If Sam Burgess is to be forced into early retirement due to injury, South Sydney should have to face the ramifications.
Specifically, whatever Sam gets paid, they lose from the salary cap.
It may seem a harsh outcome for a club that showed loyalty to one of the greatest players to ever don the cardinal and myrtle, but the Bunnies gambled big time when they signed the Yorkshireman to a long-term deal in the autumn of his career.
Big Sam’s latest contract extension – for four seasons – came about in September 2018, just a few months shy of his 30th birthday.
Now, 30 isn’t exactly over the hill in the professional era, but four years is a long time for a fella who shows little regard for his or his opponents’ wellbeing.
And those four years – which haven’t even technically started, since he was already signed at the Bunnies for 2019 – suddenly stretch into an age when each season is reportedly worth a whopping $1 million (possibly even more, depending which papers you read).
Never mind that Wayne Bennett – who, granted, was not the coach when the contract was signed – has a rule about props not being worth top dollar. How about any player on the field who has little sense of self-preservation, is closer to the end of his career than the start and has a history of injury doesn’t get a long-term, top-dollar deal.
It’s just common sense.
Which is what makes me think that maybe this time, rather than receiving a losing hand, the Bunnies knew exactly what they were doing when Sam got his eye-watering deal.
Specifically, they were shrewdly locking up a player regarded as the best forward of his generation, even though they suspected he wouldn’t see out his deal on the field.
Do you know what Sam was offered by other clubs, which led to his price inflating to a size similar to Cooper Cronk or Cameron Smith?
Nothing. As Sam put it at the time, “I didn’t even go to the market.”
But then, why would you? A middle forward is not going to get more than $1 million for one year, let alone every year for four.
Thus Souths ensured they would never see Sam wearing another NRL club’s colours. I’m sure they hoped he would be playing until the end of 2023, as was planned, but had to have been realistic enough to foresee it not happening.
Particularly since Burgess had already undergone major shoulder surgery – and not just once.
Earlier this year, when Burgess was first spending time on the sidelines, Fox Sports News’ Cody Kaye reported the injury was to “the same shoulder that Sam’s had reco’d twice in the past”.
“They’ve found an infection in that shoulder that dates back potentially to those shoulder surgeries several years ago,” Kaye said.
That’s why there are suggestions Burgess’ injury is an existing one – because it is.
Nevertheless, word is that Souths want Burgess to be medically retired, thus receiving his full salary, but with the millions he stands to earn not affecting their future salary cap.
The argument goes that they did it once already this year, with Greg Inglis, so why not again with Burgess?
Well, the problem is that salary cap dispensation for Inglis was provided because he didn’t receive his full payment.
The Inglis situation is unusual in that he has walked away without being paid the final 18 months of his playing contract, which is believed to be worth about $1 million per season, and will take up off-field employment with Souths.
Had he received full payment for his contract or negotiated a settlement from the Rabbitohs that amount would have been included in the salary cap.
As I said at the time, “Can’t argue that a deal was cut to make Inglis rich without playing if he wasn’t going to take the money.”
However, it is broadly believed Sam wants every penny of what is reported to be $4 million.
And good luck to him.
But by receiving it, Souths will effectively be paying Burgess some $5 million for one season of footy. In effect, he’ll be getting rich without playing.
That can’t be allowed from a salary cap perspective – it doesn’t pass the smell test from a mile away.
Burgess has aggravated an existing injury. If he wants his club to receive salary cap relief, he needs to walk away with a much smaller severance package.
Otherwise, South Sydney should cop the fact they gambled and they lost.