When Tyson Alualu doesn't sign a contract by the start of the Jacksonville Jaguars' training camp today, most casual observers will chalk it up to greed, the stereotypical motive for holdouts. And it's likely that they're completely wrong.
According to TFY Draft Insider on Twitter, the Jaguars haven't yet offered Alualu a contract to sign.
Over the past few years, of course, first-rounders' contract negotiations have evolved into little more than a protracted process of hemming and hawing over a 10-percent raise. The agent takes his client's draft spot, looks at the rookie deal struck there last year, and tries to stretch it like a rubber band to make a name for himself.
In this case, unfortunately, Jacksonville and Alualu are working within the framework of the San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree and his five-month holdout contract.
It's true, too, that most first-rounders negotiate in lockstep—especially the top ten.
With Sam Bradford, the first overall pick, still unsigned by the St. Louis Rams, Alualu is one of nine top-ten picks who've yet to agree to a contract. Their agents are stacked like dominoes, not wanting to risk accepting less than the next guy; when Bradford signs, it'll grease the others' negotiations by giving them a realistic ceiling.
There's usually at least one slap-happy team willing to throw too much money across that "picket line" of rookies for a quick fix, though. In the past, the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders have been repeat offenders, muddying other teams' negotiations by inking their high first-rounders to big deals.
Between Vernon Gholston, Darren McFadden, Mark Sanchez, and Darrius Heyward-Bey—the Jets' and Raiders' top-ten picks in 2008 and 2009—only Gholston and Heyward-Bey missed any time (one day each) from training camp.
Considering the money involved in their contracts, they didn't need to.
This year, the Raiders have once again goaded their guy to break ranks and sign. Linebacker Rolando McClain agreed to a five-year, $40 million contract ($23 million guaranteed) on July 29, just in time for the start of Oakland's training camp.
It's a considerable raise over the $35.4 million and $19.2 million in guarantees the Jaguars gave Eugene Monroe at that draft spot last year—close to a 20-percent bump in guaranteed money. But the Raiders won't miss any time in preparing McClain for his first NFL season.
Under Paul Vance, Jacksonville's senior vice president of football operations since 2001, the Jaguars haven't yet overpaid to bring a rookie in on time. Monroe and Derrick Harvey, their last two first-rounders, held out for 12 and 33 days, respectively. Both eventually signed deals that slotted neatly into place among their peers'.
In those instances, though, Jacksonville had at least put a deal on the table early on.
Perhaps, if the reports that Alualu's received no such offer are to be believed, the Jaguars are simply wise to the process by now. The way top-ten picks negotiate, it'd make more sense to watch the news ticker than to try and hammer out a contract without context.
Alualu's agent, Kenny Zuckerman, suggested that the possibility of a rookie wage scale in 2011 might be encouraging Jacksonville and other NFL teams to take a hard line in this year's negotiations.
"With some looming issues regarding the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] negotiations, there are many more important components to a deal," Zuckerman told Jaguars beat writer Vito Stellino.
Stripped of the presumptive "holdout" picture—the puffed-up greenhorn rookie rudely refusing to sign for millions of dollars—Alualu's absence has a different character than the Monroe and Harvey situations. He's been offered no means to end the holdout.
"It's an odd year," Vance told Stellino when asked about the two sides' progress.
Theoretically, until a contract's offered, the Jaguars are holding out on their rookie. That's past "odd." That's utterly upside-down.