Last month, I had an epiphany on this subject, thanks to our buddy Ross Tucker of NBC Sports Network, SiriusXM NFL Radio, Sports USA, and more. I now believe that, regardless of whether a player is laboring under the slotted rookie deal that he has outperformed or whether he’s playing out a veteran deal that the team always has the unilateral ability to tear up and disregard, he has the right to hold out.
He has the right to hold out because, if he does, he’s behaving no differently than the men who amassed enough money and influence to own an NFL team. Businessmen don’t simply trip into success (although some are born into it); they make shrewd decisions, based on the realities of any given situation with which they’re faced.
For players who have contracts and who want new ones, they can hold out if they’re willing to accept the potential consequences. For starters, the player who holds out while under contract will be fined $30,000 per day. He also may have to surrender bonus checks that he already has cashed, and possibly already has spent. If he has fewer than four years of service toward free agency, a holdout could delay his entry to the open market by another year. And he could face a fan and/or media backlash.
But, in the end, if he knows that his team needs him enough to eventually bend, it could be the smartest, shrewdest break he ever makes for himself.
That’s why we disagree completely, unequivocally, and totally with Ashley Fox of ESPN.com, who basically lectures Reed about the dangers of a holdout, urging him to be a good soldier and report for duty. Fox argues that “[h]oldouts rarely work,” citing the green-and-white brick wall into which diminutive receiver DeSean Jackson rammed his head when he held out in 2011. Fox claims that all 32 teams will react as negatively as the Eagles did in Jackson’s case, prompting him to tuck his tail between his tookis and show up.
What about Titans running back Chris Johnson? He turned a multi-week holdout into $30 million guaranteed, even though he was under contract for two more years. Ditto for Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who held out two years ago, got paid, and may hold out again.
Many other players have held out, and they have gotten paid. Maybe not what they wanted, but more than they were due to receive.
In Reed’s case, doing what the Ravens assume he’ll never do could get their attention. And it could get them to give him more money. And it could be much more money than he’d get come 2013, especially if he suffers an injury in 2012.
It’s inherently contradictory for journalists to in one breath fret about head injuries and in the next to discourage the men who put themselves in harm’s way from doing whatever they think they have to do to get fully compensated for the risks they take.
As long as the player accepts and understands the possible cost of a failed holdout, we fully support anyone who decides to take a stand, regardless of whether he has one year left on his contract, or 10. If owners were players with skills that the team needed, that’s precisely what the owners would do, too.