Good, bad and ugly: Analyzing three types of NFL holdouts

As offseason practices — which are more important than most realize — continue throughout the NFL, plenty of players aren’t participating.

Sure, the sessions are voluntary. But no one really views them that way. If a player isn’t volunteering to participate, it’s usually because of something related to dissatisfaction with his current contractual status.

Titans RB Chris Johnson has yet to attend an offseason practice.
Titans RB Chris Johnson has yet to attend an offseason practice.

There are three general types of holdouts: the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s explore some of the players who fall into one of these categories this year:

The Good

A player who is not under contract has every right to stay away from voluntary workouts. He also has the right to stay away from mandatory drills, including but not limited to training camp and the preseason.

For any player, the ultimate leverage comes from withholding services. And a player who is not signed does nothing wrong when he stays away.

The fact that some unsigned players choose to sign a waiver that would pay them their full salary for 2010 creates the sense that all players not under contract should choose to do the same. But players angling for a long-term contract have only limited protection when they practice without a contract. They’ll get only the money they would have earned had they signed whatever offer was tendered to them. The possibility of scoring a big-money, multiyear deal hangs in the balance — and a serious injury suffered while practicing without a contract could keep them from ever getting the huge contract they all covet.

So while Broncos linebacker Elvis Dumervil and others are practicing in the hopes of securing such a huge contract, players like Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards do nothing wrong by staying away.

There’s another type of holdout that can be defended: Players who have been saddled with a rookie deal based on draft position but who have made disproportionately significant contributions on the field. For example, Titans running back Chris Johnson and Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson have become superstars, yet they’ll make low base salaries for the balance of their rookie deals.

Though their teams can give them new deals at any time, they’re under no obligation to do so. So while the players could possibly continue to provide skills and abilities far in excess of their pay grades, the teams will realize a disproportionate benefit, and the players will bear the risk of injury until they get new deals.

In the past, the league’s performance-based pay system helped fill the void. The less a player made in relation to his total snaps, the more he’d receive from the league-wide fund created to address the inequity. In 2010, however, the performance-based pay system has gone the way of the salary cap. Which has gone the way of the dodo bird.

Which means players like Johnson and Jackson have a better chance of owning a dodo bird than of breaking the bank in the near future.

The Bad

Last year, Jets running backs Leon Washington and Thomas Jones were unhappy with their contracts. Washington had a slotted rookie deal, and his worst fears ultimately were realized when he suffered a badly broken leg before he got a long-term contract. Jones, however, already was under a veteran deal, and had pocketed plenty of money during the first two seasons of the contract he had signed after joining the Jets. So he had no legitimate right to complain.

This year, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson is playing the role of Thomas Jones. Johnson, arguably one of the top two receivers in the league, is due to receive a $5.8 million base salary this year. But his cap number is $8.14 million because of bonuses he has already received; that isn’t grossly out of proportion to the $10 million annual average for Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

When Johnson signed a long-term deal in 2007, the contract was near the top of the market. Fitzgerald scored his four-year, $40 million deal a year later — a risk that’s present whenever any player agrees to a multi-year contract.

So even though Johnson may not like his contract right now, he needs to realize he is in a far different position than the rookies who have yet to cash in. Johnson has already cashed in, and he apparently wants to cash in even more now.

The Ugly

This year also features head-scratching holdouts involving veterans who were drafted by the Titans.

Tight end Bo Scaife, Tennessee’s franchise player in 2009, signed a restricted free-agent tender that, under current rules, guarantees him $4.9 million in 2010. Scaife is, in fact, under contract, but he’s staying away from voluntary workouts.

Again, he has the right to do that. But there’s no reason for it. Plus, Scaife will earn nearly $5 million this year after catching 45 passes for 440 yards and one touchdown last year.

We should all be so underpaid.

Then there’s Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who left the Titans in 2009 to sign a four-year, $48 million contract with Washington. He’s staying away because he doesn’t want to play nose tackle in the team’s new 3-4 defense. It’s likely he thinks he can force a trade. The Redskins would be wise to get rid of him. Then again, they would have been wise to never get him in the first place.

Regardless of whether he’s ultimately successful, Haynesworth is confirming the suspicions of those who feared he would change once he got paid. Now he wants to do things his own way.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

As offseason practices — which are more important than most realize — continue throughout the NFL, plenty of players aren’t participating.

Sure, the sessions are voluntary. But no one really views them that way. If a player isn’t volunteering to participate, it’s usually because of something related to dissatisfaction with his current contractual status.

Titans RB Chris Johnson has yet to attend an offseason practice.
Titans RB Chris Johnson has yet to attend an offseason practice.

There are three general types of holdouts: the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s explore some of the players who fall into one of these categories this year:

The Good

A player who is not under contract has every right to stay away from voluntary workouts. He also has the right to stay away from mandatory drills, including but not limited to training camp and the preseason.

For any player, the ultimate leverage comes from withholding services. And a player who is not signed does nothing wrong when he stays away.

The fact that some unsigned players choose to sign a waiver that would pay them their full salary for 2010 creates the sense that all players not under contract should choose to do the same. But players angling for a long-term contract have only limited protection when they practice without a contract. They’ll get only the money they would have earned had they signed whatever offer was tendered to them. The possibility of scoring a big-money, multiyear deal hangs in the balance — and a serious injury suffered while practicing without a contract could keep them from ever getting the huge contract they all covet.

So while Broncos linebacker Elvis Dumervil and others are practicing in the hopes of securing such a huge contract, players like Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards do nothing wrong by staying away.

There’s another type of holdout that can be defended: Players who have been saddled with a rookie deal based on draft position but who have made disproportionately significant contributions on the field. For example, Titans running back Chris Johnson and Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson have become superstars, yet they’ll make low base salaries for the balance of their rookie deals.

Though their teams can give them new deals at any time, they’re under no obligation to do so. So while the players could possibly continue to provide skills and abilities far in excess of their pay grades, the teams will realize a disproportionate benefit, and the players will bear the risk of injury until they get new deals.

In the past, the league’s performance-based pay system helped fill the void. The less a player made in relation to his total snaps, the more he’d receive from the league-wide fund created to address the inequity. In 2010, however, the performance-based pay system has gone the way of the salary cap. Which has gone the way of the dodo bird.

Which means players like Johnson and Jackson have a better chance of owning a dodo bird than of breaking the bank in the near future.

The Bad

Last year, Jets running backs Leon Washington and Thomas Jones were unhappy with their contracts. Washington had a slotted rookie deal, and his worst fears ultimately were realized when he suffered a badly broken leg before he got a long-term contract. Jones, however, already was under a veteran deal, and had pocketed plenty of money during the first two seasons of the contract he had signed after joining the Jets. So he had no legitimate right to complain.

This year, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson is playing the role of Thomas Jones. Johnson, arguably one of the top two receivers in the league, is due to receive a $5.8 million base salary this year. But his cap number is $8.14 million because of bonuses he has already received; that isn’t grossly out of proportion to the $10 million annual average for Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

When Johnson signed a long-term deal in 2007, the contract was near the top of the market. Fitzgerald scored his four-year, $40 million deal a year later — a risk that’s present whenever any player agrees to a multi-year contract.

So even though Johnson may not like his contract right now, he needs to realize he is in a far different position than the rookies who have yet to cash in. Johnson has already cashed in, and he apparently wants to cash in even more now.

The Ugly

This year also features head-scratching holdouts involving veterans who were drafted by the Titans.

Tight end Bo Scaife, Tennessee’s franchise player in 2009, signed a restricted free-agent tender that, under current rules, guarantees him $4.9 million in 2010. Scaife is, in fact, under contract, but he’s staying away from voluntary workouts.

Again, he has the right to do that. But there’s no reason for it. Plus, Scaife will earn nearly $5 million this year after catching 45 passes for 440 yards and one touchdown last year.

We should all be so underpaid.

Then there’s Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who left the Titans in 2009 to sign a four-year, $48 million contract with Washington. He’s staying away because he doesn’t want to play nose tackle in the team’s new 3-4 defense. It’s likely he thinks he can force a trade. The Redskins would be wise to get rid of him. Then again, they would have been wise to never get him in the first place.

Regardless of whether he’s ultimately successful, Haynesworth is confirming the suspicions of those who feared he would change once he got paid. Now he wants to do things his own way.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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