The NRL should consider banning the biggest deal in league history

admin | 成都桑拿
13 Jul 2019

Anyone who has watched Jason Taumalolo campaign over the past two seasons know he’s the most outstanding forward in rugby league. A beast of a back-rower, with unmatched impact in his current form, it’s easy to understand why the Cowboys want to retain his services at any cost.

Already, he’s flirted with the idea of the NFL, although given the conversion rate for league forwards (currently standing at zero) that sounds more like thinking out loud instead of a genuine bargaining chip.

Maybe it had the Cowboys spooked. Certainly, they knew that if their freak of a lock hit the open market, rival NRL clubs would have been emptying the piggy bank, just as they did when Kalyn Ponga decided to take his talents to Newcastle.

The result has been a 10-year deal. Ten years. Jason Taumalolo, now 23, has been nailed down to Townsville until he’s 33. It’s going to be the richest deal in the history of the game purely by its length and exceeds Lance Franklin’s nine-year stay at the AFL’s Sydney Swans.

And it should ring alarm bells at the NRL, who must seriously consider capping the length of deals for the protection of clubs and fans instead of openly fawning at the idea of keeping Taumalolo locked to the code.

So is it time to rejoice for those in the tropics? Perhaps, in the short-term at least. With Johnathan Thurston nearing retirement and Ponga leaving, here’s your superstar to build a team around. Every club needs one.

But make no mistake – this stands as an immense contracting gamble. The inherent risks are plentiful, obvious and to such an extent that there should be a genuine debate about whether the NRL should outlaw signings of such duration.

The details of the deal are sure to emerge over the coming days and the timing is curious, given the collective bargaining agreement has yet to be finalised and teams are waiting for the exact figures of their future salary caps.

It will likely be weighted towards the back of his contract, as was that of Franklin. For the first two years of his $10 million contract, the star Swans forward was paid around $700,000, which increased to $1.2 million, rising again in his seventh and eighth years before dropping slightly in his final season.

That type of structure has dangers of its own and rugby league is littered with back-ended contracts that have blown up in spectacular fashion. Robbie Farah was set to cost the Tigers almost $1 million in the final year of his weighted deal (Farah still gets $750,000 from the Tigers despite playing for Souths), while new coaches can inherit rosters with unworkable caps (think Geoff Toovey at Manly).

As a big man, there’s legitimate questions on how effective Taumalolo will be as he ages and his body changes. Age hasn’t been a barrier to some of the code’s more recent elite back-rowers but Paul Gallen and Corey Parker, smaller bodies with games built on immense workrates, are different footballers than the rampaging figure of Taumalolo.

“There are risks for both parties but the upside outweighs that,” Cowboys coach Paul Green told media at the official announcement. He also said the deal was thought up by Taumalolo’s agent and initially caught them by surprise.

At stages during the next decade, the Cowboys are going to be getting one hell of a bargain, especially once the new TV deal kicks into gear. Taumalolo will be playing for well under his market value and could be earning closer to $2 million a year if he took a shorter deal there or elsewhere.

On the flipside, the Cowboys could find themselves freighting a million dollars a season down the track for a player that may be performing like he’s worth half of that amount, or whose impact has been blunted by a mounting injury toll. By then, Green and perhaps all of the current players are likely to have moved on.

Overseas, in leagues such as the NBA, deals are capped at four years for a new player or five years for an existing player. It means players can take advantage of fat “max” deals but also helps ensure they get paid what the market determines at their prime.

At this stage, the Cowboys, Taumalolo and his management are to be congratulated for a deal that has set a new benchmark for rugby league. Whether that will be something worth celebrating in 2027 remains to be seen.

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