49ers Have No Choice but to Play Hardball with Disgruntled TE Vernon Davis

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49ers Have No Choice but to Play Hardball with Disgruntled TE Vernon Davis
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As the San Francisco 49ers prepare to try to knock the arch-rival Seattle Seahawks off their perch atop the NFC West, it's been a relatively successfully offseason.

The 49ers were able to lock quarterback Colin Kaepernick into a very team-friendly long-term contract extension. The 'Niners once again had what was perceived as one of the NFL's best drafts in 2014.

However, when the 49ers open training camp on July 23, a pair of key contributors from last year's 12-4 squad may be MIA. Unfortunately, where tight end Vernon Davis is concerned, the 49ers really have only one course of action.

Dig in and prepare for a fight.

After reeling in 52 passes for 850 yards and finishing 2013 second among tight ends with 13 touchdown catches, Davis has made it no secret that he's looking for a new deal. The 30-year-old skipped OTAs and mandatory minicamp, forfeiting a $200,000 workout bonus in the process.

Now, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Davis appears to be ready to extend that absence into training camp:

A source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that, at the present time, Davis would not be reporting. That doesn’t mean he won’t show; with nine days to go, Davis can change his mind and change it back again a few times or more before the time comes to report for duty.

The 49ers reportedly won’t negotiate with Boone or Davis until they show up. If they boycott camp, the team will be able to fine them $30,000 per day and also to pursue a portion of any signing bonus money previously paid.

Given Davis' success last year, it might seem in the 49ers best interest to keep their veteran tight end and top red-zone receiver happy.

However, the hard line is the right line in San Francisco, for a number of reasons.

For starters, while Davis may not be the NFL's highest-paid tight end, he isn't exactly having trouble making rent the first of every month.

Highest Paid NFL Tight Ends
Player Team Avg. Annual Salary*
Jimmy Graham NO $10 million
Rob Gronkowski NE $9 million
Jason Witten DAL $7.4 million
Vernon Davis SF $7.35 million
Antonio Gates SD $7.24 million

*Per Spotrac

The four-year, $40 million contract Jimmy Graham signed Tuesday bumped Davis all the way down to fourth in the NFL in terms of average annual salary, at $7.35 million a season.

It makes it sort of hard to see Davis' point, but Matt Maiocco of Comcast Sports Net Bay Area sheds some light on the real issue:

The $37.6 million contract extension Davis signed in 2010 was frontloaded in such a manner that Davis will receive less than $10 million over the next two years combined. None of that money is guaranteed.

In other words, David had his cake and now he wants to eat it.

The problem is, if you use that $7.35 million average salary as a measuring stick, Davis' salary isn't at all out of whack with his 2013 production.

Vernon Davis 2013
Category Rank Among TE
Receptions (52) 14th
Yards (850) 5th
Touchdowns (13) 2nd
Yards Per Catch (16.3) 1st*
Pro Football Focus 6th

* 50+ Catches

Yes, Davis' 13 scores ranked second among tight ends last year. No player at the position with 50 or more catches averaged more yards per reception than Davis' 16.3.

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However, Davis was 14th among tight ends in receptions, fifth in yardage and sixth according to the rankings at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

In other words, that fourth-place ranking among tight ends in annual salary and Davis' numbers are hardly out of whack.

Then there's the matter of the precedent "caving" would set for a 49ers organization with more than a few roster decisions to make over the next couple of years, including several with aging veterans.

Guard Alex Boone, like Davis, is threatening a training-camp holdout. Also like Davis, Boone's current contract isn't up until 2016.

That's the same year linebacker Aldon Smith will be looking for a new deal. Running back Frank Gore, guard Mike Iupati and wide receiver Michael Crabtree are set to hit free agency next year.

Give in to Davis, and negotiating with these players isn't going to be any easier. After all, if Davis gets what he wants here, what's to stop a 30-year-old Patrick Willis (who will be in an identical situation a year from now) from doing the same thing?

Granted, that isn't to say that Davis absolutely won't get the new deal he seeks, unlikely though it may be. Back in 2011 Gore missed a few days of camp, relented and reported, and he had a new deal by the end of that month.

A 49ers team very much in "win now" mode may be willing to trade some coin for having everyone ready to make another run.

With that said, until Davis shows for camp, the 'Niners can't afford to budge here. It just doesn't make sense.

If Davis wants the team to even consider opening the checkbook, he needs to show that he's ready to get down to the business of knocking that Super smile off the Seahawks' faces.

And you can't do that from home.

 

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.

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