This impasse between Shalrie Joseph and the Revs/MLS is about more than money, and Joseph can prove it, or at least so claims his agent, Ron Waxman.
"He will play for any other team in MLS under his current contract," says Waxman of a deal that will pay Joseph a base salary of $157,500, plus bonuses, the same as last year. The salary is not guaranteed, unlike last year. "I would love for them to come back to the table, but I don't live in fantasy land. I have been told negotiations are over. I hope they have enough respect for him to honor his request to be traded."
The sticking points of a new deal are rolled-over bonuses and proposed bonuses and other persnickety details bathed by acrimony in the aftermath of declined transfer bids from Glasgow Celtic that would have paid the Revs $1 million. Under new formulas adopted by the league, about two-thirds of that money would go to New England, as was the case when Clint Dempsey was sold to Fulham for slightly less than $4 million.
MLS placed a cap (supposedly $500,000) on how much of its share from the Dempsey deal the Revs could use as allocation money, which teams are allowed to use to re-sign their own players, as the Revs did in securing new deals for Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan. Waxman concedes that the two sides were only $10,000 apart on base salary - the Revs upped their offer to $300,000 - and insists a bit more flexibility - and some more money -- regarding bonuses is all that is needed to get a new contract completed.
Joseph wants to be paid $310,000 in base salary - just below the max salary of $325,000 - and be offered sufficient bonuses to possibly increase his salary by about $50,000 each season.
According to Waxman, the league has refused to adopt his formula of bonuses, one of which has been written into contracts of other players and is perhaps the quintessential way to quantify the value of a player like Joseph, who from his defensive midfield position wins a lot of balls, stops gobs of opposing attacks, and sparks his team's offense with surging runs and incisive passes, but doesn't rack up a lot of goals or assists.
Many players have individual bonuses for honors -- team MVP, league Best XI, All-Star Game selection, league MVP, Golden Boot - as well as those for thresholds of performance, such as appearing (or starting) in 75 percent of a team's game or scoring a certain number of goals.
According to Waxman, the league this year has begun approving individual player bonuses in a manner common in many countries: based on results. The real value of a player like Joseph is reflected in how the team does with him on the field; thus, an ideal way of rewarding him would be to pay a bonus for every Revs' victory in which he starts.
Ironically, the Revs' best run last season (4-0-1) came with Joseph sidelined by a slashed hand he suffered in a nightclub incident. Still, Waxman says the Revs insist that only if he wins back-to-back league MVP awards in 2007 and 2008 can he earn that bonus again, and other bonuses are "rolled into" his contract, meaning they become part of the base salary without increasing it. Since no holding midfielder has ever won league MVP honors, it's a phantom offer at best, though Joseph might just be that valuable to the Revs, or to another club, especially under his current contract.
Joseph's demands are based, in part, on the $325,000 guaranteed money that Fire midfielder Chris Armas has been paid the last three years and not solely on the deal Twellman signed (worth nearly $400,000 annually in salary and bonuses) as a few outlets have reported. (Armas signed a new deal in January.)
There is room under the salary cap and more than enough allocation money to buy down Joseph's salary figure to make the economics meet MLS strictures, and last month, after the Twellman and Noonan deals were announced, Coach Steve Nicol placed a high priority on squaring matters with Joseph after the club and the league twice denied him a move to Celtic.
Waxman is renowned - or notorious, take your pick - for being an aggressive, sometimes abrasive, negotiator. He fights fiercely for his clients, which include MLS head coaches and a few dozen players. Most of those clients swear by him, a few league and team executives swear at him, usually out of earshot.
The Revs and the league have a right to draw their (bottom) line in the sand wherever they want. But to deny - as Waxman alleges -- a bonus by which a player can profit only by helping his team win doesn't smell right. Maybe it's personal, maybe it's picayune, maybe it's a portent of major change, but there's something funny going on here.