Mason and cornerback Samari Rolle when they were very much in their prime.
The Predators executed their own money dump and got rid of Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Tomas Vokoun at a time when the franchise seemed poised to take a significant step forward.
Suddenly, though, there seems to be plenty of money to go around on both fronts. Not only are Middle Tennessee’s franchises paying to retain their biggest names, they’re actually setting the market for their respective leagues.
It was only earlier this month that Rinne signed the richest contract in franchise history, a seven-year, $49 million pact, which begins with the start of the 2012-13 campaign and makes him one of the highest-paid players at his position.
Already he has made it seem as if he is worth every penny.
Hours after the deal was announced, he made 35 saves in a shutout of the Phoenix Coyotes. A week later, he started a stretch of four straight games in which he allowed either one or two goals.
There was no holdout. There was no acrimony. There was no attempt to call attention to himself or proclaim his status as one of the game’s best, which was obvious to all.
He simply showed up, did his job and remained confident that a deal would get done, which it did and sooner than most expected.
The whole thing could not be more different than the Titans’ experience with Johnson, excepting, of course, the scope of the six-year, $56 million deal which — at the time — was the richest ever given to an NFL running back.
Johnson refused to show up for work until he got a deal he wanted — never mind that he was bound by an existing contract. He seized upon many opportunities to argue for his worth and express his sense that the franchise had not shown him the proper amount of respect.
Since getting paid, he has shown none of the dazzle or desire that made him so dangerous in the previous three years.
The critical difference, of course, is that Rinne never made money the primary thing.
When he said all he wanted to do was play and pursue a Stanley Cup, it was easy to believe him. Then he actually seemed liberated by the contract.
Johnson, on the other hand, was clear about the fact that money was his primary motivation. Once he got it, it seemed as if it became an immediate burden.
Player contracts always will be a “buyer beware” proposition, and there’s no guarantee that the current state of affairs for either team will endure.
For now, though, at a time when more money than ever is being spent locally on professional sports, there’s no way to say that all of it is well-spent.