Aware of the Green Bay Packers’ secondary deficiencies as I am, the news that the team’s third corner, Tramon Williams, would be reporting to mandatory minicamp this week came as quite a relief.
To be clear, Williams did not kick and scream in skipping the team’s voluntary portions of the offseason.
Like Nick Collins the season before him, Williams showed up when he was required to, and did so in playing shape.
This tactic is designed to earn Williams his desired extension, as it did Collins prior to the 2009 season.
The whole scenario parallels in certain ways the manner in which Houston Texans’ all-world receiver (and all-world man of character) Andre Johnson approached his contract dispute in May.
Johnson “held out” out of Texans’ OTAs for a brief moment to demonstrate his dissatisfaction with his contract. He then showed up to put the pressure back on the organization, rather than rendering himself a villain in the eyes of the public.
At the same time, another Johnson—Chris, the 2,000-yard running back of the Tennessee Titans—remains on a different page from his organization, and remains absent from team activities.
Further East, Washington’s public enemy, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, is also choosing to skip mandatory minicamp sessions, although there are reports his holdout will not persist into training camp because of the fines that would ensue.
Back on the West Coast, both wide receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill are threatening to not only holdout in the offseason, but also miss regular season games over their contract disagreements.
These situations highlight two of the three total options NFL players have when it comes to these disputes.
The first, and least likely for a player of any repute, is to continue going about one’s job with the faith that good health and good performance will, with time, force the hand of the people writing the checks.
As we all well know, however, this is rare.
The second choice is what Williams and Andre Johnson appear to be choosing: air your grievances to warrant public attention, but then go about your business as usual.
While this is a potentially wise public relation ploy (if you are indeed viewed by your fans as critical to the team’s success), it does come with some dangers.
A good example of those concerns is former Packers’ receiver Javon Walker.
Walker and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, chose the holdout plan, before Brett Favre used his vast public sway to coerce Walker to show up without a raise.
Walker tore his ACL in the first game of the 2005 season, jeopardizing the payday he had rightfully earned.
Now, the third choice, of course, is to risk it all—betting your worth against the team’s will, and holding out until some resolution (be it a trade, new contract, or one side caving) is reached.
I personally support the Tramon Williams’ method.
Some may argue that these things should always be negotiated behind closed doors in a respectful manner.
But frankly, going public with these gripes is just about the only leverage a lowly player in a non-guaranteed contract league can muster.
As long as said player shows up when he must, and does what he has to help his teammates win on the field, I’m fine with it.
Though it would be great if we were talking about men of scruples and integrity on both sides of the aisle, we’d be utterly naïve to think about the business of the NFL in those terms.
And in some ways, I am also alright with the holdout option—as long as the one holding out understands the consequences.
In his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. discusses, in essence, how civil disobedience works.
If you see an injustice and choose to speak out against it, and then take nonviolent action to make your point, it is incumbent upon you to also accept the punishment, which King did by valiantly going to jail with his head held high.
So if we can equate—in a general sense—holding out of mandatory team activities to civil disobedience, then players like Haynesworth or Chris Johnson (or the umpteen other players who take this position each offseason) must be ready to sit out and accept the public wrath coming your way, as well the scorn of your teammates for missing games.
As I see it, though, while people who are willing to sacrifice for a cause—in this case the cause being ridiculous non-guaranteed contracts in a sport rife with opportunities for injury—can sometimes be necessary for wholesale change (as King was), the change ultimately must come from within the system.
MLK’s sacrifices may have gone for naught if it weren’t for the actions of Lyndon B. Johnson in passing civil rights legislation.
Unless the players of the NFL are prepared to band together for a revolution toppling the establishment and forcing guaranteed money, players must work within the collective bargaining agreement they have to get the contracts they deserve and put pressure on the owners to step up and insure the possibility of injury.
And that’s exactly what Tramon Williams did by showing up for work on Monday.
So although I’m not always so sure of Williams’ play on the field, allow me this occasion to say: Bravo, Tramon.