Several young players are believed to be planning to launch contract holdouts when training camps open in 2010. But for players who are under contract, a holdout now can create a big problem later.
As we first realized several years ago in connection with the early-camp holdout of then-Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, a player under contract who fails to report within 30 days before the start of the season loses a year of credit toward free agency.
For Westbrook, it meant that if he hadn’t reported for duty 30 days before the annual Thursday night season opener (regardless of whether his team plays in the game), he wouldn’t have picked up a fourth year of service — and thus he wouldn’t have been eligible for unrestricted free agency. Although showing up after the deadline but before Week 10 of the regular season would have allowed him to get credit for that year of his contract, he would have been only a restricted free agent, since he wouldn’t have gotten the fourth year of service for free-agency purposes.
For today’s players, it’s more complicated.
Currently, players must have six years of service before becoming unrestricted free agents. Some think that the new labor deal could push that number back down to four or five.
Either way, guys like Titans running back Chris Johnson and Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis need to factor this reality into their plans. If Johnson makes good on his threat to hold out of training camp and doesn’t show up before August 10 (30 days before the September 9 game between the Vikings and the Saints, on NBC by the way) he will be stuck at two years of service for free agency purposes after 2010. So if the new labor deal pegs the path to unrestricted free agency at five years, Johnson would complete his rookie contract in 2012 with only four years of service — making him a restricted free agent.
The same analysis applies to Revis. He has three years of service, and if he holds out beyond August 10, he’ll still have only three years of service in 2011.
The analysis has particular relevance to unsigned restricted free agents with four years of service. If, for example, Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeill opts to sign his one-year, $3.168 million tender before the team can drop it on June 15 to 110 percent of his 2009 base salary of $535,000 and he then decides to hold out and pay the daily fines, he’ll be right back where he started from a years-of-service standpoint in 2011.
So when hearing any tough talk now, keep in mind that players with a signed contract could be putting their ability to hit the open market in serious jeopardy by staying away before August 10.