Grey Matter: Holding Out

Vernon Davis, Marshawn Lynch and Andre Johnson are among some of the NFL’s biggest stars that have approached their respective franchises’ mandatory minicamps with the intention of staying at home. For any normal employee, the thought of carrying out such a boycott is ludicrous, as many bosses would hand deliver your P45 before you even began sipping your first beer. Here we look at what ‘holding out’ is, why players do it, what the repercussions are, and if it works.

What is holding out?

The concept is simple; imagine a toddler in a supermarket who is desperate for his favourite chocolate bar, and his parent refuses. The toddler then tends to make a bit of noise, stomp his feet, and refuse to move until their parent agrees – holding out is the NFL equivalent.

Players will often begin the process by talking to the media about their unhappiness in an attempt to prompt talks with the franchise. If these talks do not play out to their satisfaction, then the players often refuse to attend mandatory minicamp. If a resolution is still not forthcoming, then certain individuals have held out through training camp and even through the preseason – looking at you Darrelle Revis.


Andre Johnson is seemingly unhappy with the direction of the Texans franchise

Andre Johnson is seemingly unhappy with the direction of the Texans franchise

Why do players do it?

In the majority of cases, it is because they feel underpaid, under-appreciated and under-loved (I think I made that last one up). As we are all very well aware, NFL players are plagued by some of the biggest egos on the planet, which is one of the main reasons that individual matchups are so exhilarating to watch. If the face of a franchise sees a counterpart in his position, or someone he believes he is better than, get a pay rise, you can guarantee that he will be on the phone to his agent working on a contract demand.

Some other cases, however, are not centered around the demand to receive more money. Texans star wide receiver Andre Johnson is expected to forego mandatory minicamp as he is dissatisfied with the state of the franchise. By the start of the season, Johnson will be 33, and he appears to have no interest in being part of yet another re-building Texans team. New coach Bill O’Brien has met with Johnson a number of times to offer him reassurances, as of yet to no avail. If O’Brien cannot persuade the veteran that Houston remains the place for him, then  they may put him on the trade block, which appears to be the likely solution. Is that to say that a substantial increase in guaranteed money may not appease Johnson? Absolutely not.

What are the repercussions?

The issue of holding out was addressed in detail by the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that ended the lockout prior to the 2011 season. Part of the CBA reads:

“Unexcused failure to report to or unexcused departure from mandatory offseason minicamp—maximum fine of $10,000 for the first missed day, which amount shall increase by $10,000 per day for each day of the player’s absence or departure (e.g., a player who misses all three days of minicamp may be fined up to $60,000)”

The idea of this clause was to reduce the likelihood of players holding out. This may work for veterans and fringe guys who aren’t signed to lucrative contracts, but when you consider the money given to the crème de la crème of the NFL, $60,000 is simply a drop in the ocean.

If the hold out continues after minicamps and into the preseason training camps, clubs are allowed to fine missing players up to $30,000 a day. In 2012, Maurice Jones-Drew missed Jacksonville’s first 38 days of training camp, racking himself up a bill of nearly $800,000.

Does it work?

The answer to this question, unsurprisingly, comes down to each individual case, but the key aspect is almost always leverage. When experiencing a hold out, each franchise must ask itself a selection of questions, including:

–          Can we manage without him?

–          Can we afford to accept his demands?

–          Are we paying him enough already?

–          What are similar players getting paid?

NFL: Lions vs 49ers SEP 21Let’s take Marshawn Lynch and Vernon Davis as two current examples.

Lynch is coming off the back of his third 1,000-yard season in a row, a Super Bowl win and is considered a top five RB, which would seem to stand him in good stead. However, only two season ago, Lynch signed a 4 year/$30 million contract, which made him one of the best paid backs in the league, and the Seahawks are said to be reluctant to set the precedent of offering extensions halfway through current deals. The former Buffalo man also has other problems. He is 28, which is considered the beginning of the end for effective running backs, and he has seen his position widely devalued across the league, making a pay rise unjustifiable. In short, Seattle would be crazy to offer him a new deal, and Lynch’s arrival at minicamp – while he “discusses a new contract” – suggests he realised how weak his position was.

Davis, on the other hand, is in a much healthier position. Last season, he and Anquan Boldin almost single-handedly maintained a 49ers passing game, and Davis ended the season with 13 touchdowns. Although now aged 30, Davis is among the top three receiving tight ends in the league, and a crucial part of QB Colin Kaepernick’s arsenal. Davis wrote earlier this week that “It’s all about getting paid what you deserve”, and as one of the most consistent tight ends of the last five years, he probably deserves it. However, San Fran are tight against the salary cap, and also have other players campaigning for new deals. Despite the ‘Niners cap situation, Davis holds all the aces, and if his holdout continues, San Fran will have no choice but to pay the man.

To summarise, if you are not crucial to the franchise, a top player in your position, or underpaid in comparison to your peers, then holding out is just likely to make your wallet lighter, and tarnish your relationship with the fans.

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