The Jermaine Jones saga is thankfully over but it didn't end the way the Fire were hoping for or expecting after Jones had apparently agreed to a deal with the league on Wednesday that would have landed him in Chicago. New England, the other team in pursuit of Jones also wanted him and Revolution owner Robert Kraft used his influence with the league, and Don Garber in particular, to ensure that the Revs remained in the picture.
With Jones' preference being Chicago, the league devised a blind draw process that would give both Chicago and New England an equal opportunity to land him and pacify Kraft who continued to insist on Jones coming to his club. The only problem with this grand scheme was that Jones didn't want to play in New England and refused to sign a league contract without knowing where he was going to end up via this virtual coin flip. Of course, if the Revolution could sweeten the deal enough to make New England an acceptable destination Jones' camp wasn't going to turn down a chance at additional compensation.
According to several league sources, Kraft upped the ante in order to stay in the running even as the Fire were still under the impression that a deal had been reached with the league and Jones would be joining the club soon after a lengthy pursuit. In order to keep Jones and his team happy with the possibility of a New England assignment, Garber and MLS allowed the Revolution to increase the offer to Jones under the provision that the "blind draw" would still take place giving both teams a 50/50 chance of landing the player. Under this arrangement, Jones would receive the sweetener his side was looking for if he did end up having to play in Foxborough.
(Update -11:30 am - 8/25): A source with knowledge of the negotiations states that the final offer included in the blind draw was of equal value from Chicago and New England. The sweetener offered was to entice Jones' camp to agree to the blind draw and the contract would have been equal from either club.
Kraft, one of the original MLS investors who was also instrumental in moving Garber into his post as commissioner, flexed his muscle at league headquarters with New England in desperate need of reinforcements after a failed transfer window and a long losing streak that saw his team falling out of contention in the East. The "blind draw" suited him because it would allow New England to get back into contention for the player even after a deal was reached and his intentions to choose Chicago were made clear.
To further illustrate the shady process here's a time line of the events dating back to the initial report of Chicago's interest in the World Cup veteran:
July 29 - Fire Confidential breaks the original story about the Fire's interest in Jones
July 30 - Alexi Lalas claims the Jones deal would get done at about $3 million per year
July 30 - Yallop acknowledges interest in Jones during post game press conference.
August 1 - Greg Berhalter tells the Columbus Dispatch that a DP allocation order exists.
August 1 - Goal.com report claims that Jones rejected the Fire's offer.
— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) August 2, 2014
August 2 - Yallop says offer is still on the table and has not been rejected.
Yallop says Jones has offer on the table that he has not rejected. Should have answers in next couple of days.
— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 3, 2014
August 2 - Yallops says Jones is subject to allocation.
Fire 1 Crew 1 – recap, ratings, plus Yallop on Jermaine Jones and the transfer window | Chicago Fire Confidential http://t.co/Tg3H4ZQVHW
— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 3, 2014
August 6 - Transfer window closes. August 7 - Yallop confirms the existence of a DP allocation process.
Btw, Yallop confirmed today that a DP allocation order exists on top of the known allocation order. DC is on top of the DP allocation.
— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 7, 2014
August 8 - Taylor Twellman reports that New England have "put their name in the hat" for Jones.
August 10 - Jones is weighing contract offer from the league. Fire continue to wait on answer.
Yallop says nothing new on Jones. Still mulling contract offer from the league. Hopes to know more on Monday. #cf97
— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 11, 2014
August 12 - Yallop says there's still no news on Jones and the team may have to move on at some point soon.
As Fire prep for USOC semi-final it may be time to forget about Jermaine Jones | Chicago Fire Confidential http://t.co/moHSzXGrDq
— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 12, 2014
August 15 - Requests made to MLS regarding information pertaining to the allocation process continue to go unanswered.
So if Fire/Revs have to trade w/ DC for top DP allocation spot will MLS finally acknowledge it exists? Or will they route him thru CBus?
— Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 15, 2014
August 16 - Yallop tells reporters that he's not sure if Jones will go through allocation.
Yallop said he's not sure if Jones would be subject to any MLS allocation order if signed. Added he last spoke to JJ two weeks ago.
— Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN) August 17, 2014
August 18 - This isn't far from what actually happened.
I've got the allocation solution for MLS on Jermaine Jones. Kraft and Hauptman should arm wrestle for his rights. Avoid the allocation sham. — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 18, 2014
August 18 - Blind draw anyone?
Looks like Jones will end up on either New England or Chicago's roster. Just can't wait to hear how they decided which one it will be. — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 18, 2014
August 19 - Hey look, no allocation. More to come.
By skipping allocation MLS won't have to explain the silly process they've bungled through over the last 2 weeks. Jones can choose Chi or NE — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 19, 2014
August 20 - Fire continue to look at other moves as Jones deal appears imminent.
As Jermaine Jones saga nears an end, Fire may not be done dealing. Should be an interesting next few days at Toyota Park. — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 20, 2014
August 20 - Daily Herald reports that Jones has signed with MLS and could be headed to Chicago. On that same night Goal.com reports that Jones has refused to sign because MLS can't guarantee which team he's going to. Jones himself confirms that he has not signed via twitter.
August 20 - On the road to blind draw nonsense.
Believe snag involves both teams claiming him and MLS hasn't clearly stated how and why he'll go where. Wrinkle is Jones prefers Chi over NE — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 21, 2014
MLS has bungled deal for 2 weeks and now is caught in embarrassing situation. Allocation, DP allocation, certain threshold, no allocation... — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 21, 2014
August 21 - Uh, how do we assign him to a club again?
Jones camp partially to blame for current issue. Involved NE to drive price up although the player didn't want to play there. MLS HQ mess. — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 21, 2014
With both clubs interested and now at the table, MLS had to decide on allocation and have waffled on process due to pressure from both. — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 21, 2014
NE still wants to up the ante after Jones camp agreed to join Chicago. MLS buckling to Kraft is keeping the deal from being completed. — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 21, 2014
Problem is at this point, Jones isn't interested in New England even though his camp opened the door. Garber will need to make the call.... — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 21, 2014
And somehow explain that he went to Chicago because (enter description here). — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 21, 2014
August 21 - Yallop still optimistic that Chicago can land Jones.
Garber's problem: Jones either takes more money from NE - where he doesn't want to go but owner still wants him or takes current deal w Fire — Guillermo Rivera (@FireConf) August 21, 2014
August 22 - Yep. Two agents now.
More confusion within the league.
The entire saga came to a merciful end this afternoon when Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman used the ESPN platform to break the news but questions about the lack of transparency and the league's willingness to break its own rules to pacify one of the original single entity investors should raise some serious discussion when the MLSPU sits down with the league to negotiate the next CBA this winter.
Of all the things in doubt regarding this entire fiasco it's MLS' credibility with its fanbase and its players that should concern the league the most. Garber and the league mishandled this from the start by first allowing a second club to get involved after initial negotiations with the player's representative Richard Motzkin had taken place and an offer was made that was never formally rejected. The Jones camp, which added a second agent in Ron Waxman when New England decided to jump into the picture, did exactly what they're paid to do - maximize a client's earning potential - but MLS broke and ignored its own rules for player acquisition and made one up in order for them to do that.
The agents used New England as a bargaining chip to drive the price up and it worked as the sides reached an agreement earlier this week. However, the league didn't account for Jones balking at a coin flip because of his preference for Chicago but still allowed New England to increase the offer to make Jones happy in the event that they won the "blind draw".
As a result the Fire are left out in the cold once again after failing to secure any significant acquisitions during the transfer window and turning to Jones when other options fell through. New England hopped into the chase after Chicago did, but in a season where nothing has gone as planned it shouldn't come as a shock that the Fire lost out on a 50/50 chance.
What should come as a surprise is the manner in which MLS embarrassed themselves in a high profile player negotiation. It won't go unnoticed this January as the league has now set a precedent for open bidding, back door negotiation, dismissal of their own rules, and direct competition for player signatures from competing owner/operators working under the single entity structure. MLSPU is surely taking note.
The mess will be of the league's own doing.
The Fire's mess will be addressed in the coming days via yet another contingency plan. More moves are on the way.