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Ripple Effects of Ill-Timed Distractions

One of the first things that Coaches Hubbard, Morse and Hutchinson taught me as a first-year football coach is to do everything you can to avoid distractions. They taught me the value of establishing and maintaining practice and weekly game preparation routines. “Any time that there is an interruption of the normal routine, it can often be to the detriment of the team,” Miles Hubbard once told me.

For those of you who have played and/or coached team sports, you understand what distractions can do to destroy momentum.

I will never forget an incident during my first year at Trinity-Pawling. In the biggest game of the year versus our arch-rival, during team warmups, one of our captains crossed the 50 yard line to where our rivals were doing jumping jacks and gave the finger to the captain of the other team.

The referees saw this and threw a flag. A 15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, with a warning to our captain that a second penalty of that nature would result in an ejection.

Our coaches were livid. I had never seen them so angry. They told our captain to go take a shower and go back to his dorm.

After that ill-timed distraction, which lit an added flame under our arch-rival, our team got absolutely hammered.

The thing is —- we had had the best week of practice all season. We were on a two game winning streak and had such a great chance to beat our arch-rival for the first time in a few years.

One could say that losing one player right before the start of the game shouldn’t be that big of a deal. But, if you are a coach, you know how big of a deal that is.

In response to my assertion on yesterday’s Red Rain podcast that agent Erik Burkhardt is the Cardinals’ #1 enemy, my good friend since 61 wrote this comment:

Respectfully, are you actually saying that Eric Burkhart leaking that Oklahoma might be interested in Kliff, is the reason the team completely collapsed after 9-2 last season (again) and has failed to sign any meaningful outside FA?

One agent, so much damage.

On Twitter yesterday, one response to my Cards’ #1 enemy poll was:

I would like to respond to since61 and Rashad simultaneously.

The last thing the Cardinals needed while sitting at 9-2 and #1 in the NFL Power rankings was a distraction (Oklahoma interest in Kliff Kingsbury) of this magnitude. It drew quite a reaction from the Cardinals’ players, from Isaiah Simmons frantically calling Kliff to see if the Oklahoma rumors had any merit (Isaiah told Kliff how devastated he would be if Kliff were to leave), to J.J. Watt tweeting out to Erik Burkhardt something to the effect of “I see what you are doing, while Kliff is crushing it in Arizona.”

Kliff could have nipped the whole thing in the bud. Yet, when asked by the Arizona media about the rumors, all that Kliff would say is, “I don’t get involved in these types of things.”

One would imagine that Burkhardt coached Kliff to say this.

Erik Burkhardt was the one making the phone calls and promoting the Oklahoma interest in Kliff and J.J., Watt understood what Burkhardt was trying to accomplish by making these rumored interests so public.

To Rashard’s point that EB was just doing his job —- that’s precisely what Steve Keim said at the Combine when asked about EB’s ransom note —- Keim even went as far as to say, “I like Erik.”

But, this was Keim’s way of trying to deescalate the situation. After all, EB is the agent for both Kliff and Kyler.

Yet, there is no way that Steve Keim could have been happy about the Kliff rumors or Kyler’s contract ultimatums.

Burkhardt’s public tactics are unprecedented, especially in February as teams are preparing for free agency and the draft.

Erik Burhardt was doing his job?

One could say that.

But it is HOW Burkhardt was doing his job that is so dubious.

An agent’s ultimate responsibility is to do what’s best for his client. However, an agent always needs to consider the possible repercussions of what rumors and publicly aired contract demands can have on his client’s team.

It should be in the agent’s best interest to not only ensure his client’s well-being, but the team’s well-being, as well. That is —- if the agent wants his client to be successful for the team he’s on.

There is also a professional way for an agent to go about his business.

Here’s how Burkhardt could have handled the Oklahoma situation. In talking with the Oklahoma administrators, Burkhardt could have first requested that they keep their discussions private so as to protect both Kliff and the Cardinals while they are sitting atop the NFL standings.

Let’s suppose for a minute that Oklahoma would have gone as far as what LSU did to attract Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly by offering Kliff a 10 year $95M contract.

What Burkhardt could have done then is ask Kliff whether he wanted to accept that offer or whether Kliff wanted to give the Cardinals a chance to counter.

Let’s not forget that Kliff backed out of his contract at USC. Could he back out of his contract with the Cardinals if the situation and financial security were attractive?

No question.

Were Cardinals’ players wondering what it was going to be like if Kliff took off in mid-season for Oklahoma? Just ask Isaiah Simmons.

However, if Oklahoma had made such an offer and Kliff wanted to give the Cardinals a chance to counter, then Burkhardt could make the call to Michael Bidwill.

All of this could have been accomplished behind closed doors, while the Cardinals’ team was moving forward in their “let’s go 1-0 this week” preparations.

And what if Oklahoma, after having discussions with Burkhardt, were to tell him that they had other candidates they were considering.

Fine. Let the process take its course.

But, Erik Burkhardt decided that the purported interest of Oklahoma in Kliff should become splashy public knowledge.

Kliff has said recently that he is very happy to be coaching in the NFL and that he would just as soon never have to recruit high school athletes again —- but —- Kliff didn’t say that back when the Oklahoma rumors were flying. We now know why.

The irony is that at 9-2 and with Kliff doing so spectacularly well in his 3rd season, history would suggest that the Cardinals were going to want to extend his contract, just as they did with Ken Whisenhunt and Bruce Arians amidst their years of success. Burkhardt didn’t have to jump the gun. His client was in the NFL Coach of the Year conversation at that time.

That is, unless Burkhardt felt the bottom could drop out on the Cardinals’ season, so better to try to get a contract NOW, than later.

I understand since61’s skepticism about how a single agent can take down a football team. but ill-timed distractions of this magnitude, which take the attention away from the team’s routine, can have detrimental repercussions.

Look at what happened to the Chiefs two years ago in the aftermath of Andy Reid’s son’s (and assistant coach) tragic traffic accident the week before the Super Bowl. The Chiefs looked mentally out of it versus the Bucs. By pure coincidence?

How about Bill Belichick’s stubborn benching of Malcolm Butler during their Super Bowl loss to the Eagles? To this day, Patriots’ players and fans are still smarting over that decision. Nick Foles went off the Patriots’ secondary with the Pats’ best CB in pads on the sidelines. Nick Foles outdueled The G.O.A.T.?

How about Antonio Brown’s refusal to play hurt versus the Jets and then BA telling Brown to “get the fu%^ off the field”? How did that distraction help the Bucs?

One single distraction can have a domino effect. It can take a team’s eyes off the ball.

They say that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause a tsunami on the other side of the world.

To since61’s point, I can’t say definitively that the Kliff to Oklahoma distraction was the main cause for the Cardinals late season demise —- but, it certainly didn’t help matters.

One could say well Kliff got his contract anyway. Yes. But, with the Cardinals on the verge of free agency —- and in light of all of the uncertainty of Kyler’s future in Arizona,—- it is reasonable to assume that Michael Bidwill wanted the team and all potential free agents to know that Kliff was going to be in Arizona for the long haul. Bidwill’s decision to extend Kliff certainly helped the Cardinals re-sign their top in-house free agents. But, as far as the outside free agents, well that has been a different story to date, hasn’t it?

Timing is everything.

At 9-2 —- the Kliff to Oklahoma rumors.

Super Bowl Week —- Kyler scrubs his socials

Combine Week —- Burkhardt publishes Kyler’s contract demands in the form of a ransom note (pictured above)

The Eve of free agency: Burkhardt indicates that the Cardinals have unto the NFL Draft to sign Kyler to an extension or —- ???

The 1st Week of free agency: Burkhardt accuses Cardinals of being cheap and not wanting to win.

An agent calling out a team for being cheap? On social media? What a disgrace.

My point is this —- imagine if Erik Burkhardt had followed customary protocols in working behind the scenes with Kyler, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim in order to try to negotiate a contract extension (which typically is agreed to in the summer)—- and Kyler had never scrubbed his socials, as he saw Pat P. and Chandler Jones do and the commotions that those scrubbings created —- do you honestly think that the Cardinals outside free agency signings to date would have been just these four players, three of whom are playing for right about the minimum?

  • CB Jeff Gladney
  • LB Nick Vigil
  • G Will Hernandez
  • TE Stephen Anderson

In each case, I am happy the Cardinals signed Gladney, Vigil, Hernandez and Anderson in terms of adding talent and depth to the roster. Gladney and Hernandez might be starters.

But, man, not one splash signing from the Cardinals in free agency to bring the buzz back to Arizona?

So yeah, as since61 questioned, can one agent bring “so much damage?”

And stay tuned —- the NFL Draft is three weeks away.

Erik Burkhardt and Kyler are counting the days.