Thursday, October 9, 2014

Matt Prater and the Detroit Lions

Signing place-kicker Matt Prater was actually a big deal for the Detroit Lions. He's arguably the best kicker in the game. Last year he went 25-26 on field goal attempts for Denver and holds the all-time record for longest 3-pointer. 64 yards. In short, he's long and accurate -- exactly what any team wants in a place kicker.

And let's face it -- though they've been historically undervalued/underpaid compared to most of their teammates -- kickers can definitely make the difference in the win/loss column. How many times have we seen games go down to the last few seconds, when a field goal attempt, sometimes very long, determines whether or not a team wins or loses? I dare say quite a few.

Just last week against the Buffalo Bills, had Prater been on the Lions roster, they may well have won that game instead of suffering a last-second heart-breaking loss. And who was responsible? Buffalo's kicker. He booted a 58-yarder through the uprights as time was running out.

In the big picture, that could have cost the Lions dearly. Sure, it was early in the season, and it will shortly be forgotten, but all the games count the same. Instead of being 4-1, the Lions are 3-2. It's entirely possible that one game could wind up making the difference as to whether the Lions make the playoffs -- or not. And how far they'll go if they get there. Though few would consider the Lions a legitimate Super Bowl contender, having a great place-kicker is definitely an asset they didn't have before.

Yet Prater comes with perceived baggage. He racked up three DUIs and had to enter the NFL substance abuse program. After serving an NFL-mandated 4 game suspension this year, he was cut by the Broncos. Turned out, Prater had violated the terms of his program by having a few beers on one occasion at home over the summer. In and of itself, that was totally harmless, of course. He's a grown man, and if he wants to have a few brews at home -- then who cares?

The probation department cares. When one is zapped with a zero-tolerance policy, they mean it. Thou shalt not have a single drop of alcohol, even in the privacy of one's home. It can be a stupid, vastly overreaching policy at times. Yours truly knows a man who found himself in much the same situation as Prater, though he couldn't kick field goals. After three DUIs, and the expenses that came with them, he no longer had a driver's license, or even a car. A friend was taking him back and forth to work every day. But the powers that be had this "night hawk" policy. That meant 24-7 they could search his house. One day they did in the wee hours of the morning, while he was fast asleep in his own bed, and found a couple cans of Budweiser in his refrigerator. Off to jail he went. How stupid and blatantly unfair was that? But that's how it works these days.

However, my friend was not a pro-athlete making big bucks. He was, and is a non-union welder trying to scare up enough work to make ends meet. And that's not easy with no driver's license, and having to pay someone else to drive him around.

Yet that raises a more important point. What gives we these multi-millionaire athletes getting popped for DUIs?

For argument's sake, let's say a pro athlete is making a measly $1 million a year. Chump change by today's standards. After taxes, he likely takes home roughly $700.000. Most of us could do rather nice on $700K a year. That's not even to mention the guys making $10 - 15 - 20 million or more annually.

Even with a paltry $700,000, a guy could buy a brand new high-end Chevy, Ford, Dodge, whatever, for maybe 50 grand, and pay another guy 50 grand to drive him around all year. Now he's down to $600,000. That will buy a whole lot of clothes, groceries, vacations to tropical paradises, get the attention of the pretty girls, and definitely keep the lights on. And tell me people wouldn't be lined up around the block standing in line for a $50K salary to drive a pro athlete around -- and I'll tell you you're nuttier than I am.

So why do these guys drive their own vehicles after they've had too much to drink, then get popped for DUIs, when they could have had an easily affordable chauffeur hauling them around all the while?

Beats me. But Matt Prater is a 7 seven year veteran in the NFL. Though terms of his contract weren't disclosed, the collective bargaining agreement dictates he'll make at least $855 thousand, though likely pro-rated taking into account he wasn't there for the first five games, when he joined the Lions. Still, it's way better than cooking fries at Mickey D's.

He can afford a Chevy, Ford, Dodge, or whatever. And 50 grand for some guy or gal to transport him from his house, apartment, to the practice facility, stadium, airport, restaurants, movies, also whatever.

And if he wants to have a few beers at home -- nobody should care. As long as he keeps booting 3-pointers through the uprights for the Lions -- that's all that matters.

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