Breaking Down Biggest Potential Holdout Headaches Heading into Camps
Although they don't occur with nearly the frequency they did before the last CBA was ratified in 2011, training camp holdouts are still a concern for each NFL franchise and present a significant headache if executed.
As of right now, there are six players who loom as potential training camp holdouts and for a variety of reasons.
One was a first-round pick in last month's draft, and his agents are surely hoping for offset language to be included into his rookie pact. Two are well-known veterans who are looking for a bump in pay. Another two have outperformed their current deals and are seeking large raises. And the last player makes a ton of cash but is dissatisfied with the direction of his team.
Every franchise hopes to avoid a holdout situation, but in the case of the teams here, they could be staring down the barrel of one come the end of July.
Here is a breakdown of the biggest potential holdout headaches heading into training camps.
San Francisco 49ers TE Vernon Davis
The offseason contract saga of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has had more twists and turns than a Christoper Nolan film.
Davis, who signed a five-year, $37 million extension in 2010, believes he's outperformed that contract and deserves a raise.
His first course of action was to hold out of OTAs, which cost him $200K in fines. As it regards that decision, Davis told the Jay Mohr Sports radio show (h/t John Breech of CBSSports.com), "At the end of the day, we sometimes have to make a business decision. And my decision is to work out on my own and focus on building my brand."
If "building a brand" involves forfeiting 200K, then Davis made a hell of a decision. But more likely it was a colossal misstep.
And then, earlier this month, Davis penned this for The MMQB:
In 2010 I signed a five-year, $37 million contract extension with $23 million guaranteed. It was the biggest contract for a tight end in league history. Four years later, and I’m playing at a higher level than I was then, which brings me to why I’m holding out. It’s all about getting paid what you deserve. It’s not that complicated.
To Davis' credit, he is coming off a season where he recorded 13 touchdown receptions, tied for most in his career (along with 2009). But now, he seems to be backing off the holdout.
I want a new contract. It's just like any athlete, we all want a new contract. But I'm not going to stress over it. It's not the end of the world if I don't get it. If I get it, that's good. It's moving slowly, but surely. At the end of the day, if I don't get the deal, at least I tried and I put my foot down. If I don't get it at the moment, I'm not going to lose any sleep.
So while it now seems unlikely that Davis will hold out, it remains a possibility.
Cleveland Browns CB Justin Gilbert
Cleveland Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert remains the highest draft pick (eighth overall) who hasn't yet inked his rookie deal.
And while the popular train of thought dictated that Gilbert would soon be signing with the Browns, it now appears he could be careening toward a training camp holdout.
Speaking at the NFL Rookie Symposium this past week (via Fox Sports Ohio), Gilbert said, "I have no idea" when pressed about whether he would be signed in time for training camp. He added that the Browns and his representation are "working on it."
Under the new CBA, it's highly unusual for a rookie to hold out. The issue is likely that of offset money, as the player selected before Gilbert, Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans, somewhat skirted that issue in his contract. Gilbert's representation is surely hoping for the same outcome.
It's a long shot that a deal won't be completed over the next month, but the possibility remains Gilbert won't be present when Browns camp opens on July 26.
Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson
Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson is sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Or something like that.
The star wideout has apparently grown disillusioned with the team's losing ways, as the Texans have only qualified for the postseason twice in his 11 years in Houston. The Texans are, of course, coming off a 2-14 season that netted them the top overall pick in last month's draft.
Last month, speaking of his potential future in Houston, Johnson told Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle, "Nobody’s been here as long as I have. You just kind of look at things; I’ve been thinking about things this offseason. And I just kind of wonder sometimes, ‘Is this still the place for me?’”
Johnson has failed to participate in any of the team's offseason activities, and he could send the club a major message by holding out into training camp. It's unclear if Johnson's motive is to force a trade, but failing to show up for camp could force the hand of coach Bill O'Brien and general manager Rick Smith.
Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch
After helping the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl championship, running back Marshawn Lynch is scheduled to earn $5 million this season.
And the man known as Beast Mode would like to bank more.
Although it was rumored Lynch was planning on skipping voluntary minicamps—and earning himself a 70K fine in the process—Lynch did show up but didn't participate with an ankle injury. Lynch arriving would seem to indicate one of two things: that he's content with the current situation or that the team and his representatives are moving toward a new pact.
Given Lynch's desire for a pay bump, the latter is significantly more likely.
While things currently appear rosy in the Pacific Northwest as it concerns Lynch, nothing can ever be certain with one of the NFL's most eccentric characters. Would it really surprise anyone if Lynch threw the world a curveball and no-showed camp in his pursuit of extra greenbacks?
The most likely scenario is that Lynch gets what he wants: a small bump in pay. But if that doesn't happen, all bets are off.
Kansas City Chiefs LB Justin Houston
Last season, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston recorded 11 sacks in 11 games played and was one of the largest reasons behind the club's 9-0 start.
And because of that sterling performance, Houston wants a raise. And to prove his point, he hasn't participated in any team offseason activities.
Houston, a third-round selection in the 2011 draft, is set to make $1.4 million this campaign and become an unrestricted free agent at season's end, so he possesses some leverage. Houston has clearly outperformed his contract, and the Chiefs should be concerned about losing a pass-rusher of his stature.
The expectation should be that the Chiefs avoid a holdout and ink Houston to a long-term extension before camp. Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star recently opined that giving Houston a new deal is the only option for Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey.
San Francisco 49ers G Alex Boone
The second San Francisco 49er on this list, guard Alex Boone, is also displeased with his contract. But Boone's gripe is significantly greater than tight end Vernon Davis'.
Boone has started every game over the past two seasons at right guard and has also served as the club's emergency tackle. But he's only set to earn $2 million this year and has outperformed the four-year pact he signed in 2011.
Boone failed to report for the team's voluntary minicamp and was fined $50K for his troubles. His absence should serve as a clear indicator that he is serious about getting paid and could potentially hold out of training camp to force the issue.
The problem is the 49ers are up against the salary cap, and receiver Michael Crabtree and guard Mike Iupati are both set to become free agents after this season. That severely limits the money they could potentially dole out to Boone.
Out of all the players on this list, Boone is the most likely to drag his dispute into training camp.