As the threat of a prolonged NFL work stoppage has brought along with it little if any bright side, we can at least look at the opportunities taken, and set to, be taken by a number of would-be NFLers in other sports as an amusing sidelight coming from all of this mess. To date though, aside from Hines Ward and his “Dancing with the Stars” foray, only the Ravens’ Tom Zbikowski has actually done anything off of the football field.
And while the first (actually second career) fight against Richard Bryant in Vegas a few weeks ago was a fun opportunity to appreciate the skills of Zbikowski in an athletic venue outside of the NFL, it was still tough not to notice that Top Rank Promotions and Bob Arum are representing Zbikowski’s boxing interests. Sure there’s a spectacle factor that makes “Tommy Z” a moderately worthy draw, but he’s hardly a football star at this point. Arum’s interest seems to indicate that there might be something real about Zibby’s potential or at least thought to be.
So now as Zbikowski prepares for his 3rd professional fight, and 2nd in two weeks, the news that he’s aligned his talents with boxing legend Emanuel Steward and the hallowed Kronk gym again might lead us to speculate about his future in the ring as being more than just the spectacle that it’s been billed as up to this point. Tom “Tommy Z” Zbikowski has had fights at Madison Square Garden and the MGM Grand and is now headed to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. He’s already the 178th ranked American Heavyweight and 452nd in the world per boxrec.com.
It’ll be interesting first to see how far his career progresses before the NFL and it’s former labor union can come to an agreement that gets everyone back to work, and if by then Zbikowski feels compelled to leave the $1 million plus free agent tender on the table and pursue his pugilistic interests instead. That kind of money is tough to pass over, and the number of boxers fighting to advanced ages can leave Zibby and his camp encouraged at least that once his time in the NFL is over he’ll have plenty of ring life left. Additionally if he’s able to stay concussion free from football, his boxing career, whenever he chooses to seriously resume it will benefit from taking these prime years off from getting punched in the face.
Critics will surely point to Zbikowski’s’ on field accomplishments and opine that he could benefit, at least for the time being, from concentrating on football and staying healthy. It’s tough to argue though that as long as he stays away from the business end of opponents’ haymakers the training that he’s doing for boxing can only serve to benefit his strength, conditioning and discipline; and for now at least he seems to have the team’s support.
What’ll be most interesting, if Zbikowski’s boxing career takes serious steps forward before labor peace is reached, will be if he requests a clause in his contract that allows him to continue to take off-season fights going forward. Actually, this would only be important in negotiating a multi-year deal, as the free agent tender that Zbikowski has on the table would again leave him free from team imposed restrictions at season’s end.
Before Zibby signs his free agent tender, and when the league is back in business, he’ll have the chance to see if other teams might be interested in signing him. If he’s offered a multi-year deal, the Ravens would have a chance to match it or could surrender his services for a 3rd round pick. For that compensation level, a team might find him worth a flyer.
Remember the poison pills that teams were using in free agent contracts a few years ago? It seems that the league has mysteriously gone away from using them lately despite the fact that they were determined to be fair and legal (Can you say collusion?). A team might be able to draw Zbikowski’s interest with modest compensation on a multi-year deal if they allowed him to fight in the off-season. Although it’s not a Steve Hutchinson caliber poison pill, it’s something that the Ravens would be forced to match if they wanted to bring Zibby back. I’m guessing that if it hasn’t caught him already, the fever will take him over with more success forthcoming. I’m guessing too that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Zbikowski in the ring in the future with or without NFL labor resolution.