Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Will Zeke, Gordon Use Le'Veon Holdout Playbook?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJuly 17, 2019

Dallas Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott looks over the field before an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Dec., 30, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

It's holdout season for the NFL's top running backs, what an expanded schedule might cost NFL owners and why Madden ratings are so important to players. All of that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

1. Mr. Gordon, I know Le'Veon Bell, and you are not him

It's called the Bell Effect around the NFL, and it's making teams nervous. It also has two of the game's premier running backs threatening to hold out of training camp.

Last year, then-Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell sat out the entire season over his desire to get a new contract and not be tied to the franchise tag Pittsburgh had offered him. The Steelers allowed him to become a free agent this offseason, and he signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the New York Jets in March.

The gambit was expensive—it cost him $14.5 million in salary last season—but he ultimately got a long-term contract with $27 million in guarantees.

Players couldn't help but notice. And now Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon have each made it clear they intend to sit out of training camp if they don't get new contracts.

According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, Elliott privately stated he won't show up to Cowboys training camp unless he receives an extension. I haven't been able to confirm this report, but Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports says this week's contract talks will be key in determining whether the team and Elliott can come to an agreement.

A person familiar with Gordon's thinking said the two-time Pro Bowler is ready to sit out as well.

Gordon recently informed the Chargers that "unless he receives a new contract, he will not report to training camp and he will demand a trade," according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. He thinks L.A. will cave, the person familiar with his thinking said, or another team will be willing to trade for him if his holdout stretches deep into the regular season.

"I'm prepared to do what I need to do," Gordon said at a sports convention in Dallas this past weekend, according to NFL.com's Adam Maya. "That's just what it's going to be."

For years, we've been told how superfluous running backs are in the NFL. But two of the game's most celebrated backs are rejecting the increasingly common belief that their position isn't valuable.

Bell did the same. And because of his reputation as one of the league's top talents, his holdout gained legitimacy, which teams feared would convince other players to follow his lead.

But most players aren't Bell.

Gordon has reached the Pro Bowl twice in four seasons and rushed for almost 2,000 yards while catching 108 passes across the past two seasons. But in the eyes of two scouts with whom I talked, he isn't a unique enough talent to make him irreplaceable.

That isn't the case with Elliott. In three seasons, the Cowboys back has emerged as a star, possessing the kind of ability, durability and skills that make him an elite talent. He's arguably one of the top five to 10 players in football. That also means he can make a strong case for a new deal.

Gordon isn't viewed in that same light. He's barely seen as being in the same solar system.

This isn't meant to be a shot at Gordon. It's just a fact. And it could make his potential holdout far more difficult.

How negotiations will go is anyone's guess at this point, but the next few weeks could serve as a lesson to any player thinking about following the Bell playbook. It's a bet on yourself, but you better have a clear-eyed vision of what you are. Otherwise, that holdout may leave you wishing you never had.

2. All revved up with nowhere to go

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

There's another factor weighing down Gordon's effort to get a new contract: the franchise tag.

As Florio noted, Bell was on his second franchise tag when he held out. To keep him in 2019, the Steelers basically would have had to pay him quarterback-esque money.

Gordon, meanwhile, is entering the final season of his rookie deal. If he sits out the entire season, his contract would be pushed back a year, forcing him to earn the same $5.65 million he would get this year if he plays. (That's what Jerry Jones tips his drivers.)

In other words, Gordon could miss a full season and be right back in this same situation next year.

In related news, rookie deals are massively lopsided in favor of teams.

3. Just do it

One final note on Gordon, and it's important: If he wants to hold out, he should.

Refusing to suit up is basically the only power that players have, particularly if they are still on a rookie deal.

Nearly all of the rules of the collective bargaining agreement favor teams. When players challenge a system weighted against them, well, that's a good thing. It brings attention to the lopsided CBA and educates fansthe ones who want to be, anywayabout what players face to get the money they deserve.

While Gordon's gambit may not work, he has every right to do it. And make no mistake, there are plenty of players rooting for him to succeed.

Challenging the system is the only way that the system gets changed.

4. What are two games worth?

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

One quick note on all of the talk emerging this week about the possibility of an 18-game season: The chances of that happening with the next CBA remain slim. In fact, I'd put the possibility at zero.

Unless the NFL gives up something to the players, that is. Something big. Something that would hurt for a lot of owners, like guaranteed salaries for players.

Neither the union nor most of the players want an expanded schedule. Even if you cut the preseason by two games and prevent players from participating in more than 16 games, 18 games of pure violence is a lot worse than 16 games for players on the whole.

The players know the truth. Two extra games is a lot for their bodies to endure. So if the NFL wants that extra revenue stream, it's going to prove costly.

5. The waiting game

Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

The NFL wants a new collective bargaining agreement in place by the start of this coming season.

I want to be a starship captain and save the Federation.

After all the bad blood that has been generated in the past few years, you'll have a better chance getting seats on my starship before a new CBA comes to pass.

Union sources tell me players want a larger piece of the gross revenues. They currently get between 47 percent and 48.5 percent.

That's only one issue—a big one—to sort out before the current CBA expires after the 2020 season.

The most probable outcome is a stalemate that brings a work stoppage in early 2021. And the odds remain high that such a work stoppage would be significant.  

So, let's try to enjoy the next two seasons. The memories may have to sustain us for a while.

6. Tyreek Hill update

Ed Zurga/Associated Press

Several league sources tell me the NFL isn't close to making a decision on the status of Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

It's well-known that Hill pleaded guilty plea to choking and punching his then-pregnant girlfriend, Crystal Espinal, in 2014. The league, I'm told, is still sorting through all of the available information related to the recent accusation of child abuse, including the recording in which he threatened Espinal.

With some training camps set to open this week, you'd like to think this will be settled in the next few weeks. Until then, everyone waits.

7. Julie Ertz, World Cup champion, has a few things she'd like to say

LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Julie Ertz of the USA celebrates with the trophy during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 7, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Marc At
Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Here at 10-Point headquarters, we occasionally like to spread our wings and invite new voices to this party. We recently spoke with Julie Ertz, who just won the World Cup with the U.S. women's national soccer team. You might have heard of them.

Ertz is married to Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, and they are one of the great power couples in sports. There aren't many homes that have a multiple World Cup champion and a Super Bowl champion under the same roof. We can only imagine what their kids might accomplish.

Julie recently wrote a book called Chase Your Dreams: How Soccer Taught Me Strength, Perseverance, and Leadership. Zach has also written a book that will be released this fall. 

I asked Julie what motivated her to write the book, and her answer should help any athlete in any sport: "I want kids to know that you can overcome adversity. I've been injured. I've been benched. I came back. I've been on two World Cup champion teams. If you are a kid going through tough times, you can beat them. That's my main message."

When asked what it was like for two professional athletes to be married, Julie said: "It's been a wonderful journey with Zach. It started when we were in college. We've been together since day one of our professional careers.

"He gets what it's like to push yourself and get to the professional level," she added. Then she laughed and said: "I can never say to him, 'You have no idea what it's like to do this.'"

8. So does her husband…

LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Julie Ertz of the USA taking a selfie with her husband Zach Ertz during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 7, 2019 in Lyon, France. (
Daniela Porcelli/Getty Images

Zach Ertz's book, Focus and Finish: How Football Taught Me Grit, Teamwork, and Integrity, also delves into the struggles he faced in becoming a professional athlete, from overcoming coaching choices to handling other disappointments many youth athletes face.

He answered a few questions from B/R about the book and his life right now:

B/R: What inspired you to write the book?

Zach Ertz: My inspiration for the book has come from many sources. What inspired me the most to do it was my faith. Being able to share my testimony while also sharing the life lessons I've learned along the way is something I'm so proud of. I truly hope people can find themselves in my journeyboth on and off the field.

B/R: What was best moment of watching Julie win the World Cup?

Ertz: My favorite moments of the World Cup were my postgame interactions with Julie. After each game, even though she had just played 90-plus minutes, she was deliberate about coming to see me in the stands. It was just so fun to share such a unique experience with her and get to congratulate her on the amazing game she had just played.

B/R: Are people sleeping on the Eagles?

Ertz: I don't know, honestly. I think as I go into my seventh year in the NFL, I don't put too much stock in what people think about our team. I love where we're at as a football team and I cannot wait to get back together with them and start this season together. I have all the confidence in the world in this team and organization. I cannot wait for the fall!

9. Yards after contact

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 6:  Earl Campbell #34 of the Houston Oilers gets tackled by Nolan Cromwell #21 of the Los Angeles Rams during an NFL Football game September 6, 1981 at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California. Campbell  played for the Oilers from 19
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Some of you will know the name Earl Campbell, while others will not. For those of you who don't know how impactful he was, think about a fullback with the speed of Todd Gurley. That was Campbell.

One of the Hall of Famer's trademark moves was how he absolutely obliterated tacklers. That style wasn't an accident.

In his engaging new autobiography, Earl Campbell: Yards After Contact, Campbell explains he cultivated his brutal running style at an early age.

In one passage, Campbell recounts when he was playing against Conrad High School, which was coached by a man named W.T. Stapler. The coach told author Asher Price that he couldn't believe one play he saw Campbell make, where he took on 10 different tacklers five yards from the end zone.

"It took 10 different hits to put him on the ground. I'm not saying all 10 tacklers hit him. But they did have shots at him. He ran past two tacklers at the line of scrimmage. Then he spun and bounced till somebody else got a shot at him. I know it sounds impossible, but we've got the film to prove it."

Campbell is honest in the book, and his portrayal of the segregated Texas that he grew up in will grab you. For anyone who wants to understand what made one of the game's greatest running backs tick, it's well worth your time.

10. You mad, bro?

If you haven't seen Chargers receiver Keenan Allen's reaction to his Madden rating, it's worth your time. It's hilarious.

People might be surprised to know how much a low rating irks some players. To them, Madden is a status symbol. So many people across the country play it (including players) that the rating carries weight.

Safety Tyrann Mathieu got irritated about Deshaun Watson's rating, and Mathieu isn't even his teammate anymore. 

Players are especially annoyed that they can't dispute a rating. Their complaints have no effect.

But they sure are fun to watch.

            

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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