Rethinking the ethics of holdouts

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Whenever a player under contract holds out, plenty of fans argue that the player is doing something wrong.  In comparison to the men who have acquired the wealth and power to own NFL teams, perhaps the player is doing something right.

After years of believing that players must honor the contracts to which they’ve applied their names, I’m ready to adopt/borrow/steal a theory Ross Tucker offered up last week on PFT Live.  (Ross also has reduced his thoughts on the subject to writing in his latest column for  Providing that link makes me feel somewhat less guilty about adopting/borrowing/stealing his idea.)

A holdout, while technically a violation of the player’s contract, represents a shrewd and aggressive business move — as long as the player is good enough to get the team’s attention via his absence.  The only real leverage a player ever has comes from withholding services, and the fact that a player is under contract doesn’t require him to provide those services.

If he chooses to breach that contract, the team has remedies, from fines to bonus forfeiture to other rights under the labor deal and the individual player contract.  But the team ultimately can’t force the player to do the one thing the team wants the player to do most:  show up and play.

Twice in the past two years, an aggressive holdout from a high-profile player under contract got the player paid handsomely.  In 2011, Titans running back Chris Johnson did it.  The year before, it was Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis.

This year, it could be Revis all over again.  And Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew.  And possibly plenty of young players who believe that the league’s ability to avoid paying a bunch of money to unproven rookies under the new CBA means that the players who prove themselves should be financially rewarded.

Taking a stand to get what they want is no different than what the folks who have acquired the wealth to own football teams (or their parents, or their grandparents) have done plenty of times.  Otherwise, they (or their parents, or their grandparents) never would have acquired that kind of wealth.

So Godspeed, MJD, Darrelle Revis, and anyone else who ever chooses to stay away in order to get more of what the owners already have.  As long as you’re willing to face the potential consequences of holding out, we say, “Giddyup.”

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44 responses to “Rethinking the ethics of holdouts

  1. Football is the only sport with holdouts.

    In every other sport the players simply play through a contract, even one where they are underpaid, because the money will be there eventually. Being patient pays off.

    Not in the NFL. A player’s only real option to escape a bad contract he signed when the team had all of the leverage via the NFL Draft is to hold out.

    Someone is going to post “so what, let the player sit at home”, but as the author pointed out that absolutely is NOT what the team wants.

  2. Other sports have “guaranteed” contracts, football does not. And to argue that basketball or baseball players have a greater level of integrity when entering into contract negotiations is laughable.

  3. Football is also the only sport without guaranteed contracts.

    In every other sport that owners simply must pay through a contract, even one where they are overpaid.

    Not in the NFL. An owners option to escape a contract is to simply cut the player.

  4. NFL careers have shorter lives. NFL teams hold cities hostage to get new stadiums. The NFL locked out the players and now the referees. The NFL is greedy and they hate it when a player has the temerity to hold out. They should change the rules so when a player is cut he is paid his entire contract. Teams don’t hesitate to cut injure players.

  5. I don’t mind holdouts if the player deserves it but MJD and Revis both signed 4-5 year contracts with all the money upfront so don’t come back 2 years later and ask for a lot more upfront.

  6. It’s not like the pre-2011 era — guys like DeSean Jackson and Frank Gore quickly ended their holdouts last year when they saw how fast $30,000 a day in fines for training camp holdouts can add up. MJD is already $60K in the hole for missing a mandatory mini-camp.

    Remember also that Jones-Drew had more than 1,000 combined rushes and receptions in the regular season over the past three years — the miles on his NFL odometer are starting to add up.

    The reality: MJD had a monster 2011 season despite being part of an overall sub-par offense. But he has two years left on his current deal, which means he is under contract until he’s just shy of his 29th birthday. If he stays away, the Jags can turn to RB Rashad Jennings, who will be back after missing 2011 with a knee injury.

    Is Jennings as good as MJD? No. But, from a leverage standpoint, the Jags have the advantage. The meter running at $30K a day adds up quickly…

  7. I really don’t believe in the concept of “outplaying” a contract. If we go with that, then we also must accept that many more players underplay their contracts (e.g. Jamrcus Russell, et al). There is little remedy for an owner to to regain salaries from players who suck or front loaded a large signing bonus. We have seen far mroe times in league where a good player who might say outplayed his contract is rewarded very well on his next contract. Very rarely have we seen a holdout who gets paid come back and live up to that contract.

  8. Players have every right to withhold their services. If they didn’t, we’d have slavery. But if you don’t play, the team has every right to withhold salary and go after any signing bonus money that was really a pro-rated advance. There is no problem.

  9. The Revis deal was spread out over 4 years because of the bonus money. The Jets could not afford for it to be a 2 years contract due to salary cap ramifications. This was known during the negotiation, the deal was “front loaded” but not because he was supposed to get a paycut, but because the first two years are what they decided he was worth.

  10. NFL contracts are not worth the paper they are printed on. The NFL is the only pro sports league that a 5 year contract can be voided by cutting the player at any time. the only money guaranteed is the signing bonus and they are all back loaded. That is why its the only sport with a holdout problem.

  11. I cannot support anyone’s contention that one wrong justifies others to act dishonestly. Greed is always a bad thing.

  12. Ok…I get what you are saying….BUT there is a BIG difference between someone making 450k and performing like Victor Cruz did and wanting to get paid His worth, and a player like Revis who ALREADY held out and made A TON of money and wants to do it again.

    BIG difference.

    ALSO, You are forgetting one aspect. The salary cap. Isnt it also not fair for a player like Revis to hold out for a HUGE crazy contract when that means His other teammates cant get a payday because He is eating so much of the cap?

  13. I’ve never understood fan sympathy for owners. No one becomes as obscenely wealthy as these owners are without a lot of advantages, and without doing a lot of rotten things. Players very often come from difficult backgrounds, and football, like the military, is their only way out. They risk their health, and possibly forfeit their future prospects, for our Sunday afternoon entertainment. Pay them, I say. The owners are doing fine.

  14. I love the fact that Football has no fully guaranteed contracts. It’s probably the reason that I love the sport so much. Players go out there and give it their all every weekend because they know they have to justify their salaries, otherwise they get cut.

    While that may seem “unfair” to the players, it’s really no different than the rest of us. We work for our salaries… if we no longer produce at a level that justifies our salaries, we get fired.

    Bottom line is, sign the contract, play your butt of and be productive for your team and you won’t get cut.

    Players in the NBA like Gilbert Arenas ($100 Million contract, but plays about 9 minutes/ game) are exctatic about the guaranteed contracts, but the team and their fans are handcuffed with bad contracts for years that will cripple their team while some of these guys fall off the face of the earth after getting their money. If he were in the NFL, he could EARN that $100 million if he were still good and producing… if he keeps getting injured or starts to suck… see ya later… as it should be.

  15. But what about the holdouts who took front-loaded contracts containing huge signing bonuses at the expense of base salaries? It just seems like players are terrified of reaching free agency.

  16. Of course an individual can do anything they want including not adhering to an agreement. They merely have to live with the consequences of their actions. Is it unethical for someone to sue a company or organization when injured during some activity even though they signed a waiver? It happens all the time. Is it unethical to sue a car company for a “faulty” design because the car is crashed into a tree at 60 mph?

    On the practical front, with no ethics considered, is how does the fan base reacted when, 1. the player looks like a greedy SOB, and, 2. the product on the field is adversely affected by the holdout?

    If a union is on strike against a car company and I want to buy are car that is now unavailable, or I think is sub-par because of the impaired relationship with those on the assembly line, I will buy a different car. No animosity or consideration of ethics, blah, blah, blah.

    Similarly, if my team sucks because of labor turmoil that I deem unnecessary and not worthy of my loyalty as a fan, it is no big deal, I choose some other entertainment. Have you checked out this Angry Birds thing on Android?

  17. It’s an obvious move for Jones-Drew. His career could be done in a heartbeat with a worn out knee. His stock is at an all time high, and he is playing in the lowest profile market in the country. I’m sure he has aspirations for his post football career to cash in on his personality and wit. If the Jags don’t budge on the money, Mo refuses to report and they try to get something for their asset. So he gets traded to a higher profile team with probably a better chance of winning. Jags will sit on it as long as they can to get a better look at Rashad Jennings and whoever else they may consider at the spot. If the Jaguars get a decent return then everyone wins. Mo runs out his career on a bigger stage with more at stake. Jax hands the ball to Jennings who is better suited to their new offense and hopefully get a nice draft pick or two to help the rebuild process.

  18. truthfactory says: I love the fact that Football has no fully guaranteed contracts. It’s probably the reason that I love the sport so much. Players go out there and give it their all every weekend because they know they have to justify their salaries, otherwise they get cut.

    While that may seem “unfair” to the players, it’s really no different than the rest of us.

    No different than the rest of us? Are you kidding?

    If one of my company’s competitors makes me an offer, I can take it and start working there tomorrow. Can Darrelle Revis just quit the Jets and start working for the Patriots?

  19. @whitton,

    Yes every rich person in the entire world has gotten that way by doing bad things. Please advise me which of your rich Frieda that you know told you this. Dolt.

  20. This really isn’t about sticking it to the owners. Without a salary cap many owners would be glad to renegotiate to keep their best players. This is about a salary cap and how an owner can work that cap and make the best team within that budget. Sure some players may renegotiate contracts to make room to pay a hold out, but they still get their money.

    Instead, paying the hold out could quite possibly cost a teammate a job or money in a new contract. Even if an owner has plenty of cap room, these owners know how to stick to a budget. So to make cap room or stay within an owners budget, some other player is going to lose his job or some other player isn’t going to get the contract he deserves, especially with less leverage. So while MGD is going to geg p

  21. MJD is questionable, he tweets about Cutler leaving the NFC Championship about really being hurt but doesn’t say a word about Woodson in the Super Bowl when he hurt his collarbone. Is it a race thing with him?

  22. There should be no such thing as guaranteed contracts and players must be held accountable for the contracts they let THEIR agents negotiate and then put THEIR signature to.

    The idea of holdouts is just ludicrous with the amount of money these guys make…and there is still a majority of many NFL contracts that contain GUARANTEED millions, so you guys are just fooling yourselves.

    Play out the contract, and if you performed well you will get rewarded…if not, then just move on.

    Baseball and basketball contracts are a joke and it’s beyond me why those sports aren’t bankrupt.

  23. “Taking a stand to get what they want is no different than what the folks who have acquired the wealth to own football teams (or their parents, or their grandparents) have done plenty of times. Otherwise, they (or their parents, or their grandparents) never would have acquired that kind of wealth.”

    This kills all credibilty. Why mention the grandparents and parents? Just because prior generations were successful does not mean the current one only has success because of them. But clearly this is implied. We’ll talk often of the athlete or lottery winner who becomes rich and blows it in a few years. So even if wealth is handed down. There is a skill and knowledge to keeping it. Ask Mark Brunell and Magic Johnson for both ends of the spectrum.
    You also are running with the implication that if you became rich, you did it on the backs of others. By being Unfair, for bleeding others for every penny you could. That no one else benefited as they became rich.

    Someone even commented above that you cant get rich without advantages or doing rotten things. What are the rotten things Tom Brady has done, or Kraft or Madden or the owner of Chic-Fi-La or Blank and Marcus of Home Depot?

    Bernie Madoff is rare.

  24. Even tho I’m a working man and these ppl get paid tons of money…I have to say I am with the players on this…if a person has outplayed his contract he should hold out because he’s one injury away from getting that big pay day..I seen some one reference victor cruz..say he plays this yr on his contract and he tears an acl there’s a good chance he won’t ever make as much money playing football as he could have if he got his money before stepping on the field…the owners won’t stand by him and pay him what he was worth before the injury…so I would tell any player to hold out until they are paid..

  25. I don’t get the logic truthfactory is using. So because we as normal people have the burden of being hired and fired based on our current productivity then players should have the same burden.

    Okay but if I work for a company and another company wants to hire me away for money money the can do that too.

    Under this logic, why have long term contracts at all, everyone should be playing under one year deals for exactly what they are worth. Or should it be week to week… if the Jets need a big win late why can’t they outspend the Pats for Tom Brady in week 16? I mean if microsoft can hire away apple’s CFO?

    This is sports, you can’t compare it to the real world.

  26. These are just not analogous to regular jobs. If I find another job that will pay me more, I can take it tomorrow. MJD cannot. And if I were such am important employee at my company…I could probably hold out. You know, the Jags could “fire” Jones Drew as well.

  27. Contracts are in favor of the owners – they can cut players to avoid paying them, but the players have no arbitration or other means to get an increase.

    Players want to sign a longer deal to increase the signing bonus, but they need to realize that gives them less leverage later. If they want to maximize their earnings each year, they should only sign one-year deals.

  28. profootballwalk says:Jun 21, 2012 8:01 PM

    Players have every right to withhold their services. If they didn’t, we’d have slavery.

    It is an insult of the highest magnitude to compare individuals who freely sign contracts to get paid millions of dollars for playing a sport, to indentured servitude that meant forced hard labor and inhuman living conditions.

    You’re an a$$ for even SUGGESTING that.

  29. Also, when an NFL player gets hurt they cut his pay. PUP list or IR is different pay as well. When the other sports get hurt they still get paid. When they retire they still get the rest of there contract if I’m correct. If one of the NFL athletes get hurt they will never see the money they would have seen at peak play.

  30. The only real problem is that the teams give in. Hold outs would go away if teams would stop giving in. Force a star player to go a year without paychecks and risk the possibility of diminished playing ability and we’ll start seeing less of these. I can promise you everything I own that a player would never sit out two seasons in a row, knowing this, why do teams always give in? Force them to sit and not earn anything and then see how much better their current contract starts to sound again.

  31. @pftcensorssuck

    You should overreact a bit more. Seriously you win the drama queen award for your tire old guilty white man rant. Cant the word slavery ever be used without one of you jumping up and down trying to turn it into something bigger then it actually is??

  32. You can’t force someone to work.

    Lincoln freed the slaves.

    But when you have a contract that provides for their exclusive services, you my be able to prevent someone from working elsewhere.

    That’s called an injunction.

  33. Football players risk their long-term health to play football. Owners risk nothing, not even money. Players deserve to take every opening they can to make more money, while it’s a joke that owners are allowed to make profits at all.

  34. “the only money guaranteed is the signing bonus”

    It’s also worth pointing out that NFL teams routinely go after players and try to get guaranteed money back if the player is cut early in the contract.

    Just imagine at your job getting fired and then your company saying “yeah we thought you’d be a better employee so we actually want all that money we paid you for time you worked back.”

  35. I agree that the draft forces players into contracts that may not reflect their worth to the teams that sign them. Applying some leverage, i.e. withholding their services, I feel is justified.

    But once you force them into giving you a new front loaded contract, coming back and demanding a new one is wrong. At some point the owners are going to say enough is enough and someone like MJD is going to overplay his hand and get screwed.

    Like some baseball owner said to a player years ago, ” we finished in last place with you and we can finish in last place without you.”

    Applying pressure to get out of a bad first contract is OK. Doing it every other year is not.

  36. Boo if you want, but I completely disagree with this argument. Yes, anyone is free to hold-out, but it certainly does not mean we will have our jobs at the end of the day let alone a big raise. A team signs a player to a four year 40 million dollar contract. The team then gives the player the bulk of the money, 38 million during the first two years. This does two things, allows the player to have upfront money and helps the salary cap, by allowing the team to give more money other players during years three and four. Now the player is saying that he deserves more than one million dollars for this season…not mentioning that he already received 38 million. Now we are supposed to feel sorry for him and the team is cheating him. Salaries for athletes are getting out of hand and a family of four is struggling to make ends meet in this economy. I will save that for another day.

  37. It is fair game. If owners can cut players for under-performing to save money then players should be allowed to hold-out for more money. Both sides will suffer consequences.

    The ones who suffer the most are the fans. Owners will make profits regardless of how much they have to pay by raising ticket prices and other avenues as long as fans show up. The more owners have to pay, the more fans have to pay. No one is to blame but the one who pays.

  38. truthfactory says: Jun 21, 2012 8:20 PM

    While that may seem “unfair” to the players, it’s really no different than the rest of us. We work for our salaries… if we no longer produce at a level that justifies our salaries, we get fired.


    Obviously the “factory” is idle as you missed the whole point.

    The story focused on those who produce ABOVE their salary. For those players who produce BELOW their salary a solution already exists-they are cut and the “contract” they had is torn up.

    Only in the NFL (and in TV sitcom productions-see “Friends, Frazier, Cheers etc) are contracts so one sided-and the only answer is a withholding of services. Florio the lawyer will tell you that in “Contracts 101” they teach contracts only work when both sides have made a fair bargain.

  39. all i’m saying is NEGOTIATE A BETTER CONTRACT in the first place. stop settling for something that you know you wont be happy with in a couple years. sign something that triggers an escalation if certain PERFORMANCE BENCHMARKS are achieved. people dont become wealthy because they withhold their services until they get more money, they become and remain wealthy because they negotiate well.
    i will never be able to understand why these teams ever cave to these tantrum-level tactics. want them to or not, players sitting at home only end up hurting themselves in the long run. they gain NOTHING by doing so. the contract remains in effect if they sit out the season, they dont get credit for the season toward completion of the contract, and meanwhile, they get one year older. the bengals did it right, let ’em sit. if a cant miss trade offer comes along, you take it. THAT is the precedent i would want to set as an organization. NOT one that tells everyone that if they have a hissy-fit, they’ll eventually get paid.

    how many of you can go to your boss, ask for a raise, get refused, then say you arent going to come back to work until your demands are met, AND have your demands met?

  40. Steelersdynasty:

    “they gain NOTHING by doing so”

    Well nothing except getting the holdout players performance vs the replacement player’s.

  41. jhaug1016:

    reading comprehension is an obvious stumbling block for you. i’ll try to explain slowly. btw, it’s steelerdynasty, not steelersdynasty…copy and paste it in case of emergencies.

    hold out or not, you will/can not get a replacement player’s performance if you are the one holding out.
    your poor attempt at being a smartass doesnt even make any sense. the TEAM would be the one preferring the holdout player’s performance over the replacement, NOT the player who is holding out.

    perhaps it would have been better if i’d said they (the players) SHOULD gain nothing by doing so. they obviously have been gaining new contracts, which is why the behavior continues. Teams should just stand firm and give the players 2 options, play or sit at home and be “right”. eventually, reality will set in and they (the players) will realize that they need the game more than the game needs them. games will be played whether they report or not. last i checked, the jags didnt win the SB with MJD, what worse outcome do they face this year if he holds out all season? same with the jests and mevis.

  42. Some of you defend the owners, some the players.
    Both sides are to blame and I’m pissed because I can’t take my family to a game because it’s too damned expensive. Ticket prices are too high, parking too expensive and food prices are ridiculous.
    The players are being paid too much and the owners are making too much.
    Period, end of story.

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