2011 NFL Predictions: Will Chris Johnson and Others Regret Holding Out?
Every preseason a few players from many of the teams in the NFL inevitably refuse to report to training camp or play in the preseason games in hopes of securing a new contract. Few players really have the leverage to accomplish much and eventually return to the team, ideally negotiating an agreeable new contract thereafter with no hard feelings. In rare occasions, a player has enough clout that he can afford to hold out into the season, such as Logan Mankins and Vincent Jackson last season.
In 2011, though, things are a little different. The abbreviated training camps and heightened need to get some practice in a game environment in the preseason is reason enough to deter most players from staying away from camp, choosing instead to report to their teams and hope their agents can work things out. A more compelling reason for players to avoid holding out is the new CBA’s provision to fine players $30,000 each day they stay away from camp without prior approval. Not many players can afford the hefty price a holdout would cost them, and so holdouts are much fewer and yet far riskier than usual in 2011.
So, with holdouts becoming a whole new ballgame in 2011, how will the contract disputes of Chris Johnson and others affect their careers and their teams’ upcoming season?
Of course, the most newsworthy holdout is that of Titans running back Chris Johnson. Not only is he undeniably one of the top five players at his position and arguably the best, but Johnson is the only player in 2011 that seems to have the potential to miss regular season games due to a contract dispute. Has CJ2k gotten in too far over his head?
I don’t think that’s necessarily the case yet. Johnson is one of those players that aren’t hurt too badly by missing training camp, as long as he is staying in shape. Truth be told, the practice reps he misses could help extend his career. However, if Johnson’s conditioning isn’t right, missing training camp could be a huge mistake. When he does eventually receive a new deal, a good portion of it will likely be guaranteed for injury, but not all of it. If Johnson isn’t ready to play and suffers a serious injury because of it, he could cost himself millions of dollars.
Assuming he is staying in shape, though, Chris Johnson missing training camp is a non-factor. He is also talented enough that he doesn’t have to fear much in the way of consequences. Those $30,000 per day fines? All fines incurred will be tossed out when Johnson gets a new deal, which is inevitable. So what motivation is there for Johnson to show up?
Titans owner Bud Adams has made it clear that Johnson will not receive an offer until he shows up to play. It’s a battle of wills at this point, and logic indicates that one side will cave sometime in the next few weeks at best, months at worst. Depending on what Johnson does, it will be blatantly obvious how much importance he places on his income and how much is attributed to camaraderie with his teammates, who he knows can’t win without him.
Either way, Johnson’s holdout is more of a regrettable situation for the team than the player himself.
The Osi Umenyiora-Giants standoff is almost better classified as a soap opera than a holdout, though the tension has abated somewhat recently. While Umenyiora wasn’t technically a holdout—he wouldn’t have been able to practice anyway—it’s hard not to view his actions as such.
Osi has reluctantly agreed to play out the season with his $3.125 million base salary, but he won’t be ready to play anytime soon. Umenyiora recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee that will keep him off the field for about a month. So he’s hurt and hasn’t received the contract offer he’d like; will Umenyiora regret being so vocal and disgruntled about his contract?
It’s definitely possible Osi could have cost himself some money with his approach. After being such a problem this time around, the Giants will be wary of Umenyiora in the future. Had the negotiations gone more peacefully, perhaps Osi could’ve gotten a decent extension before the surgery. Now, he will
have to come back and prove his worth all over again, potentially costing himself money if he declines.
Another factor severely limiting Umenyiora’s leverage is rookie Jason Pierre-Paul. JPP has looked great thus far and has given the Giants hope that he can develop into Umenyiora’s mold. If that progression occurs quicker than anticipated, Umenyiora will lose more and more snaps to the rookie and have even less opportunity to showcase himself for future employers.
If Osi Umenyiora doesn’t have the kind of season that can convince the NFL he is still a top-shelf player, he will undoubtedly regret his contract dispute preceding the 2011 season and wish he had accepted a lesser offer than the one he was seeking.
Another player who will have to have a great 2011 because of his contract dispute is Cortland Finnegan. While Finnegan only walked out on a weekend’s worth of practices, the impact will last much longer.
It appears there are no hard feelings for Finnegan going AWOL, and he can still have a long-term future in Tennessee, but he may have ensured that he won’t be extended if he doesn’t play well. The Titans have a rising star at cornerback in Alterraun Verner and would surely love to pair Verner and Finnegan for years to come, but Finnegan's behavior won't help convince the Titans to keep him around. If Verner continues to progress in 2011 and Finnegan has an off year, an interesting dilemma arises.
Verner would be due to earn about half a million dollars over each of the next two seasons, and the Titans would already have to be concerned with working on an extension. Perhaps they wouldn’t want to invest a large amount of money into a player coming off a down year—hypothetically—when they have to worry about extending another player at that position. Finnegan would then have to deal with the uncertain open market rather than have the luxury of working on a contract with a team that is most familiar with his value.
So, while Finnegan’s brief holdout may seem like a distant memory already, there’s no guarantee the Titans aren’t keeping it in mind. If Finnegan wants to guarantee he gets the money he thinks he’s worth in 2012, whether with the Titans or elsewhere if he isn’t extended beforehand, he’s going to need to have a great 2011 season.
If there was one player who I felt absolutely had to hold out for a new contract in 2011, it was DeSean Jackson. Due to make $600,000 in 2011, Jackson is a top 10 wideout in the NFL and an indispensable part of the Philadelphia offense. It’s not hard to see that Jackson deserves more money.
The reason I hoped he would hold out, though, is because of his frame. At 5’10” 175 pounds, Jackson isn’t exactly the safest guy on the field. All players are at risk of injury, but Jackson’s size increases that
risk exponentially, and it’s unfair to ask him to jeopardize his value for preseason games. One devastating injury could cost Jackson a $10 million per season contract.
Unfortunately, Jackson was unable to secure a new contract with his holdout and had to report to camp by August 9th to avoid losing his free agency eligibility in 2012. He didn’t really have a choice, as he would have lost any leverage that comes from being poised to hit the open market if the Eagles don’t offer a long-term contract.
Hopefully, now that he’s in camp, Jackson and the Eagles can get something worked out quickly. I’d hate to see such a great talent fizzle out of the league without getting paid his worth because he took one too many blows to the head. Maybe that won’t happen, but the sooner the possibility is eliminated, the better for DeSean.