Chris Borland

After returning signing bonus, Chris Borland owes 49ers (and their fans) absolutely nothing

Chris Borland 49ers

Chris Borland announced today on CBS’ “Face The Nation” that he would return most of his $617,436 signing bonus to the 49ers.

“It’s not a cash grab as I’ve been accused of,” he told host Bob Shieffer. “I’m paying back three-fourth of my signing bonus. I’m only taking the money I’ve earned. To me it’s just about health and nothing else. I never played the game for money or attention. I love football. I’ve had a blast. I don’t regret the last 10 years of my life at all. I’d do it over the exact same way.”

It’s not an incredible amount of money relative to the NFL’s weekly revenues, average player salaries or this year’s salary cap (around $143 million in 2015). However, the 49ers had the right to that money according to the current NFL collective bargaining agreement. Borland saved them from having to go after that money, that story growing legs, and the 49ers ending up once again in the middle of a national discussion they’d rather avoid.

It seems like the right thing to do from Borland’s perspective, and it’s actually a good chunk of money compared to his total earnings as a pro. But some fans are angry anyway.

Most of the comments on Niners Nation on the subject were supportive from fans who were impressed, and in some cases surprised, by Borland’s decision. There was also this:

whiny 49ers fans Chris Borland

Hmmm … let me get this straight.

Because Borland is very good at football, he has two key obligations: (1) do not accept requests from the media to discuss his decision and (2) fulfill the requirements of a third round pick. Oh, because the sanctity of the Third Round cannot be sullied by this spoiled millennial, who’s only worried about his ability to remember what day it is 20 years from now. What an ingrate.

Third round picks are the definition of hit-or-miss. Terrell Owens, Frank Gore, NaVorro Bowman, Ray McDonald and John Taylor were third-rounders in previous drafts. So were Corey Lemonier, Glen Coffee (who also retired very early when he was healthy enough to continue playing), Derrick Hamilton, Brandon Williams and Gio Carmazzi.

Bad draft picks — the guys who weren’t as talented as teams thought or were unwilling to put in the effort required — are part of the deal. No one looks at the third round and assumes a Pro Bowl-caliber starter is guaranteed each year.

On the other hand, productive, passionate players like Borland are supposed keep playing, regardless of what’s going on inside their heads. Why? Because they owe it to the teams that would cut them without a moment’s notice if they weren’t making money for the franchise, and to the fans who watch the action from cushy couches or plastic folding chairs in large stadiums.

Uh, what?

Everyone knows fans root for laundry, by and large. Many don’t care how the beef jerky sticks sitting in that tub on the corner store counter are made. The players and coaches are disposable. Just make sure my favorite team ends up with more points than its opponent on Sunday. To them, sports are almost like an extension of the military. Casualties, no matter how avoidable, can be swept aside in the end if victory is achieved.

It’s a strange person that obsesses over $436,077 of cap space when a key player makes such an historic and heart-wrenching decision. Yet “strange” doesn’t even begin to describe the person who witnesses Borland’s choices — not just to retire at 24, but then give money back to his extremely rich employer — and complain because he should’ve done more to help THEM. And in this case, “THEM” consists of people Borland doesn’t even know. The same people who wouldn’t shed a tear if Borland’s play regressed and the 49ers replaced him with another inside linebacker. People who wouldn’t help Borland later in life if he was suffering from dementia and couldn’t hold a job or maintain normal human relationships.

It’s completely understandable to wish Borland was still training to replace Patrick Willis, or hope the 49ers improve on their 8-8 record from last year. But Borland gave the team one very good season and didn’t take a penny over what he was earned. I admire the hell out of the guy for thinking of something other than money, fame, or the high that comes from competition. I know a lot of people will disagree, but he’s not a criminal, a malingerer, or even lazy. For those reasons, one’s feelings about Borland should be neutral at worst. Non-participants get to watch the show, but absolutely nothing is what they’re owed.

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