Posted: Friday March 24, 2006 11:43AM; Updated: Friday March 24, 2006 1:22PM
Javon Walker missed most of last season with a knee injury.
Watching Terrell Owens' smile sparkle as much as his diamond-studded earrings during his introductory press conference in Dallas, I couldn't help but think about the anti-T.O.: Packers receiver Javon Walker.
By acting the fool last season after feeling underpaid on a $7 million-per-year deal, Owens forced his way out of Philadelphia. Conversely, the affable and engaging Walker was the good soldier in Green Bay, despite being unhappy about his relatively meager contract. But that was then and this is now.
Still rehabbing from a serious knee injury suffered in the 2005 season opener, Walker, 27, wants out of Green Bay so badly that he's willing to forfeit the prorated portion of his signing bonus (about $850,000). He has even put his home in Green Bay on the market.
"If I had to go back there, I'd rather retire," Walker told ESPN recently. "I just don't feel like this is the best place for me to be right now. I really have no interest in being in a Green Bay Packers uniform or playing for Green Bay again."
It didn't take Owens's press conference -- with its Groundhog Day feel -- for Walker to reach those sentiments. Once Walker tore the ACL in his right knee against the Lions, I had an inkling that he had played his last game in Green Bay.
In 2004, he produced a breakthrough season with 89 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, providing Brett Favre with his best deep threat in several years. Walker was slated to earn base salaries of $515,000 and $650,000 over the final two years of his contract. After the Packers declined to renegotiate his contract, he hired Drew Rosenhaus -- Owens' agent, of course -- and threatened to hold out before the 2005 season.
Walker desired security in an upgraded extension. But general manager Ted Thompson took a hard-line stance, declining a new deal or a trade.
Favre publicly blasted Walker, telling Green Bay newspapers, "If Javon wants to know what his quarterback thinks, and I would think he might, I'd tell him he's going about this the wrong way. I sure hope the Packers don't give in to him.... Maybe I'm old school, but I always thought you honor your contract.... We can win without him."
The receiver arrived in camp on time and masked any enmity. But Walker's injury in Week 1 took away a lot of his leverage for a new contract and apparently caused his current mind-set.
I don't think a team should capitulate every time a player whines about his contract. For example, it was a mistake for the Vikings to jettison quarterback Daunte Culpepper for a second-round pick just one season after trading wideout Randy Moss. Culpepper -- one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks when healthy -- conceded that he would give it his all if forced to return to Minnesota.
The Packers, with new head coach Mike McCarthy, have been tight-lipped about Walker except for a statement from Thompson: "During his time as a Green Bay Packer, Javon has been well thought of by everyone here. I like Javon, certainly as a person and a player. There have been several highly publicized cases of player discontent in the NFL. I don't anticipate us making any concessions on this matter."
But Walker is in a dynamic situation, especially after Favre's comments about his contract. Walker has said that he wants out of Green Bay regardless of whether Favre returns, but I get the feeling that Favre broke any genuine bond that existed with his top receiver. (Owens' situation in Philadelphia shows what can happen if there's tension between a quarterback and his lead receiver.)
"There's an unwritten rule that players stick together," Walker said.
At this point, why not trade Walker, who has replaced Rosenhaus with agent Kennard McGuire, and get something in return?
The Packers could have received a first-round pick for Walker last year. But after the injury, I bet they can still land a middle-round choice, especially with the draft's crop of wideouts being considered so-so.
Theoretically, Walker can hold out until the final six games to gain an accrued season and be eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2007. Sure, he would lose significant money, but he could eventually recoup his lost earnings while Green Bay would lose a valuable player without compensation.
One of the most overlooked aspects of the new CBA is that it's much tougher for teams to discipline players. Clubs can no longer T.O. a player: suspend and deactivate him for recalcitrant behavior. Now, if a player quits the NFL or skips a substantial amount of the season, a club can't automatically seize his bonus. Instead, the team must -- get this -- release him and provide an opportunity to find another club. Then the old club may attempt to recoup a portion of the bonus.
Who knows how this will all play out for Walker. But it would be nice to see the anti-T.O. smiling amid camera flashes after signing his new contract.