When the San Francisco 49ers reported to training camp, they did so with only 89 of their 90 players. While Vernon Davis did show up, despite rumors of holding out, he was not joined by starting right guard Alex Boone.
While Davis tended to get more headlines in the offseason, writing a column for MMQB and doing interviews, it was fairly clear Boone would be the more difficult contract situation to deal with. After all, Davis is still getting paid like a top tight end; Boone’s only the 40th-highest-paid guard, according to Spotrac.
We have a bit of a case of an unstoppable force against an immovable object here. Boone definitely deserves to be paid more based on his performance on the field up to this point. Boone does have two years left on his deal, though, and the 49ers are adamant about not redoing deals with players who are holding out.
The best-case scenario, and what I think is one of the more likely scenarios, is the holdout is relatively short-lived, Boone reports late and a deal is made to extend his contract. This is what happened with Frank Gore back in 2011. In such a case, the 49ers might even wave Boone’s fines for missing camp—Hines Ward has said on Pro Football Talk that’s a fairly common business practice.
But let’s skip over the best-case scenario for right now. Let’s say this holdout becomes more protracted. What will happen for the relationship between Boone and the 49ers if this problem continues to dwell?
The fine for missing a day of training camp is $30,000. To miss every day of training camp, that would cost Boone more than $1 million. That’s less than Boone is scheduled to make this season, so he could absorb that hit financially.
What might start becoming an issue, however, is Boone losing his signing bonus money. CBS Sports recently published an article by a former agent, Joel Corry, who breaks this down some. Essentially, once six days pass, the 49ers can start taking a bit of Boone’s pro-rated signing bonus back, so that’s another drop-down date for Boone’s holdout. That’s more difficult money to get back than just the $30,000 in fines.
Essentially, by holding out six days, Boone would give up $51,000. The next 10 days would cost him an additional $34,000 as well, bringing his total training camp fines up to just under $2 million. In other words, it’s just under what Boone’s scheduled to make this season in salary. That’s before he starts getting game checks held back for missing regular season games and the rest of his signing bonus claimed. A holdout for the entire season, in other words, would cost Boone just under $4.5 million.
Essentially, if Boone holds out more than a month, this is not ending any time soon and will likely bleed into the regular season. At that point, he would have dug in enough to make it clear the principle of deserving a higher contract is more important to him than the reality of getting paid in 2014.
Would Boone really hold out for the entire 2014 season? Well, no, and there’s a fairly clear final point at which Boone will return.
In order to accrue a full season of service in the terms of an NFL contract, a player needs to be on the team for six regular season games—that’s either on the 53-man roster or on injured reserve. If Boone was to hold out for long enough that he doesn’t acquire an “accrued season,” his contract wouldn’t move on to the final year of his deal. It is my understanding the deal would toll, essentially pushing the contract through 2016.
There’s no way Boone would allow himself to get locked up for yet another season under his current contract—he’s trying to get out of it, not have it in play for longer. That means he’d have to report before Week 12 so he could get credit for a full season and move on to the last year of his contract next season.
He also would have to hope he doesn’t get injured in that time, because if he does the 49ers could put him on the Non-Football Injury list, as it would have happened away from the team. That could be the nightmare scenario for Boone on a lengthy holdout—if he has any sort of ding away from the team, and the 49ers are happy with, say, Alex Snyder or Joe Looney as a the starter while Boone’s gone, they could stick him on NFI and have the contract extend through 2016 anyway.
Honestly, I find it very unlikely the 49ers and Boone would take it that far. If there really is no chance of a deal being made between the team and the player, I think the 49ers would find a team that is willing to extend Boone and trade him for a mid-round draft pick. The trade deadline happens after Week 8; I could see the 49ers calling up, say, the Ravens or Jaguars and getting a deal done then.
This is all worst-case scenario stuff, of course. The recent Joe Staley extension, as well as the past history dealing with holdouts like Frank Gore, shows the 49ers are willing to negotiate with players once they arrive in camp, and Boone knows this.
With no public statement from Boone, it’s hard to judge his intent or his commitment to the holdout, but I’ll be very surprised if he ends up missing more than the first two preseason games. By the time the 49ers play the San Diego Chargers on August 24, I do believe Boone will be in camp. Contract negotiations should be in full swing then as well.
Hopefully, by the time the 49ers open their season in Dallas, this holdout is a distant memory.
Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @BryKno on twitter.